There’s no debate that regular massage can benefit a triathlete, but the massage itself poses some questions—some too awkward to ask.

From timing and tips to talking ander, tooting, a massage therapist answers your questions.

There’s no question that regular massage can benefit a triathletestudies have shown massage can increase flexibility, speed recovery, and prevent injury. But the massage itself still poses questionssome too awkward to ask. Is a massage supposed to be this painful? When is the best time to schedule a massage? Should I wear underwear? What happens if I fart?

John Sanders and Robin Wooten, triathletes and owners of Next Level Massage Education, have heard them all (and more). Their answers to questions about massage from Triathlete readers:

What is the difference between a massage for relaxation and a sport massage?
A relaxation massage tends to be more superficial, non-specific, connective and flowing. A sports massage, on the other hand, is vigorous and involves the use of multiple modalities, which could include relaxing Swedish-type massage techniques. Sports massage is more stimulating and at times needs to match the intensity of the athlete. It can be sport-specific and should be added as part of an athlete’s regular training schedule.

The pressure isn’t deep enough, but I don’t want to insult my massage therapist. What should I do?
Communication between client and therapist is essential to provide the best therapeutic massage possible. A professional massage therapist should not be offended by a client who asks them for deeper work or to move a little left or right. If they do get offended, then find another therapist.

Is there such a thing as too much pressure, or should I take as much as I can stand?
Yes. A therapeutic massage can at times be intense, but, it should never be painful. A painful massage is counterproductive.

What should I do if I get ticklish during a massage?
Communicate with your therapist. The therapist will adjust their touch/technique to help diminish the sensation.

Why do I sometimes get a headache after a massage?
While uncommon, massage does effect vascular circulation which for some could elcit a headache. Also, excessive pressure on the sinus cavity from being face down in the face rest could bring on a headache. Anytime you feel excessive congestion, which is quite common, turn your head to the side to help you breathe. Communicate with your therapist if your face rest is uncomfortable because it’s angled too low or too high.

Is it normal to bruise once in a while after a session?
No, not from a sport maintenance massage. If the treatment consists of structural integration techniques, then yes, bruising may occur due to the intensity of this type of work.

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Does it make a massage more effective if I don’t wear underwear (or do wear underwear)?
If the athlete is in need of a relaxing massage, being completely undressed can allow the therapist to address all areas of tissue without the need of working through the sheet. This does not make the massage more effective, however. A professional, knowledgeable sports massage therapist can work through clothing or sheets and still be effective. If the client is more comfortable wearing underwear, then they should, as this will help them relax on the table and not worry about being exposed. If the athlete is going to be stretched extensively, then wearing underwear/shorts/sports bra can allow the massage therapist to be unencumbered by a sheet while draping their athlete. Communicate with your therapist prior to the session to determine what you should wear to meet your needs and wants.

I farted during a massage. I was so embarrassed, but I pretended like nothing happened. Should I have said something?
An “excuse me” would be nice! The last time this happened, I asked my client, “what else did you have with your broccoli last night?” We both laughed! In the massage world, this is called “a release.” It’s going to happen. And yes, there may be giggles.

Sometimes I fall asleep on the table. Does that make things difficult for the therapist?
No, not at all. As a matter of fact, it can be construed as an act of trust. When your client is so comfortable and trusting of you, they fall asleep on the table, this is considered a huge complimentthey have completely given themselves to their therapist. A client who talks during their entire massage session is not reaping the rewards of the complete healing process the therapist is attempting to provide.

As far as the triathlete, they can often be injured and/or completely stressed out due to a rigorous training schedule. Sometimes the athlete needs a break from therapeutic work and receive a relaxing put-me-to-sleep massage.

I like my massage therapist, but she’s very chatty. How do I let her know I’d rather not talk?
Communicate with them. Let them know you prefer a quiet session. Let the therapist know you are not trying to be rude by not answering or engaging in their conversation, you just want to completely be in the moment of your therapy session. Your therapist will understand, and if they don’t, find another therapist.

I’ve never had a massage before. Should I schedule one before my race next week?
Yes. However, it is very important you let your therapist know you have never received a session before and you do not want to receive an overly intense massage. Schedule the massage three days before your race, request moderate pressure, nothing specific, full body, with some stretching. And communicate! Do not allow them to go to deep or too intense. Be sure to schedule your post-race massage one or two days after your race.

Is there ever a circumstance or injury where massage could make things worse instead of better?
Yes, there are contraindications when a massage should not be performed: an acute injury, an opened wound, when an athlete is feverish, to name a few. First duty of a massage therapist is to cause no harm. If in doubt, communicate with your therapist.

How far out before a race should I schedule a massage?
Hopefully the athlete has incorporated maintenance and rehabilitative massage into their training calendar. Most receive pre-race massage three days before race day and post-race two days after.  Two to three days beforehand allows an athlete’s body to receive moderate to intense massage therapy which should not inhibit performance, and, hopefully increase performance. All athletes’ bodies are different, so knowing your body will help you determine how close to race day you should receive bodywork.

I’m never sure about gratuities. How much should I tip?
Gratuity is an act of gratitude, it is never a requirement to tip. If you are a gracious receiver of an awesome massage 15-20% is a standard percentage. The ultimate gratuity is not gratuity, but re-booking the next massage.

Why does my therapist always tell me to drink lots of water after the massage is over?
There is an overused myth in the massage world which expresses massage therapy releases toxins. Massage therapists ask clients to drink plenty of water to help flush out these toxins. However, there is no clinical research to provide evidence that massage therapy releases toxins. That being said, massage therapy does generate heat. This heat can create a sensation of thirst, so, drinking water will help quench this thirst, plus, drinking water is good for the body.
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