Muscles follow a couple of principles it’s important to understand when training for performance. The first is the “all or none principle”. That means when a muscle fiber contracts, it contracts to its full capacity or it doesn’t contract at all. The other principle is “graded strength”. This refers to the fact that the number of muscle fibers that contract depends on the strength needed. Additional motor neurons are recruited to stimulate more fibers when more strength is needed. What that means to an athlete is, the more muscles that are relaxed and ready for contraction, the more potential energy the muscle bundle has.
Because of the all or none principle, a muscle already in a state of contraction cannot contract any more. We all know what happens when we have a muscle spasm or a cramp – that muscle becomes weak and ineffective. If a muscle is in spasm it can’t be recruited when needed. Consequently, the more muscle fibers that are in a state of relaxation between contractions the more potential strength the body has. That brings me to the role of massage in performance improvement.
Have you ever thought about why taking a nice big breath helps you relax? It’s because muscles need oxygen to relax. Massage increases circulation which brings more oxygen to muscle fibers. When a muscle is in spasm, circulation to that area is impeded. Releasing a knot or spasm brings blood flow to those muscle fibers so they can be available to later contract when called upon. Increasing circulation also clears out lactic acid and toxins that can build up in tissues during intense training and helps the body recover more quickly.
Professional athletes understand this physiology and many sports teams and individual athletes now employ massage therapists as part of their strength and conditioning team. Train like the pros and incorporate regular massage into your training program.