How Sports Massage Benefits a Boxer’s Performance

 In Blog, Queensbury Boxing League

The Queensbury Boxing League

It is through my connections with Ross Minter and the Queensbury Boxing League that I have had a great opportunity to work with some of his boxers.  As I look back over the last 18 months of my attendance at these events I remember my initial shock at the realisation that regular sports massage or in fact any other type of massage was not something that had infiltrated those competing in boxing events certainly at this level.  It was a culture I hoped would change as like other sportsmen/women with their heavy training schedules they are in just as much need as the next person.  Ironically my first client from the local boxing gym was in fact a female distance runner – Jacquie Russell, who regularly trains with Ross Minter, using boxing strategies for fitness rather than boxing.

Not long after  I started treating Jacquie,  another of Ross’s regular clients –  Roo Abbott  – an amateur boxer who has now been fighting for just over 18 months came to see me.  I have watched him develop and it is great to see that he is due to compete for his first title belt in the next Queensbury Event ‘Edge of Greatness’ in November 2012.  Since then I am pleased to say that I have had the pleasure of treating many boxers whether they be from the local boxing gym or in attendance at a Queensbury event – it is pleasing to see that they appreciate the benefits of my treatments as Boxing is one sport where you have to train and treat the whole body.  Boxers use their legs as much as they use their hands

I decided to write this article to stress the importance of maintaining  flexibility, increasing body strength and recovering faster after every training session or fight.   Without doubt, regular pre and post fight sports massage is beneficial in improving performance in the ring.  For a serious boxer it is imperative that recovery is swift after a strenuous workout.(1) Recovery times are improved when sports massage is incorporated into the rest periods of a workout.

There are a lot of trainers and managers who do not advocate massage but giving the right type of massage at the right time can make all the difference to the boxers’ performance. Whilst studies show that there are no physiolgical effects, some studies show some psychological effects (3,24).  The key is to execute the correct massage technique which means establishing the difference between normal (therapeutic/holistic/relaxation) massage and sports massage, the former making the athlete sleepy reducing heart rate and body temperature,(2) the latter the opposite with faster, deeper and occasionally painful manipulation methods that ensure the boxer remains alert throughout

Having established the definition of sports massage, listed below are some of the benefits:

  • Prevent and cure injuries (4,5,6,7,8)
  • enhance muscle relaxation (9,10)
  • reduce muscle tension (11)
  • reduce soreness (12,13)
  • promote healing process (14)
  • improve athletic (boxing) performance (15-17)
  • can give the athlete/boxers confidence by the positive reaction that takes place within body (3,18,19,20)
  • increase ROM and DOMS and many more.(22)

These benefits will enhance performance and prevent injury for athletes across the board.  Sports massage optimises positive performance and factors such as healing muscle, connective tissue and normal range of motion (1)

Different Types of Sports Massage: (4,26)

pre sports massage
post event sports massage
restorative sports massage
rehabilitative sports massage

The above massages are all very useful for boxers it is just a case of choosing the right one at the right time.  No doubt many of you will recognise the different types of massage and have probably seen them done on others at one time or another.

Pre-sport massage is a maximum of 10-15 minutes and is ideal for a boxer to undertake prior to his warm up. It is a fast, stimulating massage where ideally the boxer will inform the therapist as to which part of his body he would like worked on (4) i.e. the back, shoulders, arms, legs or other specific areas of the above mentioned.  The techniques will be fast and vigorous because you don’t want to lower the heart rate, body temperature during this massage. It’s also imperative that this treatment is carried out as close as possible to the fight because they (boxers) require their muscles to be”loose”.(2,21)

Another type of sport massage you may know is the post race massage or post event massage. The post race massage can be given between 30-60 mins  and two hours after a race or the following day  after the event. This massage type is one that is not taken up often enough as runners dash off to meet family, friends and supporters which is a shame as there are real benefits to be have from having  anything from a 15-20 minute massage on a specific part of your body or a 35-40 session session to flush out any lactic acid build up.  This massage involves light pressure, gentle stretching and gentle vibrations, that evokes a feeling of calm over the body – the complete opposite of pre- race massage (1).  This sports massage is useful for athletes such as boxers as they operate very much like sprinklers. Without going into too much detail at this point, boxers use a type 1 energy source which is anaerobic (no oxygen required for making energy) as opposed to a type 2 energy source being aerobic. Further information re the different types of energy can be found via Google, but suffice to say the sport of boxing requires its athletes to be able to source energy quickly over a short period of time using vast amounts of adrenalin which leave the boxer exhausted after three rounds.  Whilst it is a good thing to be able to tap into that explosive energy quickly the flip side is that you build up a lot of lactic acid in your muscles.  Post massage of the type used on for example a runner would have the same effect in that it would flush the lactic acid away from their muscle fibres, restoring flexibility and avoiding the onset of any pain the day after the event.

Research shows that athletes who have post sports massage show 10-20% decrease in the severity of soreness and show that after just 30 minutes exercise they have reduced DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) with no muscle swelling and no increased range of motion.(22) Whilst this is good news in general I tend to  disagree with regards the findings re the range of motion as in my personal experience some sports massage techniques can have an effect on the range of motion but no muscle swelling  Another benefit of post sports massage is that it can also be an adequate substitute for a warm down(cool down) as it can achieve much of the same effects by moving muscle waste from the boxers’ body.(23)

The next type of sports massage I find  most useful which I recommend to boxers is that of restorative sports massage. This type of sports massage is my personal favourite – not just for boxers but for other athletes as well. This type of massage is perfect during an intensive training period which for boxers is usually eight weeks leading up to a contest.. Ideally carried out at least once a week  – although if your wallet will allow – after every training session. The benefits for this are very similar to the post event massage ie. restoring  muscle fibres, cleaning out and shifting lactic acid which is a waste product created when you’re burning energy and other toxins from the body which allows the boxer to recover faster after training enabling him to train harder at the next training session. It’s not a gentle massage like a post massage as it usually involves using deeper techniques which can cause some discomfort sometimes pain especially if the area is tight or the muscle is not functioning as it should be.

This treatment can be worked on all over the body and thus allow the boxer to train harder and harder. It’s  important to stress that this type of massage cannot be carried out within the last 48 hours leading up to a fight because your body has to recover and adjust to the new muscle alignment and the boxer can obtain the  same maximum curative benefits as with the  pre-sports massage. Usually you experience slight pain and discomfort on the deeper worked areas. It is important to drink plenty of water in the first 24 hours after this treatment and avoid hard exercises.

The last type of sport massage is therehabilitative sports massage. This type of massage aims to  alleviate pain due to injury and returning  the boxer’s body to health. Usually using acupressure point techniques and other deeper techniques which can be painful .  The  end result is reduced pain on the affected area allowing you to enjoy the rest of the night with your friends and  supporters.

I strongly recommend that those from all walks of life whether they be boxers, athletes or people who work at jobs to support themselves and their families  try the benefits of  massage. Equally I hope this article has managed to underline to all athletes, particularly boxers and their trainers the importance of having the right type of sports massage as it can make all the difference to their performance.  It is important to have massage treatment and I hope to see you guys at the  next boxing event. If you have any questions please not hesitate to contact me or just come and up and talk to me at  the event – I’m usually found hanging around the changing rooms or if I’m lucky outside having a cigarette – yes I know smoking is bad for your health 😀

Until then I wish everyone happy, injury free training and see you guys at the next show.

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JM Bodycare M matFLAT

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