Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

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Sports massage can hurt a bit if you have sore muscles but is worth the pain. PHOTO / MICHAEL CRAIG
Sports massage can hurt a bit if you have sore muscles but is worth the pain. PHOTO / MICHAEL CRAIG

Sports Massage

What is it? The manipulation of muscles to address sore, worked-out muscles by increasing circulation, inhibiting inflammation, releasing tension and helping with flexibility are among the benefits. Many professional and amateur athletes in many disciplines use massage, from swimmers to triathletes to rugby players.

What's needed? You can opt to wear just your undergarments and a towel, or stay fully clothed.

The experience: If you book into a clinic for a sports massage don't expect "the Bali experience". You know, where you lie down on petals, breathe in the scent of lavender candles, where the lights are dimmed, music plays, and you relax half-asleep as soft hands rub coconut oil all over your skin.

The reality is that sports massage can hurt a bit if you have sore muscles.

Yes, I've yelped, sworn and shed a tear while under different masseuses' hands, and whined "that hurts" on occasions.

But that is not the therapist's fault; they are just doing their job, trying to iron out the knots with a deep-tissue massage so I can walk out of the clinic with less of a crazy limp following a long training run.

However, I always leave sports massage clinics feeling so much better and when one helped me with a persistent leg niggle a couple of months ago, I almost hugged him when he helped fix it.

Actually, after a few of these massages I've become used to the pressure and I'm not such a wuss any more.

One of my first sports massages was from trained massage therapist Rob Matthews. The first thing he said to me was: "I'm completely blind and that's why I'm so good at my job."

"Why's that?" I asked. His reply: "Without the interference of sight, my sense of touch is heightened. So I feel the grittiness and cornflaky-ness, the knots and the tight bands that are like thick guitar strings under the skin."

After my body had been kneaded like dough under his digits, the muscle fibres straightened and toxins flushed out, I walked out of his clinic like a recently opened can of spaghetti, ready to spring into action.

Rob is also an athlete extraordinaire.

The 52-year-old (who inherited a degenerative eye disorder from his dad) has won eight Paralympic gold medals, has set 22 world records in running and has been honoured for his services to sport for the disabled.

Look out for him today at the adidas Auckland Marathon doing the 21km course. He hopes to do a time close to 84 minutes, which is the course record - which he holds - for a blind athlete. And he'll also be massaging some of the 16,500 runners afterwards.

Meanwhile, Carmen Goodwin, from Auckland Therapeutic Massage, tells me that massages can be beneficial pre- or post-exercise - particularly 24 to 48 hours later - when a nice little phenomenon called Doms (delayed onset muscle soreness) can set in. She and Rob also recommend drinking lots of water after a massage and say you should be prepared to feel a bit tired.

How much? It depends who you book with. The people I've seen have charged $70 to $90 an hour.

Worth it? Don't put up with niggles or pains when massage can really make a difference. To get the most out of the massage, tell your therapist which spots need particular attention.

Try it: Some Auckland-based ones I've seen and could recommend include: Rob, at robmatthewsmbe.co.nz; Warren, at sportslab.net.nz; Carmen at aucklandtherapeuticmassage.co.nz
But ultimately it's about finding someone local, someone you like who is good and affordable.

Rating: 9/10

Rachel wears: Icebreaker spirit tank, $119.95 www.icebreaker.co.nz; adidas by Stella McCartney Run Tight $120, ph 0508 ADIDAS, adidas.co.nz/stella

- Herald on Sunday

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