To win gold at the Olympics athletes are constantly looking at ways they can speed recovery from their gut-busting schedules.

Massage and physio are the most widely used techniques but now a new practice based on traditional Chinese medicine has been thrown into the spotlight after the world's greatest Olympian, swimmer Michael Phelps appeared with strange circles on his torso.

Tristram Clayton experiences the ancient art of 'cupping'.

The idea is not new and has been used by Kiwi athletes before, most notably Sonny Bill Williams.


Williams shared a photo of him undergoing cupping with the caption "Detox time" with his 500,000 social media followers last November following the Rugby World Cup.

"It's not painful, generally. It probably looks scarier than it is," said Professor Marc Cohen, a holistic medicine expert from RMIT University's School of Health Sciences told

What is hijama cupping?

• Cupping is said to improve blood flow to encourage healing, targeting ailments including colds, joint pain, acne, migraines and even facial paralysis.

• Dry-cupping involves holding a cup to the skin and using either heat or suction to reduce pressure.

• Hijama cupping or wet-cupping involves making incisions 1.5mL deep and 1.5mL wide to try to remove "superficial bloods".

• The blood 'filled with toxic chemicals' is said to flow into the cup.

• The benefits of cupping have been detailed in Islamic scriptures.

The prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: "How good is the cupper, removes blood, lightens the back and sharpens the eyesight" and "Indeed the best of remedies you have is hijama, and if there was something excellent to be used as a remedy then it is hijama."