What’s the Recovery Value of a Massage?
By Mike Tuchscherer, 5 September 2017
We’ve always said massage is good for recovery, but how do we know? I get massages periodically. I would like to do it weekly, but often I’ll go a month between them. We always *thought* it was good for recovery, but as time has gone on I’ve noticed less and less of a difference. With the time constraints that one accumulates with life, I began wondering if it was time well spent or not. So I pulled my TRAC data and compared my scores after a massage to my scores after a normal rest day. I was very surprised by the results. Quick aside: TRAC is our athlete monitoring system. It’s how we monitor the recovery for all of our athletes. It’s available for everyone for free via the RTS website – just click on apps in the main menu.
My average fatigue score after a massage is -.40. That’s to say fatigue is .40 standard deviations below my average. That means I’m feeling better than average by .4 standard deviations, which is quite good. Full recovery for me is nearly 1 standard deviation below the mean. So this is significantly better than average and on its way to full recovery. Contrast this with how I’d feel after a normal rest day – fatigue is about a -.13. This is a bit better than average.
If that looks like a win for massage, I thought so too. Until I looked a bit deeper. The main difference is that, for whatever reason, I carried less fatigue going into massage days than I did on normal rest days. The “Recovery Rate” in this case is how much fatigue is reduced from the day prior (measuring the change in fatigue). And you can see that the numbers are nearly identical.
If massage was making a significant impact on my recovery, I would expect the recovery rate number to go up. Since it doesn’t, it means that there is no noticeable difference between when I get a massage and when I don’t.
The massage I get is really nothing special. It’s no specific technique or anything. In fact it varies quite a lot. I often don’t see the same practitioner, so one session might be deep tissue. Another might be more surface-level. This data was compiled over the last 8 months or so. I don’t know if it would be improved from specific techniques. My gut says results may vary a little based on the technique, but I’m also aware that the research disagrees in this area. I also don’t know how this relates to other recovery techniques (ice baths, contrast methods, foam rolling, etc). But one thing is for sure – a similar protocol could be used to investigate any of those modalities as well. And finally there is the n=1 problem. This is only my data, so I don’t yet know if this is generalizable to everyone. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be in principle, though the effect surely varies between individuals.
This shows that massages don’t make much impact on recovery, if any at all. If you vehemently disagree with me, that’s fine. The goal in most cases is to improve a subjective sense of recovery. If massage does that for you, great. It doesn’t do that for me. If you’re on the fence, I’d encourage you to be skeptical about it. This also jives well with our Project Momentum data which showed no correlation between lifters who got massages and improved recovery. While the PM investigation was more broad-strokes (it would have taken a significant impact to show up, but there was a larger sample size), this is a bit more targeted (n=1, but the ability to detect small changes is improved).
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|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.