There’s no doubt that lifting weights is one of the best things you can do for your health – with benefits like lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health issues as you age.
But despite all the perks, being a weightlifter can also mean hobbling around in pain in the days following an intense workout. The good news is that regular massage can help you curb the stiffness and soreness — all while bringing some other surprising advantages.
Below, discover everything you need to know about massage for weightlifters, including the benefits, safety tips, and the best self-massage tools to elevate your recovery.
6 Benefits of Massage for Weightlifters
Here are six ways that regular massage could change your weightlifting routine for the better:
1. Relieves Muscle Tension
If you’ve ever shown up to a lifting session feeling sore and stiff, a quick pre-workout massage could help you ease the discomfort.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), massage has been shown to:
- Reduce muscle tension
- Improve soft tissue function
- Decrease stiffness and muscle fatigue after exercise
How does it work? In a nutshell, the pressure of massage stretches and warms the muscle tissue, breaking up stiffness and helping your joints move more freely. It can also help break up trigger points, which are hyperirritable bands of tissue that can cause pain and restrict your movement.
2. Improves Relaxation and Sleep
If you lift weights, chances are you’re familiar with the importance of recovery time. Good nutrition, light activity, hydration, and yes — sleep — are all vital to your body repairing your muscles after training.
Fortunately, a few minutes of massage from an oscillating massager, a partner, or your own two hands can make it easier to get a healthy night’s sleep.
This is because it helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing your body to shift into “rest and digest” mode. It can also help slow your breathing, calm your heart rate, and lead to a short-term reduction in blood pressure.
3. Supports Range of Motion
Even if you live a fitness-focused lifestyle, your muscles and joints can become more prone to stiffness as you age.
Luckily, another perk of massage is its ability to combat stiffness — whether it’s from overuse, past injury, or simple aging. The right techniques can support your overall flexibility and even increase your range of motion in certain joints.
And as it turns out, massage may even be more effective when combined with stretching. For example, one study from the Journal of Sports Sciences found that a short calf massage prior to stretching helped boost ankle flexibility in young and middle-aged adults.
4. Promotes Peak Performance
Because massage offers benefits like reduced stiffness, boosted ROM, and deeper rest, many weightlifters find that it helps them perform at their peak.
These benefits are so useful that many pro athletes — from NFL players to Olympic athletes — use massage as an essential part of their recovery routines.
In a 2020 interview with AMTA, professional swimmer Michael Phelps talked about receiving massage four to five days a week. When asked how it impacted his routine, he said, “Massage therapy was hugely important to my recovery, which I believe is the biggest thing you yourself can control.”
5. Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
As a weightlifter, you know that progressive overload is a key part of building stronger muscles. Unfortunately, pushing your muscles to the limit also means dealing with DOMS in the few days following a workout.
The good news is that massage therapy could help. Evidence continues to roll in showing that a good massage session can soothe DOMS, reduce swelling, and ease the perception of soreness after exercise.
6. Psychological Benefits
Your time in the gym provides a slew of benefits for your mental health — but as it turns out, massage can also bring you an emotional boost.
Not only does it support your body’s physical health, but research suggests that it can:
- Improve overall mood
- Decrease depression, anxiety, and stress levels
- Improve the perception of fatigue and recovery
What Are the Best Home Massage Tools for Weightlifters?
If you’re ready to add massage therapy to your weightlifting routine, here are some of the best tools to try:
When it comes to home recovery tools, a massage gun for weightlifting is one of the best options. These tools use percussive therapy — a type of massage that delivers quick pulses of deep pressure to soothe, stretch, and relax muscle fibers.
Research is still in early phases, but studies so far suggest many possible benefits of these tools, ranging from reduced muscle pain to better flexibility and more.
These handheld devices also come with plenty of different attachments, allowing you to customize your massage session to specific muscles and pain points. And thanks to their powerful pressure, you can reap the restorative benefits in just 1-2 minutes per muscle group.
Try: Recovery Massage Gun for Biceps, Triceps, and Deltoids
If you have a massage gun on hand, here’s one easy exercise you can use for shoulder and arm relief:
- Attach the round ball attachment to your massage gun.
- Set it to a light-to-moderate setting.
- Gently glide the massage gun at an angle along your triceps for 20-30 seconds.
- Next, rotate your arm to focus on the biceps, continuing to massage for another 20-30 seconds.
- Finally, sweep it along your deltoid (your upper outer shoulder muscle) for 20-30 seconds more.
Try: Pre-Workout Leg Warm-Up:
Combined with a few dynamic movements, this quick massage gun session can help warm up your muscles before leg day:
- Connect the attachment of your choice to your massage gun. (The ball and bullet head both work well for leg muscles, depending on how targeted you want your session to be.)
- Set your massage gun to your desired speed.
- Spend 30-60 seconds sweeping the massager across each leg muscle group — starting at the glutes, and making your way down the hamstrings, quads, and calves.
Vibrating Foam Rollers
If you frequent the gym, chances are you’ve seen other weightlifters foam rolling their muscles before or after a workout.
Foam rolling is a manual massage technique that uses self-myofascial release (SMR) — steady, moderate pressure that targets and stretches the muscles and fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue surrounding every organ and muscle in your body, and it can often be a source of tension.
Vibrating foam rollers take the recovery benefits up a notch by adding bursts of quick pressure to your rolling session. In turn, this can:
- Bring a greater boost to your flexibility
- Help you warm up before exercise
- Reduce soreness after a lifting session
Try: Hamstrings Roll
Whether you have a basic foam roller or a vibrating option like the Rollvibe Max, here’s how to roll away hamstring soreness post-workout:
- Find a comfortable surface to sit down on.
- Place your foam roller horizontally under your left hamstring, near the glute.
- Use your arms and opposite leg to lift your hips off the ground.
- Relax into the roller with moderate pressure, and slowly begin to roll the hamstring. Roll down towards the knee, and back up towards the glute for 1-2 minutes.
- Repeat with the right leg.
Try: Quadriceps Roll
This technique can help you curb soreness in some of the strongest, most active muscles in the body: the quads. To try it:
- Get in a plank position, and position the foam roller horizontally under your quads, just below the hips.
- Support your body with your arm strength, straighten your legs, and lift your feet up off the ground.
- Use your upper body strength to roll the quads, starting below the hips and stopping right above the knees.
- Repeat for 1-2 minutes.
Massage balls are one of the most basic self-massage tools a weightlifter can use, but they pack some surprising benefits.
Their convenient size and shape make it easy to target hard-to-reach areas, like knots in between the shoulder blades. Plus, they’re budget-friendly and fit easily into any gym bag — making them perfect for the on-the-go massage.
While a tennis ball or lacrosse ball can do the job, there are also more advanced types of massage balls that can bring deeper relief. Some good options include:
- Peanut balls: These are two connected massage balls that allow you to roll the muscles on either side of the neck and spine.
- Vibrating massage balls: These come with customizable vibration settings to bring even more restorative benefits to your muscles.
- Spiky massage balls: Spiky, textured massage balls are best for deep pressure, boosting blood flow, and breaking up knots.
Try: Rolling Out Upper Back and Shoulder Knots
Grab a tennis ball or massage ball, and try this easy technique the next time you’re sore after back day:
- Place the ball between your back muscles and a wall. (A good place to start is at the muscles between your shoulder blade and spine.)
- Lean into the ball, and slowly roll up and down to massage the muscles for 30 seconds.
- Feel free to repeat this process with other muscles in your upper back and shoulders — like the traps, lats, and rotator cuff. Just be sure to avoid rolling directly over the spine.
Oscillating Body Massagers
Oscillating body massagers are a great option if you’re looking for longer, more relaxing massage at home.
These devices can come in many different styles — but as a whole, they all use oscillating or vibrational technology to relieve pain, soreness, and stiffness.
Try: Calf and Hamstring Massage
Here’s one way to use an oscillating massager like the MedMassager MMB05 on sore calves and hamstrings:
- Find a comfortable area where you can sit and stretch out your legs.
- Turn the massager to a gentle speed, and rest your calf on top of the oscillating surface.
- Allow it to warm up the muscles for one minute. Then, increase the speed to your desired intensity.
- Allow the massager to work into the calf for 3-5 minutes more, and repeat with the hamstring muscle.
Professional Sports Massage for Weightlifters: Worth a Try?
If you’re a competitive bodybuilder or serious weightlifter, you might wonder whether it’s worth adding professional sports massage to your routine.
Of course, visiting a pro does come at a higher cost — but depending on your lifestyle, it can be worthwhile.
In fact, many top-tier athletes regularly get weekly or bi-weekly sports massages to stay on top of their game. This is because it offers distinct benefits for those who regularly push their body to the limit, including:
- In-depth expertise from a pro. If you’re concerned about a specific muscle or pain point, professional sports massage therapists can use advanced techniques to help you stay pain-free.
- Injury prevention. Regular massage can keep your muscles loose and pliable, in turn helping you avoid pulling stiff muscles while working out.
- Rehabilitation assistance. In certain situations, an expert therapist may be recommended to help with long-term injury recovery.
- All the classic benefits of massage — including soreness relief, relaxation, and improved range of motion.
Frequently Asked Questions About Massage for Weightlifters
Here are some common questions and answers to help you seamlessly integrate massage into your weightlifting routine:
Is Massage Better Before or After a Workout?
In short, it depends.
If your goal is to stretch and warm up your muscles before lifting, then 5-10 minutes of light pre-workout massage could be a good option for you. (Just be sure to use lighter, gentler strokes here, as deeper pressure is best saved for after your workout.)
But if you’re more focused on the recovery benefits — like sleep, stress relief, and alleviating DOMS — then it may be better to build a post-workout massage routine instead.
Does Massage Help Muscle Growth?
Massage may indirectly support muscle growth through better sleep, improved mobility, and reduced soreness. But as of now, there isn’t enough research to say it directly causes bigger gains after a lifting session. However, all the benefits can still certainly make it a helpful recovery aid.
How Often Should Weightlifters Get Massage?
The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how often you should get a massage. The right frequency for you will depend on factors like:
- The intensity of your training
- The quality of your current recovery routine (nutrition, rest, etc.)
- How often you lift — and for how long
That being said, many bodybuilders opt for weekly or monthly professional massages to keep their muscles in top shape. But if you want to use self-massage tools — like massage guns or foam rollers — it’s usually fine to use these every day, as long as you use the proper techniques.
How Soon After a Workout Should I Get a Massage?
Any time within 1-24 hours post-workout can help you keep soreness at bay. But to avoid overworking already-fatigued muscles, be sure to wait at least 30-60 minutes after a lifting session before getting started.
Before You Jump In: Massage Safety Tips
While bodybuilder massage is typically safe for most weightlifters, there are safety tips to keep in mind before jumping into your first session.
Whether you’re working with a professional or doing it yourself at home, remember to:
- Avoid massaging over damaged or broken skin, like bruises, cuts, or scrapes.
- Check with your doctor about trying massage if you have an injury – especially one that’s fresh or inflamed.
- Avoid using pressure directly over bony areas.
- Talk to your doctor first if you have any medical conditions that haven’t previously been OK’d for massage. Certain techniques may not be suitable for those with specific health conditions, such as cardiovascular issues, kidney disorders, or blood clotting disorders.
- Avoid massaging any muscle group for too long, especially if you’re using a high-impact tool like a massage gun. Too much deep pressure can sometimes cause more harm than good, especially if your muscles are already sore.
The Takeaway on Massage for Weightlifters
Massage therapy is a natural tool that can make a positive impact on your lifting routine. And while many of the benefits are indirect — like reducing stress and helping you get more restful sleep — they can all make for an improved sense of recovery.
From better mobility to easing DOMS, these benefits are why many weightlifters have made massage a must-have in their training regimens. And thanks to the rise of home tools like massage guns, you can easily incorporate it into yours, too.