Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts advocate massage for enhancing resistance exercise performance. Some people cite improved circulation and lymphatic drainage as factors in efficient recovery. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2008; 22 , 575–82) suggests that rest may offer greater benefits than massage.
Researchers studied 30 experienced weight trainers, all of whom performed three workouts. The exercises were the same in each workout, but the intervention between sets was different each time. The three interventions were 1 minute of rest standing upright; 30 seconds of rest standing upright; and 30 seconds of massage with the exercised muscle group elevated.
Following warm-up, participants performed as many repetitions as possible of the following exercises: the 45-degree leg press, prone leg curl, seated shoulder press and standing barbell curl. After each set, the exercisers followed their assigned protocol for recovery. This process continued for several sets. At the end of the study, researchers determined that “rest period duration had the most impact on resistance exercise performance.” According to results, the 1-minute rest proved most effective for each of the exercises. The massage intervention appeared to be the next most useful intervention in every case.
Authors were uncertain why massage did not offer greater benefits but suggested blood flow diverted from muscle to skin and inadequate lactate removal as possible impediments. The researchers also found that massage “does not aid recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage, delayed-onset muscle soreness or strength retention after bouts of anaerobic or eccentric actions.” In conclusion, the authors suggested that those looking to improve muscular performance should use rest periods as the primary method of recovery. “Those who seek improved resistance exercise performance should pay particular attention to the duration of rest periods, as longer rests permit greater recovery and allow performance of more repetitions,” stated the authors.