wellness

Sports Massage for Recovery & Prehabilitation

recovery active rest training fitness massage sports biofit

This post first appeared on my Biofit website here.

The popularity of sports massage amongst the fitness community is no surprise - who doesn’t enjoy an hour of such ‘indulgent’ bodywork, whether it be dry or with oil, indulgent or functional? 

Yes, it’s a great way to relax and that in itself can be of immense value for some who struggle to switch off, but will massage actually help your body recover faster and come back stronger? Should it be part of a proactive injury prevention / prehab strategy for active individuals asking a lot from their bodies?

Our answer is a resounding ‘yes’ but not necessarily for the physical benefits alone…

first, what exactly is ‘sports massage’?

Sports massage is a generic term for bodywork performed on active individuals to support recovery and prevent injury, it has a more functional objective than say aromatherapy massage that uses essential oils and less of the techniques listed below as key differentiators of sports massage. 

Physiotherapists and qualified massage therapists generally combine some combination of the following movements in each session:[1][2]

Effleurage

Effleurage is one of the most common techniques in sports massage.  The therapist uses his or her hand to stroke the length of a muscle with varying pressure and speed.

Petrissage 

Petrissage is akin to kneading dough - the practitioner pulls the muscle up from the body, gently squeezes it, releases, and repeats.

Tapotement

As the name suggests, tapotement involves repeatedly tapping or gently striking the muscle. 

Friction massage

The therapist firmly presses his or her fingertips into the skin and pushes in strokes parallel or perpendicular to the muscle fibres.  

Vibration

Vibration shakes the target region with a goal of relaxing the muscles and promoting circulation.

how does this type of massage work?

Experts theorize that the compressive action of massage increases blood and lymph flow. These fluids carry lactate and other exercise metabolites linked to soreness and fatigue away from the muscles and eventually out of the body.[3

Furthermore, faster flow can deliver nutrients to damaged muscle cells more quickly and possibly speed up natural repair.

the evidence for sports massage

High-quality studies of sports massage for recovery are surprisingly few in number, and results are conflicting. Efficacy depends on therapist skill, frequency and timing of treatment as well as the precise techniques used.  

One experiment with 14 untrained male participants looked at the effect of a 30-minute sports massage (effleurage and petrissage) two hours after exercise compared to rest. Researchers assessed muscle soreness and creatine kinase, a marker for muscle damage, 8, 24, 48, 72, 96, and 120 hours later. Muscle soreness was reduced in the massage group and creatine kinase levels were lower, suggesting faster recovery.[4]

A randomised, crossover study investigated the effect of sports massage on muscle fatigue. Thirteen male and seven female participants exercised to fatigue, followed by either a six-minute massage or rest. They again exercised to fatigue and repeated the trial a few days later with the alternative condition (rest or massage). Researchers found that performance significantly improved after massage compared to rest.[5]

beyond physical benefits - mental wellbeing

More meaningful than a marginally faster rate of muscle cell repair is the effect massage has on mental wellbeing.

Intensive physical training invites stress and performance anxiety, taking a serious toll on a person’s mental health, and consequently, physical performance.

Regular massage can counteract these problems - research credits sports massage with improvements in mood, perception of recovery, and blood pressure, a marker for stress.[2]  

massage as a primal need

Finally, there is the primal human instinct to crave for touch and contact with another human in a non-sexual manner. This is harder to quantify but no less powerful a reason to explore your own path to a regular massage practice.

For someone training 3-5 times per week, we would recommend a monthly visit to the massage table, or every six weeks, budget dependent.

References

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Albert_Moraska/publication/7535422

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953308

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15114265

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8148868

[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353611705800484 



Wellness benefits of contrast bathing

 
contrast bathing biofit biofilico wellness benefits matt aspiotis morley

Warm and cold therapy is an established protocol amongst both natural medicine cultures and high-level athletic performance but in recent years the biohacking community have adopted similar techniques for their own mental and physical health benefits. 

The ‘contrast bathing’ version of such hydrotherapy deliberately alternates intense warm and cold experiences in the hope of reducing post-exercise recovery time and muscle soreness on one level while improving cognitive function and sleep quality on the other.  

This type of concept also fits neatly into Biofit’s belief in respectfully harnessing nature for physical and mental wellness; so how does it all work and how can you try it for yourself?

what is contrast bathing?

Also known as thermal cycling, in essence contrast bathing consists of at least one hot and one cold bath, shower or other experiential full-body immersion. Advanced, inner-city variations on the theme might involve an infrared sauna, ice bath or cryotherapy for example.

If you have access to a sauna in your gym or a hot bath home, a nearby lake, river or beach perhaps, or simply live somewhere with regular snowfall, you should be half way there already! In fact, I would argue there are additional psychological benefits to be had from integrating exposure to nature into the mix as well, more on that later though…

contrast bathing infrared sauna matt aspiotis morley biofit biofilico

what is the science behind contrast bathing?

Scientists believe that successive exposure to heat and cold increases blood flow to our muscles which reduces swelling and inflammation, helping to clear lactate from the system, an obvious marker for muscle fatigue.[3] 

Additionally, temperature stresses trigger extra nerve activity, crowding out pain signals[4] which in turn has a positive effect on the immune system.[5] 

Research also suggests that daily cold stress, such as a cold shower in the morning say, can lead to an increase in immune cells and protects against infection.[6] Again, our own anecdotal evidence here suggests some light exercise in the morning such as stretching or a brisk walk, followed by a cold shower is a safe bet for supercharging your morning!

what protocol should you follow?

There is no one definitive protocol for contrast bathing; coaches, sports physicians and enthusiasts all have their favourite techniques but, as a general rule, you’re looking to hit between 10-15°C for the ‘cold’ and 38-40°C for the ‘hot’ part.  

In lay terms, you should be looking for a moderate discomfort level before stepping out, really feeling the heat or cold making an impact on your body temperature. Much of this is mental of course but without some degree of stress being imposed on the body, the effects will be inherently limited.

how long should a contrast bathing session last? 

Recommended times tend to be longer for the heat sessions, 10 to 15 minutes say, and shorter for the cold, perhaps 1 to 3 minutes. A total duration of 15 to 20 minutes per cycle is therefore a good guideline.[1] One cycle is good, two to three cycles are better, if time allows. Just don’t go overboard! Listen to your body and don’t try to be a hero if are new to this. Over time, you will grow accustomed to it and you can start to play with your limits but go slow.

is thermal cycling helpful for post-exercise recovery?

High-intensity and long-distance exercise are especially tough on the body, so for those who train hard or go long on a regular basis the aches, pains and some degree of general fatigue becomes unavoidable, unless you happen to be under-18! 

For the greatest benefit in muscle recovery, scientific research suggests that contrast bathing should take place as soon as possible after working out.[2] Imagine pro footballers jumping from ice bath to hot shower or sauna after a game.

I would assume that most people are not pro athletes however and therefore may  not even have time for their full training session, let alone training and recovery treatments in quick succession. Luckily, anecdotal evidence indicates that it is also beneficial to drop into an ‘active recovery’ day.

biofit’s approach to rest & recovery

After nearly 25 years of training under my belt, and a plan to continue for at least 25 more (!), I’ve come to appreciate the value in deliberately scheduling a day of R&R in my training schedule every four weeks or so.

This typically involves some combination of a nature hike, deep-tissue massage, mobility session, self-myofascial release (SMFR), a short afternoon siesta (ideally in the sun for added Vitamin D) and a contrast bathing experience. 

My diet is nicely dialed in nowadays but on these R&R days I will be extra diligent about doubling down on the healthy fats, lean protein and cruciferous vegetables… as well as copious amounts of water to flush out the system and no caffeine to encourage any extra naps that might be on the cards!

It’s about doing everything possible to give the body a chance to grow back stronger and tougher than before. Intermittent fasting can wait for another day!

how much difference does it make?

Current evidence suggests that contrast bathing is better for recovery than simply resting (passive recovery) after exercise and is on par with other interventions like compression, active recovery  (see previous para) and stretching.[3] My approach at age 37 is to throw everything at the wall; and take no prisoners!

contrast bathing wellness benefits matt aspiotis morley biofit biofilico

why incorporate nature as well?

Scientific research studies that specifically isolate this particular variable within the thermal cycling experience are hard to track down but we do know that acute temperature stresses release beta-endorphin, a natural opioid which lifts the mood, without any side effects.[6] 

Exposure to nature has been shown time and again to have a positive impact on mood, reducing stress levels and creating feelings of vitality (see our own research studies from 2017 & 2018 here); outdoor contrast bathing of any variety simply layers the same benefits on top of those related to the physical exposure to hot and cold experiences.

Does it double the impact? Probably not but we might say it extends the range of benefits on offer from that one combined experience. 

can thermal cycling improve cognitive function?

Biohackers are onto a good thing here. Thermal cycling releases cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. These and other stress hormones increase alertness, focus and energy rather like an all-natural alternative to espresso [6],[5]

A word of warning though, personal experience suggests there is a thin line between coming out the other side with a clear head and hitting an entirely pleasant but all-consuming energy crash directly afterwards, so experiment on yourself to see what works for you.

cold tolerance and outdoor activities 

Finally, this may be stating the obvious but hot showers are a modern invention, not an evolutionary necessity - quite the opposite, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are today at the top of the food chain. 

Introducing a small dose of nature-inspired ‘adversity' into a complete training routine is therefore both concordant with our evolutionary history and comes with a plethora of proven health benefits.[6] More generally though, cold-tolerance helps you when active outdoors, whether it be  surfing or skiing. So, what are you waiting for?

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19083715

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23743793

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633882/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28150163

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183517/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/



 

Biophilic Design in Gyms & Spas

 
biofit biofilico gym design green eco biophilic

nature gyms & ‘green’ exercise

Have you ever noticed that sense of calm that washes over you when sitting on a beach watching the waves roll in, or relaxing under a tree deep in a forest while breathing in those positive phytoncides in the air? 

Nature has a powerful impact on our mood and mental wellbeing, a fundamental concept behind the approach of biophilic design which integrates nature into the built environment for similar functional health benefits. 

How? By combining healthy, nature-inspired and sustainable design principles into one.

what is biophilic design doing in a gym or spa?

The objective of using biophilia in an indoor gym or spa is to offer a powerful connection to nature through an abundance of plants, natural toxin-free materials in lieu of nasty synthetics; organic shapes with a wabi-sari (imperfectly beautiful) finish and a soothing palette of beiges, greens and browns. We have covered the benefits of training outdoor here and we remain devoted believers in spending time outdoors whenever possible!

Taken together though, all of these design techniques can create an indoor environment with remnants of the great outdoors even in a dense urban context where access to nature may be inherently limited. Layer in a spa treatment or natural fitness workout on top though and the health benefits start to become truly compelling.   

biofit gym green exercise research biophilic design

health benefits of biophilia

In 2017, Biofit commissioned the first scientific study into what is termed as “indoor green exercise”. Conducted by the UKActive Research Institute and University of Essex Green Exercise Group, it ran over four weeks at the Biofit pop-up gym in London with a total of 118 participants taking a natural fitness session. 

Each responded to a ‘before and after’ questionnaire, with the following results:

- 75% felt less stressed after their session

- 80% reported feeling more connected to nature

- 87% found an improvement in positive mood state

- An average enjoyment level of 91/100 

By changing how a gym or indeed spa looks and feels, we can thus increase client satisfaction and boost overall enjoyment whilst ensuring happier, healthier members who feel connected to nature. 

why use a biophilic gym design?

Biophilic design and green exercise is a suitable eco-friendly solution for gyms of 25sq. metres up to 1000sq. metres. While smaller spaces are ideal for focused, small group and personal training, larger facilities can offer an array of training equipment, outdoor obstacles and a variety of zones to cover strength, cardio, movement and mobility.

To discuss how Biofit could help you design and equip your gym, be it a commercial business, home gym, hotel gym or office gym, simply email us on info @ biofit . io 

 

healthy interior design at the innovation centre co-working

healthy interior design at the innovation centre co-working

For the past decade, there has been much progress made in the field of planet-focused buildings, one ‘P’ from the so-called Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet and Profit.

green architecture and interiors

Buildings and interiors that respect the planet, doing no harm to the environment and in some cases even giving back, are also described with terminology such as green buildings or sustainable interiors, for example.

Certification systems such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED have given architects and interior designers a clear structure and format to follow, as well as increasingly prestigious ratings that add tangible value for building owners and their occupants.

healthy offices

Only more recently however has the emphasis turned from Plant to People in terms of our built environment. Current thinking posits that buildings and interiors should not only be green but also healthy, actively contributing to the mental and physical wellness of its users, be they residents, office workers, patients or students, for example.

tivat co-working

When we designed the Innovation Centre co-working office in Porto Montenegro, Tivat, Montenegro on the Adriatic Coast, we applied a number of these healthy and biophilic design principles to the interiors as a way to ensure the space promotes productivity, concentration and positive mood. Any entrepreneur knows how important such things are, especially when working alone, to a deadline when every second counts.

healthy, biophilic interiors 

Specific examples include a plethora of air-purifying plants, a large-format photo mural of the nearby Bay to create a calm breakout space, maximized natural light by strategic positioning of work desks, the addition of bicycle storage racks to encourage active travel to and from the office, an outdoor workspace for those all-important fresh-air breaks, ergonomic desk chairs to ensure maximum comfort while seating and finally a number of standing desks to relive the lower back and boost circulation during the work day.

www.ic.portomontenegro.com 
Memberships from Eur 10/day, Eur 40/week and Eur 100/month


aromatherapy as part of a biophilic natural lifestyle

Aromatherapy as part of a biophilic natural lifestyle

Aromatherapy is a common medicinal technique that deploys aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, either inhaled or applied to the skin through massage, to positively influence our mood, mindset, pain sensitivity and sleep. 

Sadly, it has become all too easy to label something, be it a diffuser, soap or shower gel, as ‘relaxing’, ‘energizing’ or ‘refreshing’; such adjectives are so loosely thrown around nowadays that they have become near vacuous terms. 

biophilic bio-hacking

The inquisitive bio-hacker intent on living a more Biophilic lifestyle that brings them closer to nature  can and should demand more from the products he or she purchases, and aromatherapy still has a role to play in that process.

Ancient Chinese, Indian, Roman and Greek populations all appear to have made ready use of essential oils, both in religious or ritual practices and more practical applications such as cosmetics and perfumes. 

More recently, scientific studies have provided considerable evidence to back up aromatherapy’s claims to aid with reducing anxiety, improving sleep and enhancing cognitive performance; here we will address each in turn.

essential oils and anxiety reduction

642x361_What_is_Sandalwood.jpgAromatherapy as part of a biophilic natural lifestyle

One study focused on women undergoing an image-guided breast biopsy, exploring the use of aromatherapy scents compared to a placebo in a randomized, controlled study.

Anxiety was self-reported before and after the biopsy by 87 women using the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory Scale. A statistically significant reduction in anxiety was shown through the use of lavender-sandalwood aromatherapy compared with the placebo group. 

aromatherapy for improved sleep

A meta-analysis of 12 studies using a random-effects model revealed that the use of aromatherapy was effective in improving sleep quality in 95% of cases with inhalation proving more effective as an application than massage therapy.

The study concluded that readily available aromatherapy treatments do indeed appear to be effective and promote sleep. More research may need to be done to develop specific guidelines for how to use aromatherapy to achieve the desired effect.

a natural solution to enhanced mental performance 

a natural solution to enhanced mental performance 

A sample of 42 administrative university workers performed a computer task in a university classroom while assigned into an aromatherapy group and a control group. Oil diffusers were is use during the session, one with petitgrain essential oil (orange tree leaf extract) and one with almost oil as the control.

Before and after the intervention, participants completed anxiety and mood state questionnaires (the Stait-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Profile of Mood States). Heart-rate variability (HRV) was also measured before, during (20-25 min), and after the intervention to analyze autonomic nervous system regulation. 

The aromatherapy group performed the task 2.28 min faster than the control group suggesting that inhaling petitgrain essential oil specifically and aromatherapy more generally can help to improve cognitive performance in the workplace by reducing stress levels and increasing attentiveness and alertness. 

if you would like to know how I could advise on creating a wellness space, recharge room or simply a more biophilic way of living, simply reach out via my contact page.