Graeme McCallum is a star in SA trail running scene, but he is also a world-class sports massage therapist. We tapped into his brain to find out everything you need to know about sports massage.
Graeme McCallum’s athletic career started as a cyclist, and it’s where it remained for a few decades. In 1989 he obtained Springbok colours and rode as a professional for a few years. It wasn’t until 2011 that he started trail running and it wasn’t long before he started dominating the South African trail running scene.
In 2015 he was 3rd overall at the SA ultra-trail champs. He earned National colours and the opportunity to race the World Ultra trail champs in France. In 2015 he was also SA Masters champion in the Ultra and long distance disciplines. Last year he switched to the road to try run Comrades, which he conquered, earning a Silver medal.
Graeme isn’t just one of South Africa’s best masters trail runners, but my muscles (and many other athletes muscles) would argue that he is one of South Africa’s best Sports Masseuse’s too. Graeme’s talent lies in how he is able to link his in-depth knowledge of the biomechanics used in sports with his impeccable knowledge of the human body and how everything connects.
After he stopped road cycling at the end of 1992, he studied sports and remedial massage therapy and reflexology. He started working for local pro cycling teams and then worked as a soigneur on the Barlow world team in Europe. After that, with BMC in the States and then Europe.
He spent nearly 10 years on the European circuit, until the end of 2010, when he returned to SA. On his return, he started his own massage practice at the Pinnacle Performance Centre in Bryanston.
With April’s content focusing on recovery, sports massage is an area we had to tackle. Pros swear by it, and the benefits aren’t lost on amateurs like me either. Graeme was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to chat with us about everything you need to know about sports massage and recovery and at the end of this, I’d be shocked if you didn’t want to pick up your phone and make a booking.
What’s the difference between a sports massage and a regular massage?
A sports massage is based on the same Swedish massage method as a regular massage but the therapist will have a more specific knowledge of sports injuries and movement patterns and the anatomy so that specific areas that tighten up because of a person’s biomechanics and the sport involved, are released and normal function restored.
When’s the best time in your training cycle to get a massage?
That depends on what you want from the massage. A lighter pre-event massage the day before helps to relax and loosen muscles and calm the athlete if they are too nervous. A post-event massage helps to clear the muscles of metabolic “waste” (not lactic acid, your body does that by itself) from the effort of racing and releases excess tension. A maintenance massage that is performed every week or two, keeps the muscles functioning properly without excess tension and is a good way to stop initial niggles and painful areas from developing into a full-blown injury.
How do massages help with recovery?
Massage mechanically warms up, loosens and stretches muscles. This helps to get good blood flow to all areas within the muscle. It also helps to remove unwanted by-products of hard training into the lymphatic system. It has a calming effect on the nervous system which helps to relax the muscles and the mind.
How often should you go for the best results?
This depends on how much training you do and whether or not your body is coping with that training so it’s fairly individual. Most serious athletes have a massage at least once a week.
If you do massages regularly you get a cumulative effect – one massage will lower the tension in the muscles, this lasts for a few days to a week depending on what training you’re doing and how you react to that training. After this, the muscles slowly get tighter.
If you have another massage before they start getting tighter you can then lower the tension level even further. Someone who has regular massages for a while is able to have a deeper massage which will get to more muscle fibers and increase the benefit.
What can you do at home in between massages to aid the recovery process?
You can use a foam roller and stretch and a heat pack is useful if you have a very tight painful area.
What should you know before you go for your first sports massage?
Normally if you have been training hard and haven’t had a sports massage before, the first one is quite painful, this is definitely partly a mental thing of not knowing what to expect, the next one is usually a lot better.
If having your legs massaged wear shorts or appropriate underwear so that the therapist can work on your glutes. These are very important muscles that control how your hips work. The therapist is not there to cause you pain for the sake of it. If an area is sore while being massaged it shows that it needs that work, bear with it and you will feel better afterward.
Graeme McCallum’s practice is based inside the Pinnacle Performance centre in Bryanston, Johannesburg. A 1-hour session is R450. To make a booking, contact him on +27 76 922 5008.