The sheer hell of a sports massageDeep tissue massages that are designed to help sportsmen recover after exercise embody the truism that where there's no pain, there's no gain, writes Andrew GriffithsKneedling out the pain: sports massage is not for the faint of hear 

Most would call stumbling out of bed first thing in the morning and stepping on a golf ball in your bare feet an unfortunate accident. But not, I recently learnt, a sports physiotherapist.

“No, I’m not joking,” said therapist Vaska Stefanova, as I gingerly dressed myself following a good pummeling. “Stand on the golf ball with the ball at the sole of your feet and put as much weight on it as you can bear. It will replicate what I was doing to you before with my fingers.”

She meant when I was screaming in agony five minutes earlier while she was using the wall for leverage and digging her finger into my foot.

This sports massage thing … it hurts. And this thing with the golf ball … it really hurts. I feel like we're working up to the 'blind 3am stumble to the toilet and standing on an upturned plug' therapy.

A haphazard quest for health and fitness had brought me to Vaska's small consulting room. After a few weeks of building up the running, my legs had started to stiffen and complain. I'd hobbled into a hostile realm of pain, and sports massage was suggested as a solution. I wasn't sure at first, thinking this kind of thing to be the preserve of the serious athlete or the idle rich. Unfortunately, due to an aberration in the space-time continuum which had left me mortally bound to a life I was now forced to live in error, I was neither.

Related Articles

The word ‘massage’ though did conjure up vague, relaxing motifs, such as tea lights and pleasant music plucked out on a sitar. So I thought I’d give it a go, by way of some small compensation for the cosmic cock-up thing.

In the cold light of the consulting room, Vaska laughed when I inquired after the candles and the wafting music.

“Sports massage is everything but pampering,” she said. “It can be quite uncomfortable at first.”

She began with what she called a ‘postural assessment’, which involved me standing there in my boxers while she circled me slowly with a critical look in her eye. I felt like a second hand car.

But within a couple of minutes she had identified the reasons why I have suffered half a lifetime of bad knees, ankle tendons and back. I have lateral hip rotation and forward pelvic tilt, apparently. Who knew?

“Right Andy,” she said, ominously. “First we are going to find your pain threshold, then we are going to operate just beneath it.”

As a sales pitch it left a lot to be desired, but for honesty, it scored ten out of ten.

Vaska talks of ‘good pain’ and ‘bad pain’ and as she worked I realised that this was ‘good pain’. My spine soon testified as much, emitting a satisfying click as it regained its natural alignment.

It was my legs which required the most attention, though. My calves and Achilles tendons were both brutally tight – a problem which painfully manifested itself in the ligaments in the soles of my feet and heels. Hence the golf ball treatment.

“It is called Plantar fasciitis.” she said, chatting away as her fingers gripped my hamstrings like one of those claws which picks up old cars in a scrapyard and drops them into the crusher. “It is not uncommon in people of your age.”

A few days of playing the ‘let’s see how long we can stand on a golf ball’ game in the mornings and the pain had been downgraded from ‘f***ing agony’ to ‘bloody painful’. It was progress of sorts. After a few weeks, rocking my bare foot around that hard little golf ball was beginning to feel like, well, good pain.

Sports massage works deep in the muscles, realigning the muscle fibres and connective tissue, and flushing away the toxins. Regular sessions will increase joint mobility and flexibility, and reduce the risk of injury during exercise.

A session a week takes between 45 minutes and an hour for the full body drubbing, and it really does put a new spring in your step that lasts for a few days afterwards.

For my own condition of Plantar Fasciitis, time seems to be the great healer. Regular sports massage sessions are helping though, combined with calf muscle and Achilles tendon stretching and strengthening exercises.

There is no magic cure, but a vigorous session a week in the firm grip of a skilled sports therapist and I am beginning to take a brisk step in the right direction.

Yoga is a more well-rounded approach

There are several reasons yoga is a more balanced way to do strength training:

  • A regular yoga practice can reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better at things you have to do every day: walk, sit, twist, bend, lift groceries .... A form of functional fitness, yoga moves your body in the ways it was designed to move to help ensure that it keeps functioningproperly. For example, in yoga you use both large and small muscles and move in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.), not just back and forth on a one-dimensional plane, as in the forward-back motion of a bicep curl.

  • Yoga tones muscles all over your body, in balance with each other. Weight training exercises typically isolate and flex one muscle or muscle group at a time.

  • Yoga relies on eccentric contraction, where the muscle stretches as it contracts, giving the muscles that sleek, elongated look while increasing flexibility in the muscles and joints. Weight training relies on the opposite physical principle of concentric muscle contraction, which means the muscle gets smaller as it contracts. Without proper stretching, the muscle fibers heal close together, giving the muscle that compact, bulging look.
  • Yoga increases muscle endurance because you typically hold any given pose for a period of time and repeat it several times during a yoga workout.
For good general fitness, do some of both

I advise clients who are just trying to stay fit and healthy (not do body-building) to get a mix of both body-weight exercises and workouts using weights or resistance tools. Many studies have shown that the more variety in your workout routine, the faster you’ll see results.

Note that body-weight exercises also include good-ol’ pushups, squats and other calisthenics — any type of movement that requires you to hold or lift yourself up with your limbs.

While the most important thing is to find a form of exercise you love and can see yourself doing as a lifelong habit, I encourage my clients to continally try new and different forms of exercise. If you include many types of workout techniques, you’ll continue to test and push your body in different ways, and you'll keep growing as a fitness enthusiast and as an individual.

Which yoga poses are best for developing strength?

Yee explains that certain types of yoga poses build muscle tone in different ways.

“Challenging arm balances and inversion poses are very effective for building muscle strength,” he says, “because they flex groups of smaller muscles — not just the major muscles you work with a weight machine — to support the body’s weight during the pose.”

“Holding standing poses such as the Warrior Poses andTriangle Pose is great for strengthening the leg muscles.” he adds. “And in balance poses such as Tree Pose, one leg has to hold up your entire body. So you’re increasing your strength just by putting your weight on that leg.”

By holding the positions longer, doing more repetitions, and learning new yoga poses, you can make your yoga practice more or less challenging, just as you can with traditional body weight exercises like squats and lunges. Just don’t try to go straight to the advanced yoga videos and poses like arm balances to get on a fast-track to “cut” arms. Start with basic yoga poses at a class

Any specific questions feel free to comment at 




Many of my clients and friends wanted me discuss situations in peoples lives. Please don't use name but feel free to share experiences.