Research Review By Patrick Ward©

Date Posted:

August 2010

Study Title:

The Effects of Precompetition Massage on the Kinematic Parameters of 20-M Sprint Performance


Fletcher IM

Author's Affiliations:

Exercise Physiology Laboratory, School of Physical Education and Sports Science, University of Bedforshire, Bedforshire, United Kingdom.

Publication Information:

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2010; 24(5): 1179-1183.

Background Information:

Proper warm up is important to training and competition and with so many differing opinions on appropriate warm up protocol, it makes this topic a highly debated one. Stretching and foam rolling have found their way into the warm up of many athletes despite the potential for these modalities to lower power output and performance (1,2,4). Decreased neurological output is one of the reasons cited as a factor of strength and power attenuation following a stretching or massage protocol during the warm up period (1-4).

However, a few recent studies have indicated that this negative effect may be mitigated when stretching or massage are followed by a more neurologically active dynamic warm up (1,3). This study sought to test the result of three different warm up strategies – pre-event massage, traditional warm up, or pre-event massage combined with traditional warm up – on 20-m sprint times in college athletes.

Pertinent Results:

  • All subjects performed their slowest sprint times following the pre-event massage only condition.
  • Traditional warm up alone led to a 2.74% decrease in sprint times compared to pre-event massage. This finding was significant.
  • Compared to pre-event massage only group, there was a significant (2.44%) decrease in sprint time for the pre-event massage combined with warm up group.
  • The difference between the warm up group and the pre-event massage combined with warm up group was not significant.

Clinical Application & Conclusions:

Massage can be thought of as an inhibitor of the nervous system, allowing us to relax and hopefully achieve a more parasympathetic state. That being said, some athletes feel that massage or foam rolling is helpful during their warm up period as it allows them to improve mobility prior to performing a more comprehensive dynamic warm up.

When a dynamic warm up is performed following massage or stretching, it appears that some of the negative effects on power output are mitigated (1,3). Young and Behm looked at the affects different warm up protocols consisting of various combinations of stretching, running and practice jumps would have on jumping performance (1).

The combination of warm up run, stretch, and practice jumps – designed to mimic a warm up that an athlete may do – produced similar results to that of the warm up run only protocol possibly due to the fact that the dynamic warm up prepared the nervous system for the task at hand.

Young and Behm even state in the paper, “It is possible that the rehearsal of a skill to be performed during a warm up has the effect of “opening up” specific neural pathways to facilitate motor unit activation thereby enhancing the readiness of the neuromuscular system.”

In a more recent study, Taylor and colleagues looked at two different warm up strategies (3):
  1. Warm up run + 15min. of static stretching + Skill Specific warm up
  2. Warm up run + 15min. of dynamic warm up + Skill Specific warm up
Similar to Young and Behm, Taylor and colleagues found that no difference in performance variables were found between either group when a skill specific warm up follows either static stretching or a dynamic warm up protocol.

Both of the above studies are in agreement with this current paper, that stretching or massage, when followed by an appropriate dynamic warm up, can be included as part of an overall warm up strategy, which leads to the clinical application of this work:

Massage followed by dynamic warm up did not improve performance. Meaning, this group did not out-perform the traditional warm up alone group. It simply brought them back to a baseline level similar to that of the traditional warm up group. Therefore, although performance was not improved, it was not decreased either. Athletes put their stock in things that make them feel good, and when athletes feel good, they tend to perform well. If foam rolling or stretching make athletes feel better and they do not impede performance (when followed by a dynamic or skill specific warm up) then there is really no reason to not let them do it. High performance is as much psychological as it is physical, and if these warm up strategies help the athlete get into a better mental state, then they should not be taken out of the overall warm up preparation.

Study Methods:

  • Twenty male collegiate team sport athletes (rugby, soccer and basketball).
  • Subjects had a minimum of four years of specific sports preparation and were considered experienced athletes.
  • All subjects trained and/or played a minimum of three times per week.
  • Prior to the completion of 2 x 20-m sprints (fastest time used for comparison between intervention), each subject underwent 3 randomized warm up conditions.
  • The traditional warm up condition consisted of 4 laps of a standard sports hall at 30s per lap followed by 1 x 10s static stretching of the lower limb musculature. This was then followed up by 4 x 20m self-paced strides.
  • The massage only condition consisted of 9 minutes of vigorous massage, thought to excite the nervous system, to the lower extremity. Massage techniques included effleurage (rhythmic pressure strokes) and petrissage (kneading and squeezing). This was then followed up by 4 x 20m self-paced strides.
  • The massage and warm up group consisted of both the 9 minute massage protocol, followed by a 1 minute rest, and then the traditional warm up.

Study Strengths / Weaknesses:

  • The subjects in the study were only males. Perhaps females would respond differently to this sort of massage intervention to the lower-extremity prior to 2 x 20m maximum effort sprints.
  • The massage protocol was very general and not specific to one individual athlete. This is hardly what you would see in a proper soft tissue therapy treatment.
  • The athletes in this study were experienced, college level athletes. The results may not be the same for the general public, as experienced athletes typically have greater neurological efficiency.

Additional References:

  1. Young W, Behm D. Effects of Running, Static Stretching, and practice jumps on explosive force production and jumping performance. J Sports Med Phys Fit 2003; 43:21-7.
  2. Fowles J, Sal D, MacDougall J. Reduced Strength after passive stretch of the human plantar flexors. J Appl Physiol 2000; 89:1179-88.
  3. Taylor KL, Sheppard JM, Lee H, Plummer N. Negative Effect of Static Stretching Restored When Combined With a Sport Specific Warm-up Component. J Sci and Med in Sport 2009; 12:657-661.
  4. McKenchie GJ, Young WB, Behm DG. Acute Effects of Two Massage Techniques on Ankle Joint Flexibility and Power of the Plantar Flexors. J Sci and Med in Sport 2007; 6:489-504.