Feb 2016 06

What should I wear for a sports massage

By: Dave Wheeler

If you've been for a massage before, then the question "what should I wear for a sports massage?" will seem obvious, but if you're a newbie then it can be one of the questions that makes you apprehensive about seeking out a remedial massage.


Seeing is believing

It might sound obvious, but to get the most out of your sports massage, the therapist needs to be able to access the muscles that he or she is treating.

If you want your calf muscles treated, for example, it really helps if the therapist can see the muscle as well as touch it. So the best thing to wear if you want your calf muscles massaged is a pair of shorts that gives access to the calf muscles. Looking at the differences between the muscle bulk on each leg, and the distribution of muscle on each leg, helps me get an understanding of how you're using your calves, and therefore how best to treat them.

Actually, if I'm treating your calves, I find it really useful to see your feet as well (preferably with the socks off) - seeing the way your feet lie at rest gives me an idea of your gait (the way you walk) and allow me to target treatment more precisely.

This goes back to something I've talked about before - the villain & victim principle - often the muscle experiencing the pain isn't the one causing the problem.

Massaging your shoulders & back

For guys this is an easy one, you can just take your shirt off and lie face down.

For women this isn't as easy. Following the guidelines above, the best thing to wear is something that allows the therapist access to the area that you want treated. Actually, given that the problem causing discomfort is often in a neighbouring muscle, being able to massasge the muscles above and below the one that hurts can be useful.

So if the ache is in your mid or upper back, a bra that you're comfortable lying face down in, is best.

If the problem is in your lower back, then a loose vest or t-shirt that you don't mind lifting up to give your massage therapist access to the lower back muscle is fine.

Massaging the lower half of your body

For feet, calves, thighs and glutes, shorts are always the best option.

Cycling shorts aren't great if you want your quads or hamstrings massaged, as they restrict access to the top ⅓ of the muscle. Loose-legged shorts, like football shorts, are best.

Can you massage through clothing?

The simple answer is "yes".

The more complex is answer is "yes but":

  • I need to be able to feel the muscle - me massaging your calves through jeans is going to be a waste of your time and money.
  • If you really want to wear clothing, then it needs to be thin enough for me to access the muscle through.
  • The thicker the clothing, the more generalised (i.e. the less specific) the treatment. The most specific treatment is applied to muscle directly thru the skin.

So yes, I can massage through clothing, but what you get is a generalised massage not a specific one. This is actually appropriate for conditions like Parkinson's Disease where what matters is the rhythmic pressure of massage just to calm down the central nervous system. 

In truth though, unless the situation is special, like Parkinson's, your not really getting value for money by covering up your muscles and coming for a sports massage.


So the general rule of thumb  is wear something that allows me treat the muscle directly. If it's your glutes, then shorts are fine, otherwise the best option is to wear something that allows me to see and feel the muscle itself.

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.