Unless a fighter is lucky enough to score a knockout in the first round, there’s a pretty good chance that said MMA fighter will come out of fight night with bruises on his or her thighs and shins. While we’re at it, let’s throw in a very possible broken nose, swollen eye and a face wound or two that would normally require stitches.
Now it is important that these injuries be treated immediately after the fight. Legs need to be elevated and ice should be applied on any bruises. While all this icing and elevating and wiping off the blood, sweat and tears are happening, the ringside doctor (well technically backstage doctor - fight’s finished after all) gives the fighter a look-see for possible injuries.
All of this happens backstage - away from the lights, the crowds, the photographers and video cameras. And apart from the occasional emergency room selfie, the rest of us really don’t know what MMA fighters do to recover from fight nights. Or even how they recover from pre-fight training, for that matter.
So how do they do it? Do they use a post-fight recovery tool like a massage gun? And since we mentioned it, how exactly does a percussive therapy device - a massage gun - help MMA fighters recover from fight nights or even during training?
Before we answer these questions - let us make one thing very clear:
Fight night recovery is different from post-training recovery.
Each athlete recovers differently. There really isn’t a cookie cutter approach to how quick a fighter can bounce back from injuries they got from a fight. Some can go back to training after a week, while there are those who need surgery and have to rest for months.
Unless your coach sends you home with a black eye and a broken arm after every training day, there are things you can do to recover from training sessions that you cannot do after an actual fight. And using a massage gun right after a fight, is one of those things.
Don’t get us wrong - percussive therapy - the therapy on which massage guns are based - does a lot to help a MMA fighter recover. Let’s go over them.
How massage guns help with a MMA fighter’s recovery
Intense MMA training and the subsequent fights can cause injury to tissues, causing micro tears in the muscle fibers. This causes inflammation and muscle pains. The physical stresses also cause knee problems, headaches, back pain, shoulder pain and more.
Lactic acid build up in the muscles is your body’s normal reaction to intense physical activity. This build up leads to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which while uncomfortable and can set athletes back from training for days, is actually a type of “good” pain. DOMS is an indicator that your body is working to heal itself.
Massage guns break down the lactic acid build up in the muscles which causes fatigue and soreness. Post training or post fight muscle soreness sets back a fighter for days or even weeks. Massaging problem areas is necessary to ease discomfort.
Recovery devices like the HYDRAGUN use percussive force to stimulate muscle tissue. With a motor that can go as fast as 3200 RPM, the gun promotes blood flow towards sore muscles which helps reduce pain and post workout soreness.
Massage guns help fighters recover by promoting blood flow into tired muscles. By improving and sustaining blood flow to problem areas, nutrients are more effectively “shuttled” to muscles that need them most. This means the muscles are able to repair themselves faster, cutting down a fighter’s downtime between training or fights.
Another important thing to take note. Using massage guns will not completely eliminate DOMS. Self-massaging with these devices help reduce the chances of you suffering from intense soreness. However, it is not a magic wand that will make all post training and even post fight muscle pains go away. It will not do that. What it does is help you recover faster and make muscles stronger.
Using a massage gun can help fighters sleep better. Achy and sore muscles can affect a fighter’s sleep - heck, anyone would have trouble sleeping if your body feels like a train wreck. And not sleeping well is detrimental to combat athletes. Among other problems, lack of sleep slows down a fighter’s reaction time which we can all agree is a big no-no during training and fight nights.
Massage guns help relax a fighter’s body and mind, helping them sleep better. Fighters need an average of 9 hours of sleep to help with recovery. Getting enough sleep every night is also crucial in a fighter’s focus and a massage gun’s relaxing effects allows them to get that.
When is using a massage gun not recommended for fighters?
There is no denying the many benefits of using massage guns after a workout or a training session. But there is also a time when using these powerful devices can cause more harm than good. And for MMA fighters, that time is right after a fight.
While there is really no hard and fast rule about when you should massage out any swelling - and many old school instructors actually do this the very next day after a fight - you need to listen to what your body is telling you when it comes to using recovery tools on yourself. Particularly powerful ones like massage guns.
If you massage, let’s say, a swollen shin a little too hard too soon after a fight, you would only increase muscle damage. Keep in mind that the beating you take during a fight is different from your sparring sessions in the gym. Besides, if the area is really swollen, it would be hard for even ringside doctors to tell just how bad of an injury you have until the swelling goes down a bit.
So, it is best to wait for about a week after fight night AND consult with your doctor first before you start using a massage gun. Because there may be times when after a fight an area that just feels a “little sore” actually turns out to be a major injury. And you would not want to overstimulate that area with any type of recovery device.
There have been a lot of articles written about all the pre-fight stuff that MMA athletes go through: the workouts, the diet, importance of warming up and cooling down practices and even the benefits of using a massage gun before, during and after a training session. Not a lot has been written about what these athletes do to recover and what tools they use to get back on track.
So, a quick recap.
Recovering from fight nights is different from post training recovery. Obviously an athlete sustains more injury during fight night than during training sessions. As such, recovering from fight nights takes longer.
MMA fighters, like any other athlete, benefit from using a massage gun. It helps them recover faster by reducing muscle aches, relaxing their mind and helping them sleep better. Do they use recovery tools like massage guns right after a fight to recover? The answer is: not exactly.
While massage guns ARE very helpful in speeding up recovery, you need to take into account the possibility that an athlete could have sustained a major injury post-fight. Over stimulation of swollen areas may cause more muscle damage, if it is done too soon. As such, waiting for at least a week and only after consulting with a doctor should massage guns be used to aid recovery.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, every athlete’s road to recovery is unique. Some are lucky enough to not have sustained major injury during a fight and bounce back in a few weeks. Others may need a longer time before they can get back to the ring. Regardless of the length of time it takes to recover, MMA fighters - with the help of recovery tools like massage guns - return to the ring a stronger, faster, better athlete.
Do you know of other ways that MMA fighters recover from training and fight nights? Let us know in the comments. Better yet, check our social media posts and follow us for more sports recovery tips and updates.