Sports Massage and Its Impact on the Olympics in the Early 1900s
By Judi Calvert, LMP
In 1906, H. Joseph Fay was considered the Australian authority on scientific massage for athletes. He created a massage system for athletes who competed in sprinting and long-distance running.
Fay, an athlete himself, wrote a small 68-page book in 1906 called, Scientific Massage for Athletes. The English and Welsh authorities regarded Fay as one of the world’s best athletes in the United Kingdom and as a trainer at accredited universities. So we have some history here that scientific massage was being taught by Fay at these universities.
When Fay arrived in Australia, he found that the athletes were unaware of the meaning of massage or “rubbing,” as it was called, and the great benefits that it provided. He felt they needed scientific training to help them understand that they would have more success on the track when massage was added to their program. Fay wrote that, “Not so long ago, Australia was not regarded seriously as having representatives in the athletic arena worthy to compete with the world’s best.” He believed that it had to do with the British sporting people and their “ignorance concerning the different conditions prevailing in the Antipodes.”
It seemed the rules were that the representative athlete had to belong to the Athletic League, which at the time was a well-organized professional league. Its members had to register and were allowed to only compete at meetings over which the League had jurisdiction. Athletics were thriving in England and so it was just a few years before the athletes from England finally came to Australia to compete. In the 1908 Olympiad, the Australians had champions and massage was a part of their training. But in England, massage was regarded as “worthless.” There were volumes on athletic training published in England during this time and massage was stigmatized as a “waste of time.”
Fay spent some time with the trainers in England and watched them perform their massage techniques. He saw first hand how they “tickled” the athletes and attempted to practice the five-finger exercises. Fay also saw this type of massage in Wales. He felt they had no type of system that they used on the athletes as they laid on the “rubbing boards” as they were called back then. The coaching in England had, for a long time, just been haphazard. According to E. G. Eames, who wrote a new edition of Fay’s book and entirely rewrote and revised the book in 1906, it was the trainer’s job to simply pick out a “natural-born athlete, and encourage him to further effort.” The trainer would have the athlete “strain rather than train” and would give him some “useless exercises, tips, a cold bath and a rubbing, which probably did more harm than good”. It was common for an athlete to encounter the condition of an enlarged heart from being worked “too hard and too unscientifically,” Eames wrote.
By 1906, top U.S. athletes were getting massage and it was a very important branch of their athletic training. The athletes had much success in competing in the big international meets in the amateur world. Fay knew the athletes in the U.S. were “keen on having their rub after exercising.” So, we have more history here that the Americans were using massage on their athletes and were serious about the efficacy and practical proof of it. The Swedes had also adopted the American methods of training and massage. Fay knew the coaches and knew they got their experience in athletics in the U.S.
Fay did his own research and found out that Germany and France had hired coaches to begin training their athletes in massage for the next Olympiad. France had begun to establish a college of athletics so they were getting serious, too.
In 1912, several of the British athletes began to incorporate massage into their training and were becoming champions. They saw first-hand an increase in their speed on the running tracks.
Definition of Massage
Also in 1912, Fay gave his definition of massage. “Massage is the systematic treatment of muscle not lightly but vigorously to bring about definite results. “Fay believed that to be a good “masseur,” as they were called back in the day, and a great trainer, a man benefited from being a good a good athlete himself. He also had to be a good “rubber.” The trainers had to be strong and hard workers. Fay believed the difference between an average trainer and a practical trainer was that “the latter works with the muscles and does not just pat the muscles.”
Benefits of Massage
Fay learned the benefits of massage through his experience:
- Massage got rid of waste products.
- Produced growth of muscles.
- The athletes’ frame became bigger.
- Joints were strengthened.
- The digestion of the athlete improved.
- Breathing became deeper.
Movements in Massage
Fay taught three movements, or techniques, to his trainers: Friction, Kneading and Vibration. Friction meant rubbing and was done with the whole or part of the hand over the surface of the body, like a carpenter working on a plane over a piece of wood. It was done with a long, sweeping movement. The masseur could use a liniment or powder. Kneading was the most important movement, according to Fay. It was a kneading technique just like a baker would knead dough. Fay felt that the masseur should knead the muscles using not the end of the fingers, but with “the portion nearer the palms.” “The fleshy part of the thumb and not the end should be used,” he wrote. Fay wanted this type of movement done by the masseur to make him have to work deeper instead of just “fiddling” with the skin of the athlete.
Rolling was a variation of kneading and the muscles were to be rolled over the bones or the deeper muscles. The masseur could use his hands or the inside of his forearm to the elbow to perform this movement. It was like a “sawing action.”
Wringing was another variation of the kneading action that the masseur performed. Vibration was the “third great division” into how Fay divided massage. The masseur would do very fine shaking movements which he “communicated to the body.” He broke them down into subdivisions of lateral, superficial and deep, which Fay felt was most important because it would reach the deeper muscles of the athlete. And the last variation was called shaking, which was a tugging action that was performed.
So the next time you athletes are out there running, remember that “no pain, no gain” does not work without massage in your training program.
- Scientific Massage for Athletes by H. Joseph Fay London, Ewart, Seymour & Co., LTD. Windsor House, Kingsway, W.C.
- Scientific Massage For Athletes By E.G. Eames, M.S.M.I, C.S.M.M.G. London: Athletic Publications.