Source: AP PHotos
As a former NCAA athlete in college, I recall the pressure to perform at the absolute best to the point that metrics used to measure movements required advanced NASA type physiological tools that analyzed the efficiency of each movement. Before every meet we would go into lock down mode where everything we ate was carefully planned weeks in advanced and finalized with a team of nutritionists, trainers and coaches before it met our mouth. And it’s no surprise that at the ultimate meet in the world, the Olympics, athletes would turn to more and more untraditional methods in the hopes of achieving ever higher reaching results.
Throughout history, we’ve always turned to fads and superstitions to enhance natural talents. Ancient Greeks doused themselves in olive oil to be endowed with the power of Athena. Although through science and modernization, we’ve developed more sophisticated treatments, the allure of these fads still persist. In 2012, it was the kinesiotape – those strips often seen on the shoulders and legs of athletes from beach volleyball players to track and field stars. See above on Trey Hardee, who won silver in London in the decathalon, and below on the undefeated 3-time Olympic beach volleyball champion (going for her 4th in Rio), Kerri Walsh-Jennings.
In Rio, it’s safe to say the circular bruises found on the backs and shoulders of elite athletes have made the most lasting impression. Their emergence was secured with a prominent display by the most decorated Olympian himself, Michael Phelps during his debut in the aquatic center.
According to Olympic gymnast, Alex Naddour – these treatments “provide relief from the soreness and pounding that come from gymnastics.” He even goes on to tell USA Today “That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy. It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.” In fact, he’s even purchased a set from Amazon.
While the practice is rooted in ancient Chinese beliefs of restoring the qi or life force. Most Olympians practice “wet cupping”, which involves placing heated or vacuumed glass cups to wet skin on areas that are sore or fatigued. Supposedly this helps increase range of motion and decreases subtle tissue lessions for speedier recovery. The signature polka-dot patterned bruising is the result of broken capillaries near the surface of the skin and are said to subside within a week.
Olympic athletes have always incorporated the latest tools for incremental benefits yet this ancient therapy has already been adapted as a treatment for A-List celebrities including Chris Martin (below), whose ex famously appeared with the distinctive marks at a movie premiere years ago.
While there are detractors who call this pseudoscience or question the actual effectiveness, cupping shows no signs of slowing down. After swimming ends, the Olympics will immediately move onto track & field where we’re told cupping has become one of the most popular recovery treatments so expect to see more of the familiar bruises.
If you’re curious whether these treatments work, stay tuned – I’ve got a pack on their way and will update with results!