Aug 10, 2016
Cupping Gains Attention in Rio

U.S. swimmers at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have generated attention for noticeable round bruises, the result of cupping, which may help their recovery process. About two years ago, Keenan Robinson, Michael Phelps’ longtime strength and conditioning coach introduced the Olympian to cupping as a therapeutic technique, and Phelps is continuing the recovery method twice per week.

The key purpose of Robinson’s use of cupping is to help keep the fascia moving freely. An article from Time explains that rather than pushing the fascia and muscle down, cupping allows fluid to move more easily by pulling the muscle and fascia apart.

“We know some clinical studies say it does cause great change in cellular activity, and muscle activity, and fascial activity, so we’ll apply it to athletes well in advance of even before they go to Olympic trials,” Robinson told Time. “[We wouldn’t] start trying it on them at the Olympics. We want them to get exposure and say, ‘Well, you’re telling me this does this but I don’t feel it so let’s move on to the next modality.’ We’re trying to use whatever we can to help them really move better.”

Traditionally, cupping incorporates inverting a small cup over a lit match and then placing the cup over skin after the match has gone out to allow pressure to build up from the heat. Although there are various cupping methods in practice, the U.S. swimmers have adopted a modern version that incorporates a hand-held pump to draw the skin away. This allows a quick way to help flush lactic acid.

“I wouldn’t say [Phelps] was on it right away,” Robinson told Time. “When he realized it would take five minutes and that this could get him from Tuesday to Thursday [workouts] and from Thursday to Saturday [workouts], he was on board.”

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