When Michael Phelps powered to his 19th Olympic medal yesterday, the whole world was watching and those large red circles covering his shoulders and back are certainly hard to miss.
They are not skin infection nor bruises from a bar fight but rather marks made by 'cupping', a Chinese practice of sucking the skin away from the underlying muscles for a short period of time in order to stimulate blood flow.
This ancient therapy involves having hot suction cups applied to the skin for several minutes, which is enough to expand blood vessels and capillaries near the skin surface will break, causing the tell tale red welts which sometimes takes weeks to fade.
In 2015, Phelps started increasing his workouts and the intensity of his swimming to prepare for Rio, and finding a quick way to recover and relax his muscles was a high priority, TIME magazine reports.
Phelps had posted an Instagram photo showing himself stretched on a table as his Olympic swimming teammate Allison Schmitt placed several pressurized cups along the back of his thighs. “Thanks for my cupping today!” he wrote. Pic: Instagram
Phelps coach, Keenan Robinson says he doesn’t use cupping to heal, per se, but rather to help keep the fascia — which are knitted in between and on the surface of muscle — lubricated. That allows muscles can move more freely and easily.
“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,” Robinson told TIME magazine.
The U.S. swimmers, including silver-medal winner Chase Kalisz and bronze medalist Dana Vollmer, have also adopted the practice while US gymnast Alexander Naddour also sported red circles in Rio.