Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week to achieve a healthy lifestyle. To achieve substantial health benefits, each session should be at least 10 minutes, accumulated throughout the week to achieve 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorously intense exercise.
Whichever form of exercise you set your mind on will be beneficial when done correctly with perseverance. As your body endures these new stimuli introduced, it’ll begin to transform and get closer to your goals (be it for weight loss, bulking, or performance). However, it usually reaches a plateau when your body has adapted to your exercise routine.
While some people are satisfied with this state and stick to their routine, others who continually seek to challenge their limits may find hitting a plateau frustrating.
This is where TCM comes in.
Acupuncture has been an efficient treatment for all manner of sports injury and pain management. Thanks to continuous research and testimonials from new-age athletes, acupuncture as a form of natural sports enhancement has gained popularity over the years.
5 ways Acupuncture can help in Sports Enhancement:
1. ACUPUNCTURE ENHANCES MUSCULAR STRENGTH
According to one research¹, acupuncture has shown a significant increase in the maximum voluntary force produced from the quadriceps immediately after treatment. Surface electromyography results also showed significant muscle activation after acupuncture.
Acupuncture stimulates muscles prior to an exercise session to increase local blood supply. This essentially “warms up” the muscles, theoretically eliminating the need for a traditional warm-up period before exercising. With sufficient blood flow to the muscles, energy stores are plentiful and provide sufficient energy to attain that extra strength to break the plateau.
2. ACUPUNCTURE REDUCES DOMS
DOMS is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours after a strenuous exercise session. It is caused by the unnatural lengthening of muscle fibres during exercise. Compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, and HIITs usually result in irregular shortening and lengthening of muscle fibres during the session. This creates tiny tears in the muscle groups (microtrauma) and as the inflammation pathway gradually builds up, pain and fatigue become more significant.
Acupuncture can be administered to reduce the duration of DOMS. By removing microtraumas quickly and soothing painful muscles, the recovery period can be significantly shortened. For example, an athlete who would have needed 3 days of rest after intense training can shorten the recovery period to 1 day. By returning to training sooner, it increases the frequency of stimulus introduced to the body, thus breaking through the plateau state.
According to another research², the pain factor was significantly lower in the group that underwent acupuncture treatment. Although voluntary muscle force did not improve immediately after treatment, it increased significantly after a period of 12-18 hours.
3. ACUPUNCTURE HASTENS MUSCLE REBUILDING
As cheesy as the motto “No Pain No Gain” sounds, it holds an ounce of truth. Although DOMS can be debilitating, it is an important process for muscle building and body conditioning. These microtraumas in the muscles cause them to adapt and rebuild into bigger and stronger muscles.
While the number of muscle fibres in a muscle remains unchanged, the size and strength of the fibres can increase. However, muscle rebuilding only happens at the end of the inflammation pathway. Acupuncture speeds up the removal of inflammatory materials from the muscles, thereby hastening the rebuilding process of the muscle fibres after an intense bout of exercise.
Muscles are designed to adapt gradually to stimuli, thus it is imperative to monitor the exercise routine and introduce new stimuli to prevent hitting a plateau. A rule of thumb is to switch up the routine whenever you no longer feel pain from the DOMS.
4. ACUPUNCTURE INCREASES FLEXIBILITY AND PREVENTS JOINT INJURIES
Some exercises, especially high impact and intensity compound exercises, place more strain on the joints. Should the form be compromised, joint injuries can happen.
Acupuncture can be done on a weak joint before an exercise session to increase joint flexibility³. This allows for more joint movement during the session and reduces injuries caused by unnatural joint movement. Acupuncture can also be done after a session to remove post-exercise joint strain and prevent any injuries that may arise.
5. TCM ALLOWS NUTRIENTS TO BE ABSORBED FULLY AND EFFICIENTLY
Nutrition plays an important role in muscle building or body conditioning. Food taken into the body has to be processed and absorbed before it is made available as nutrients. Unfortunately, a lot of people have neglected the importance of the digestive system, focusing more on the output (exercise) than the input (nutrition). With a weak digestive system, even the best quality of health foods and supplements will not be absorbed efficiently.
Using TCM diagnostics, a physician will be able to identify and treat digestive issues. Herbal medication and acupuncture can both be administered to invigorate the digestive system, allowing better nutrient absorption. With a better quality of ‘input’, the body will be able to obtain sufficient nutrients to supplement the exercise routine.
 HÜBSCHER M, VOGT, L., ZIEBART, T. ET AL. 2010. Immediate effects of acupuncture on strength performance: a randomized, controlled crossover trial[J]. Eur J Appl Physiol,(110):1.
 ONDA A, JIAO Q, NAGANO Y, et al. 2011. Acupuncture ameliorated skeletal muscle atrophy induced by hindlimb suspension in mice[J]. Biochem Biophys Res Commun, 410(3):434-439.
 HUANG L P, ZHOU S, AO M, et al. 2015. Unilateral intramuscular needling can improve ankle dorsiflexor strength and muscle activation in both legs[J]. J Exerc Sci Fit, 13(2):86-93.
Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.