On a couple of occasions in my life I’ve seen old-school soigneurs in action, up close. Their pre-race rituals are impressive less for what they are than what they betray about consistent deep-tissue massage. I’ve watched soigneurs perform pre-race massages in which they so loosened muscles that they could push their thumbs deep into a hamstring without a trace of resistance. Frankly, it looked kinda surreal.
The years have taken a toll on me. These days, I’m a bigger believer in the value of massage than even when I was racing both days of every weekend. Using an embrocation is a chance to give my legs a pre-ride massage and the benefit I experience is readily apparent. There’s a hill less than a mile from home, one I have to climb at the start of nearly every ride I do. While I haven’t performed any double-blind studies with control groups and other assorted scientific whatnot, I began noticing that on days when I was wearing embro, I felt better on that hill than if I was wearing knee or leg warmers. I didn’t have any agenda and didn’t start with a theory of any sort; I just started noticing that on some days I felt less stiff when I hit that hill. Actually, what I noticed was that some days I rode a little faster than other days.
Initially, I attributed it to how recovered I was. Then I noticed that sometimes I felt good even at the end of a higher-mileage week. Eventually it occurred to me that I ride a bit better when my legs smell good. Some of this, I must confess, doesn’t even involve my legs. After I massage the embro into my legs, I make sure to hit my left shoulder and lower back. Adding some heat there does a lot to loosen me up before the ride. The trick is to do it as early as possible after rising, and then avoiding contact with my son and the cats.
That’s just bound to end in tears.
Hibros is Italian maker of embrocations. And they have a selection of products like the Rolling Stones have albums. In looking through their selection at Interbike last year, the device above caught my eye. It is a pump dispenser for embrocation. Not only that, it features a dial indicator in the front that allows you to decide just how much heat you apply.
If there was one thing that fascinated me about watching Euro soigneurs in action it was seeing how they’d mix embros the way painters mix oils on a palette. They’d get a finger of this, a couple dabs of that and a drop of this other as they worked. And depending on whether they were working on hamstrings, quads or calves, that mix would change. To my eye it was a kind of sorcery.
The embro comes in replaceable cartridges and I was pleasantly surprised to find that you can’t screw up and install the no-heat cream in the heat slot and vice versa. Imagine the shock you’d get if you could put the heated version in the no-heat side. That brings me to my one knock against this stuff. Even when turned up all the way, the heat in this embro is pretty modest. Temperature-wise, it ranks below a Mad Alchemy “mellow” and Record Pregara Forte. I found I really only used it in late spring and cool summer mornings. Once conditions cooled off for fall, I switched to other stuff.
I like the feel of the cream and the smell, which leans heavily on menthol and camphor, is decidedly old-school.
As not everyone is a fan of parabens (which are generally used as preservatives in cosmetics), I need to mention that the Hibros embro does include several parabens in its list of ingredients. If you tend to be sensitive to them, there are other options out there. The dispenser with two cartridges lists for $44 and 75ml replacement cartridges list for $15. Online I’ve found both for 10 to 15 percent less. You can check out Hibros stuff here.