What Is Cupping—And Should You Try It?

Even if you’ve never heard the term ‘cupping’ before, you can probably picture Michael Phelps walking around the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil with dark, black-and-blue circles on his shoulder. Here, we’ll break down the performance trend, from cupping benefits to incorporating cupping into your routine.

What Is Cupping, Anyway?

So, those black-and-blue circles you’re seeing all over athletes these days? They come from an ancient Chinese therapy now known as ‘cupping,’ which involves placing suction cup-like structures on the skin to help combat injuries and even illnesses, says Allison Heffron, D.C., chiropractor and licensed acupuncturist at Physio Logic in Brooklyn, NY.

How does cupping work? Well, think of it as basically the opposite of a massage. When you get a massage, the therapist uses compression in order to help loosen up your tissues. “Cupping does the opposite, and pulls things apart,” explains Heffron. “Instead of compressing blood vessels, you pull tissues apart in order to get more blood flow into the area.”