What Is Cupping? (And Why Are Olympic Athletes Doing It?)

Wondering what those big red dots all over Phelps' torso were? Well, my friends, they're the result of cupping.

Michael Phelps in a cupping session | Photo via Instagram

Michael Phelps in a cupping session | Photo via Instagram

Finally! Proof my addiction to The Real Housewives franchise isn’t a complete waste of time. Last night, when everyone was wondering WTF those red dots all over Michael Phelps’ torso were, I already knew the answer. In a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County, Shannon — the wacky acupuncture-loving housewife — received a cupping treatment to help pull toxins out of her body after some fight or another with the other housewives.

And that, my friends, is what those red spots you saw all over Phelps’ torso as he a swam at the Olympics yesterday were: The results of cupping, an ancient therapy — currently a trendy workout-recovery technique — that uses suction cups to pull the skin upward and is touted with powers like improving blood circulation and reducing muscle soreness. (And ridding the body of toxins accumulated during fights had to boost your reality television ratings.)

Think of the practice as an alternative to a sports massage. The suction causes the red bruise-like dots which, according to Cupping Resource, usually last about three days to a week.

As WebMD notes, the benefits of cupping haven’t been extensively studied, but a number of Olympic athletes seem to be believers. Last week, Olympic gymnasts were talking the practice up for reducing their muscle soreness, and it would seem Phelps has been into using cupping for recovery for quite some time now. He posted the above Instagram photo of himself receiving a cupping treatment nearly a year ago.

To see what goes down in a cupping therapy session, check out the video USA Today posted earlier, below.

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