What exactly is cupping?

Of all the strange storylines surrounding the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, perhaps the strangest involves pock-like markings on the bodies of some of the athletes, specifically the most famous Olympian of all, Michael Phelps.

Basically a hickey created by plastic suction cups, the ancient Chinese practice of cupping involves using some form of suction or heat to draw the skin underneath the cup away from the muscles, thus relieving soreness in the muscles.

At 31 years old, Phelps is an old-timer in the world of swimming, so it should come as no surprise that he is utilizing the trusty practice of cupping to relieve his aches and pains.

However, the cupping aftermath is definitely not a sight for sore eyes, as the bright red polka dots look more like chicken pox than an odd form of massage therapy.

But, evidently, cupping really works, and if Phelps’ epic Olympic performance thus far is any indication, it must really, really work.

Like a hickey, cupping draws blood to the area of suction, and, though it likely causes skin soreness, it eases tension in the muscles, which, needless to say, is pivotal for athletes.

Phelps’ sponsors are probably not too happy that their poster boy turned to cupping, as any promotional footage from the Rio games will be marred by his odd, spotted appearance. But Phelps has already won three gold medals in Rio and is not finished yet. And maybe cupping is to thank.

Who would have thought it? The most decorated athlete in the history of the Olympic Games took a page out of an ancient Chinese physical therapy textbook in order to remain on top of his game at 31. And who would have thought that being covered in giant hickeys would ever be so cool? Michael Phelps: breaking swimming records and starting new trends all over the globe.

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