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For Everyone Wondering WTF Cupping Is During The Olympics

Just in case you were wondering what those purple, circular bruises are on Michael Phelps.

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When Nathan Adrian spoke to SwimSwam in 2014 about cupping he explained that it's "a good alternative to massage to help loosen up some of your muscles" and that the practice was "definitely catching on" among other athletes at the time.

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Still, Adrian found it hard to describe the practice, saying, "There's more than one explanation for why it works. It's kind of like an Eastern medicine thing, I think that's where it originates."

Tom Pennington / Getty Images

He continued, "I don't know exactly what it is but I know it works for me. It leaves these weird bruises on your back and it looks like you got beat up or something. Everybody asks if it hurts, but it doesn't. It's much more of a queasy feeling because it's like your skin is being pulled up — actually it IS that your skin is being pulled up off of your muscles. More than any kind of pain it's more just a weird feeling."

So what exactly *is* happening to the legs of Michael Phelps in that case?

Instagram: @m_phelps00

Let's dive in. Cupping is defined as a treatment modality in traditional Chinese medicine that stimulates acupuncture points for pain relief.

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The practice of cupping has been done in China for thousands of years and Eastern medicine suggests that it also relieves stagnation of Qi (vital energy or life force) and blood inside the body. It has similarities to what Acupuncture, Acupressure, Reiki, and other alternative healing modalities that seek to cleanse the chakras, meridians, and/or energy points along the body.

The cups are placed upon the body through various methods that effectively lift the top layer of skin and superficial muscle through the circular, suctioning cups.

Epoch Massage / Via

Cups are left on the skin for an average of ten minutes and the practice is usually followed by a massage of some kind.

Olympic Gymnast Alexander Naddour told USA Today that cupping has “been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy. It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”

Alex Livesey / Getty Images

He added, "Our bodies are going to hurt after doing this for so long. It’s the best thing that I’ve ever had. It has saved me from a lot of pain."

And it's not just athletes. Celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lena Dunham (below) have been flocking to the practice as well.

Instagram: @lenadunham

Between the celebrity love and some of the world's greatest athletes singing its praises, cupping is here to stay... at least until the Olympics are over!

Have you ever tried cupping? Let us know in the comments!