How to Give a Killer Massage
Rule 1: Don't Push So Hard
Depending on your goal, there are times when you need a tiny bit of pain for gain (like when you're putting pressure on a knot). But in general you want to give firm enough pressure that you can feel the muscle move underneath the skin without making your partner grimace or squirm, says Ben Brown, a massage therapist at Bliss, a New York City spa.
Rule 2: Work Slowly
Rubbing hard and fast will just irritate your partner's muscles. Instead, use slow, even strokes with the palms of your hands, thumbs, or finger pads (the fleshy part of your fingertips).
Rule 3: Avoid Bones and Joints
Never push directly on the spine and be careful not to put too much pressure on muscles that run over the ribs and shoulder blades. If someone has thin muscle tissue, you can bruise bones by going too hard, says Tricia Pottratz, massage therapist and instructor in Woodland, Washington. Also be wary of knees, elbows, and shoulders.
Watch and Learn: Basic Massage Techniques
Sometimes it's easier to learn by seeing the pros in action! Watch to master these basic rules for giving your partner a relaxing massage before moving on to individual body parts.
The lower back may be the number one spot for injuries, but shoulders are where people carry most of their tension. Hunching over a computer screen all day long or carrying an overloaded bag can throw you out of alignment.
Shoulders: How To Do It
Most people know the basic shoulder massage move: Grab both shoulders from behind and use the thumbs to push down. Amateurs often mess this up by breaking rule number 2—they work too fast.
Shoulders: How To Do It
If your hands get tired easily, use your forearms. Have your partner sit up while you stand behind him. Place your right forearm on his right shoulder, palm facing up. Rest your left hand on his left shoulder. Then use your body weight to press down on your forearm while rotating it in toward his neck. Repeat on the other side.
Shoulders: Pro Tip
An even easier way to work tight shoulders? Grab a tennis ball. "Simply roll the ball all over with the palm of your hand," Pottratz says. You can't mess it up this way. It saves your hands from doing all the work and it feels amazing.
Watch and Learn: Shoulders
See our shoulder massage techniques in action to master these relaxing moves.
Put your hands on your hips, says Gruver. Those two thick, stiff columns your thumbs land on are the muscles responsible for keeping you upright. They're made to be tight or else you'd fall over, but rubbing them can relax a painful lower back.
Lower Back: How To Do It
While straddling him, position one hand on his lower back muscle, with fingers pointing away from his spine. Place your other hand on top of the first hand. Use your body weight to push down slowly, pressing the heels of your hands into the muscle like you're pushing it away from his spine. Try one hand on either side of the spine; rock back and forth. If he has trouble lying on his stomach, place a pillow under his hips to ease the pressure.
Watch and Learn: Lower Back
See our lower back massage techniques in action to master these relaxing moves.
Anything from how you sit at your computer to the way you sleep can lead to chronic neck pain, which is why so many people complain of tense and overstressed muscles in this spot.
Neck: How To Do It
While he's on his stomach or sitting up, gently place your palm on the back of his neck, creating light pressure with your thumb on one side and four fingers on the other. Slowly pull your hand toward the back of the neck while squeezing your thumb and fingers together around those neck muscles. (Avoid pressure toward the front of the neck so you don't choke him.)
Neck: Pro Tip
The neck has major arteries, so pressing too hard or holding too long could cause fainting. If you feel a pulse, ease up. Another red-flag spot is the indent behind the ear—pushing hard on it can trigger nerve damage or even facial paralysis, says Kathy Gruver, Ph.D., a massage therapist in Santa Barbara, California.
Watch and Learn: Neck
See our neck massage techniques in action to master these relaxing moves.
What is it about a salon hair wash that feels so fabulous? "You may not notice it, but every time you chew, talk, or raise your eyebrows, the muscles in your scalp are working, so rubbing them can be surprisingly relaxing," Gruver points out.
Head: How To Do It
Brace your thumbs near the top or back of his head and rotate your fingertips in small circles on the scalp, moving slowly from the forehead to the back of the head. "When you're done with the scalp, position your thumbs at the hairline in the middle of the forehead. From here you can use your fingers to rub the temples and also the jaw, which can get really tense," says Brown.
Watch and Learn: Head
See our head massage techniques in action to master these relaxing moves.
Hands and Feet
If you only have a few minutes, give your partner a hand or foot massage. Extremities really take a beating, and they deserve a little relief.
Hands and Feet: How To Do It
Hold your partner's hand in both your hands, with your thumbs on top. Apply pressure to the meaty muscles in his palms with your finger pads and slowly pull down. Do the same to each finger, but don't pop the knuckles. Then take one foot in both hands so your thumbs are on the bottom of his foot. Squeeze and slide your hands from the ball to the heel. Criss-cross or circle the thumbs up and down the sole.
Watch and Learn: Hands
See our hand massage techniques in action to master these relaxing moves.
Watch and Learn: Feet
See our foot massage techniques in action to master these relaxing moves.
How To Get Rid of Knots
When muscles are overworked, they shorten or get stuck in spasm, resulting in painful lumps. Often when people try to release knots, they push down hard and rub furiously. That just makes it feel worse, Pottratz says. Start with a soothing, total body massage first, using the techniques in the previous slides.
Step 1: Press and Hold
Find the lump and rub over and around it with firm, even pressure. Do some long, broad strokes down and up his back using your palms. Then, with a knuckle or thumb, press down on the knot and hold it. (Now is the time to push pretty hard, but take cues from your partner.) Have him breathe into it. Hold until you feel the muscle relax, but don't get discouraged if it doesn't release completely. Stubborn knots can take more than one massage to fix.
Step 2: Cool Down
"Now you want to use light strokes to relax the tissues," Pottratz says. Go back to what you started with: long, broad, soothing strokes.
Special thanks to Denise Curtis, massage therapist at Bliss Spa in New York City, for demonstrating how to give a really, really great massage.