Massage Technique

How To Learn the The Basic Massage Techniques

Woman Receiving Tibetan Massage at Sunset
••• Matthew Wakem/Stone/Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to learn how to give your partner a great massage?  It might be easier than you think.  One of the best ways is to schedule time with a licensed massage therapist to teach you basic massage techniques.  She can put one person on the table while she teaches the other, and then have you switch places.  Booking 90 minutes is usually enough time of one session.  You can practice at home, and then come back for more sessions to perfect your technique.

Massage technique is made up of massage strokes that primarily derive from Swedish massage, the most commonly offered and best-known type of massage.  If you're familiar with these massage techniques, you can better appreciate what the massage therapist is doing during a professional massage at a spa.

Knowing basic massage technique can also help you experiment with at-home massage with your partner. Basically all you need is massage oil, which facilitates the glide of your hand over the skin, and a sheet that you don't mind getting oily to put over your bed or some blankets on the floor.

The Basic Massage Techniques

Effleurage: The most fundamental Swedish massage technique is a smooth, gliding stroke called effleurage. These hand-over-hand strokes can take place over large surfaces like the back, arms, legs, chest or small surfaces like the face, throat and hands.

Massages usually begin and end with superficial effleurage, which is light, slow and soothing.

It accustoms the body to being touched. Deep effleurage uses more pressure, stretching and broadening the muscle tissue and fascia. It's a good massage technique for warming up the muscles for even deeper work.

If you're doing this at home, you would want to start with superficial massage and then, as you develop competence, intersperse the two types.

 At the spa, notice how the therapist uses this stroke and how they vary speed and pressure.  But don't burden yourself with feeling responsible for getting out all your partner's knots.  Some things should be left to the professionals!

Kneading: Another commonly used massage technique is petrissage, or kneading, where the therapist squeezes the muscle tissue between their thumb and fingertips. It's generally done rhythmically, first one hand and then the other. This can be done on big curved muscles like your thigh muscles, the upper arms, shoulders and the buttocks (though the last one is not usually done in a spa).

Friction:  This is a massage technique where the therapist works at a specific knot (called an adhesion) with their thumb or fingers. It's more targeted, and the therapist goes in more deeply to try and separate the adhered tissues. The movement or targeted pressure can be circular. It can go along the band of the muscle, tendon or ligament fibers. Or it can go across the muscle, called cross-fiber friction. This is the part of the massage that "hurts so good" and is a feature of deep tissue massage. If you're not a professional, be careful experimenting with this. You don't want to hurt yourself or your partner.

Stretching:  The massage technique of stretching is when the therapist moves your arms or legs into different positions and stretches. This is very commonly used in Asian massage styles like Thai massage and a western style called Trager. It can be used in Swedish and deep tissue massage but is not that common, especially in a day spa or resort spa setting.

Percussion:  These movements are quick and striking -- the classic example would be "chopping" with the side of the hands (called hacking) -- that you might see in an old movie. This massage technique is stimulating to the body. Other percussion massage techniques are tapping with the tips of fingers (usually lightly on the face), slapping with the flat of the hand, and beating with clinched fists on big muscles like the thigh.  This could be fun to experiment with.