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The Importance of Warming Up and Winding Down for Massage Therapists

The Importance of Warming Up and Winding Down for Massage Therapists
As a massage therapist, have you ever considered that you are actually an athlete?


Think about it, both professions…

  • Recognise the importance of stress management
  • Promote recovery and rehabilitation
  • Believe in preventive maintenance
  • Have an understanding of the body
  • Prioritise physical health
  • Constantly seek ways to learn more about bodies and our professions (CPD)

And on a more physical level, pertaining to the day to dayness of these 2 professions;

  • Physically demanding jobs
  • We aim to work in these careers for as long as possible
  • Strength and endurance is key
  • We need dexterity, flexibility and range of motion
  • Hand-eye coordination is essential to being effective
  • Balance and stability to maintain control, perform effectively and avoid injuries
  • Sensitivity and awareness to receive signals to adjust our movements to avoid injuries and do our best work day after day after day after day…
warm up for massage therapists

And what do athletes do before and after training sessions or matches etc?

Yip, warmup (incorporating movement that is relevant to their sport) and wind down. 

So from now on, we'd love you to think of yourself as a ‘massage athlete’. Remember, you’re in it for the long haul, and like athletes, you need to look after your body…it’s the only one you have.




Massage is a demanding physical activity, so let's prepare for it

Massage is a demanding physical activity, which also requires a concentrated focus of your attention and can put strain on your body. As with other concentrated physical activities, it's best to warm up rather than going into it cold. It's useful to spend time at the beginning of each working session doing physical and mental preparations for the day/sessions ahead.

When we teach our Hands Free Massage Trainings, the first thing we encourage is to incorporate a warmup routine. Even for a single massage, a few minutes of self-preparation are helpful. If you can create more time in your day to dedicate to this, wonderful. Even if it's only 2 minutes before each session (or even between massages), that is good too.

As massage is a physically demanding job, we also recommend you sit down as much as possible while you're working. This will help you to increase your chances in having a long career in massage and reduce the possibility of strain in your body.

Before starting your massage sessions

Light Warm up for massage therapists
Warmups can range from a set exercise routine, to systematically working through each area of the body, to dance.
You can also do any movement that feels essential in the moment.


Depending on your needs, your movement could include:
  • Energising exercises to wake up your body for action
  • General fluid movement to loosen
  • Stretches to release stiffness and increase your suppleness
  • Calming and centering procedures

Light warm up for massage therapists
Warming up is an integral part of massage training in many parts of the world, in which students learn stretching routines, a martial art or yoga routines as part of their daily preparation for their work.

You may already have an established exercise routine that incorporates the short list above. If not, try to incorporate a general warmup that covers the main areas of the body.

If you don't have prior experience of doing warmups in your exercise classes or sports activities, it's good to attend a class to get started under supervision. This will give you a practical sense of exercises, and a range of experience so that you can choose what suits you.

Feet to head, head to feet

Having a top down or bottom up approach is the easiest way to incorporate some movement. This will help you to get into all the nooks and crannies of your body.

Using this method will help with any decision fatigue ('what kind of warmup should I do today I wonder?') as you have a general plan without having to think about it.

Watch this video for an example of this.


Keeping it fluid

Whatever movement you do pre massage, we recommend you keep it fluid.

We like to think about massage as a dance, so keeping your warmups fluid rather than static will encourage you to keep that sense of movement at the table. Even stretches can be fluid as the video above describes.

Staying fluid for your warmup will result in you being less static while you massage. This will help you to reduce strain and fatigue in your body and your clients will also notice the difference in the delivery of your massage too.

Loose, fluid warm up for massage therapistsLoose, fluid warm up for massage therapistsLoose, fluid warm up for massage therapistsLoose, fluid warm up for massage therapists
Loose, fluid warming up. Think ‘dancing’ rather than static stretches

Developing self-monitoring while warming up

As well as preparing you for doing massage treatments, helping you to keep in shape and to maintain your vitality, doing regular warmups have other benefits.

Just like athletes, warming up will prime you for monitoring yourself during massage sessions.

Self-monitoring is a principle we emphasise regularly when we teach our Hands Free Massage Trainings as it helps you become aware of the way you work and make adjustments accordingly to improve your posture.

Warmups develop the ability to observe your postural habits, including those that are developing through your massage work, and to feel which areas of your body need attention each day and what sort of attention that might be.

This will enable you to develop your own warmup or exercise routines which can address these issues and to work out how to maintain your energy during your working day.

You don’t even need a set routine, as long as you're doing a conscious warmup and movement of any kind, you’re on the right track to ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’.


At the end of the working day, it’s time to wind down

Physical release and replenishment

Many pre-work warmups such as stretching and flexibility maintenance exercises are also helpful for winding down and re-centering at the end of the day.

It is also important to check through your body and note any tensions, stiffness and discomforts that have developed through your working day. You can then focus on these in your exercises to avoid them building up into major problems.

That can also be the focus of any self-massage or 'pick-me-up' massage swaps that you organise with colleagues. And this will also alert you to what you need to self-monitor in the future as you work.

It’s also worth considering there could also be an emotional element (emotional release) to your wind downs too. It’s worth attending massage supervision sessions with a trained massage supervisor who can help you work through any emotional aspects of your work.

Winding down movement

Light Warm up for massage therapists
Try to have some 'breathing space' in which to separate yourself mentally from work before you re-enter the rest of your life.

If you have time, you might want to wind down at the end of the day by having a warm shower or taking a long soak in a bath / hot tub, by taking a walk, doing some exercises/stretches, or by having some social time with friends or colleagues.

As part of your mental switch off from the working day, you might find it useful to have a short catnap on a bus or train, or to have some daydreaming time while walking or exercising.

What other things can you think of that athletes do that might be useful for massage practitioners too?

Perhaps take a moment now to write down some thoughts that have arisen from reading this post, that will help you to improve your warmup and wind down time.

This article is adapted from “Dynamic Bodyuse for Effective, Strain-Free Massage” by Darien Pritchard (Lotus Publishing, Chichester, 2008).

About the Authors

Darien Pritchard

Darien Pritchard from Dynamic Massage and Hands Free Massage Training, has been a massage trainer since 1982, and has served on the General Council for Massage Therapy (UK). He wrote the career-maintenance book Dynamic Bodyuse for Effective Strain-Free Massage (2008), and the student text Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology for Massage (2nd ed, 2023). For three decades, Darien has pioneered a focus on how massage practitioners can protect their hands and body whilst using them most effectively, including developing Hands Free Massage - the skilful, sensitive use of the forearm and elbow to save the hands.

Leora Sharp
Leora Sharp from Hands Free Massage Training, has been a massage practitioner since 2008 and very early on in her career, realised the importance of needing to work as Hands Free as possible. To that end, in 2009 she trained with Darien and was so blown away with Hands Free Massage, that she offered to assist him on his 8 Day Advanced training. Her role slowly transformed into co-teacher and she then started teaching solo in 2016. She is continually bold over how amazing HFM is and the benefits it brings to practitioners to sustain their careers. Alongside teaching HFM, Leora has a private practice at Neal’s Yard in Bath and designs websites for complementary health professionals.

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