Getting my boyfriend a two-hour massage was the worst idea I’ve ever had.
He’s complained about his aching back/hamstring/shoulder for a while, but had been too busy to do anything about it. When I dropped him off for his appointment, assuring him he’d feel amazing when he was done, he gave a skeptical shoulder shrug and muttered, “We’ll see.”
A little over two hours later I walked in to find him waiting, blissfully slumped in a chair with a dazed grin on his face. He felt like a new man, and in that minute I knew—I’d created a monster.
I don’t blame him. A great sports massage therapist single-handedly got me through marathon training, and I’m totally obsessed with my foam roller. But even though heading to a pro for a weekly massage feels fantastic, it gets pricey, and it’s difficult to justify spending so much when you have a perfectly capable partner that will rub your shoulders for free.
Plus, gifting your significant other a massage for Valentine’s Day is just so obvious. Save your money for something really cool and instead treat your boo to an at-home massage by following these easy tips.
Set the scene
Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it’s an effective way to reduce stress, anxiety, and muscle tension—and a lot of that has to do with the relaxing ambience in most spas and clinics that offer massage. Here are a few easy things you can do to prep the space.
- Start with a clean slate. Clutter is the enemy of calmness. Make sure the area you’ll be working in is clean and clear of extraneous stuff.
- Hack a “massage table.” The floor is actually a good option—roll out a yoga mat or line up some pillows for a softer surface. If your S.O. is more comfortable on the bed, make sure it’s firm enough so their spine doesn’t sag, which can put pressure on the lower back when they lie facedown. If you need to, prop pillows under their feet, hips, and chest until they’re comfortable.
- Fire up some soothing scents. Try a little aromatherapy for an extra-relaxing vibe. Lavender, chamomile, bergamot, and ylang ylang have all been studied for their positive effect on anxiety—diffuse them throughout the room or add a few drops to your massage oil (we like coconut or avocado oil).
- Add cozy finishing touches. Finally, dim the lights if you can, and keep a towel or blanket close by in case your partner gets chilly. Don’t feel like you need to turn on “soothing” whale sounds or light a million candles—keep it simple to minimize distractions.
Get the massage basics down
Alright, you’re ready. Don’t be intimidated by the task at hand; just remember to communicate and stay tuned into your partner’s physical and verbal cues.
Ask how hard or soft they’d like the pressure to be. This is the best place to start—everyone’s different, so don’t just assume that they want their upper back to be totally pulverized.
Figure out which areas are the most tender. Ask your “client” where their problem areas might be. For most people who sit at a desk all day, shoulders and necks are tight; for those who have to be on their feet, lower legs, hips, and the lower back might all be sensitive. Some don’t even realize they have tension in certain areas, so be cognizant of their breathing—according to the American Massage Therapy Association, people often hold their breath when they feel anxious or a sensitive area is massaged. Remind your client to breathe, and approach the tender spots a little more gently.
Avoid putting pressure on bones and joints. Stay away from the spine, scapulae, and joints, as they’re more delicate and prone to injury. Instead, work the muscles and tendons around these areas by applying continuous pressure. It’s safest to stick to working on the largest muscle groups like the upper back, glutes, and legs, which should do a great job of relieving most of the tension.
Use different techniques. Don’t be restricted by one type of motion! Using different tempos and movements engages muscles differently. Start simply by running your hands over your partner’s back, applying slight pressure to acclimate them to being touched. Then begin releasing the upper back muscles with a fanning motion: Start with hands on either side of the spine with fingertips pointing toward your partner’s head, and slide your hands up around their shoulder blades, out to their shoulders, and then down their rib cage until your hands are back where they started (you’re basically drawing a big heart!). Once you’re both warmed up, try a kneading motion on the shoulders and upper back, slowly and rhythmically squeezing the muscles. Whatever you do, make sure that you maintain even contact and pressure as you work out those knots and kinks.
Start at the shoulders and work your way down. Remember, there’s more to your S.O. than tight shoulders. Their glutes, hamstrings, hips, and calves will all need a little love, too. Make sure you spend a little time on every spot to leave them feeling like they’ve gotten the full-body treatment.
Remember, showing your partner that you care for them is the most important thing. Even if your massage probably isn’t as good as a well-schooled professional’s, that doesn’t mean your date won’t love the thought and effort you put into treating them on Valentine’s Day.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho