As massage therapists, we have a physical job that uses our bodies in repetitive ways. Whether you’re a fan of exercise or not, it is now a necessary part of maintaining your physical health. Statistics show a high injury and burnout rate for massage therapists.

As massage therapists, we have a physical job that uses our bodies in repetitive ways. Whether you’re a fan of exercise or not, it is now a necessary part of maintaining your physical health. Statistics show a high injury and burnout rate for massage therapists.

Conversely, it is also known that some massage therapists work 30 years in the field. You better believe those long-term massage therapists have found an exercise regimen that works for them. Let’s look at some ways to level up your exercise or simply get you started if your exercise is nonexistent.

You Are Made to Move

Before we start talking about specific exercise ideas, I want to bring some perspective to this topic. I know some people really dislike exercise and have never done it for one reason or another. Think about the time in history when our bodies helped us catch food and find shelter. We can then understand that our body is made to move.

The physiological systems of our body work better with regular movement. Digestion, skin, lungs, and heart, are all examples of body functions that improve with exercise.

Respect the fact your body needs to move. We are made to move.

Reframe Your Thinking

If you aren’t a fan of exercise, try and reframe how you think about it. What if it was your playtime? Instead of writing exercise or gym in your schedule, write “play.”

What are your likes and dislikes? If you know you will never stick to a gym workout plan, don’t try. Instead try hiking, walking the dog, swimming, jumping rope, trampoline, or bike riding. Yard work, depending on the type, can be considered exercise. Think outside the box of what “exercise” is. Make it a game or something fun you will continue to put into your life always.

I happen to think of the gym as an adult playground. You can jump, climb, push, pull, rotate, bounce, or do any number of other movements at the gym. If the weight machines bore you, for example, get your strength a different way. Know your likes and dislikes to level up your exercise.

Exercise Better by Keeing it Simple

Bodyweight exercises are a perfect place to begin if you’re starting out and a lot of strength can come from these exercises alone. The Fit MT has seven bodyweight exercises recommended for massage therapists to strengthen the joints used most while performing session after session in the massage room. (See the MASSAGE Magazine Best Body Mechanics webinar for some of the exercises.)

Examples of bodyweight exercises are push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, planks, crunches, squats and the list goes on.

Using the KISS (keep it simple stupid) acronym break down movements into categories and move your body in those ways. Push, pull, rotate, flex and extend.

Just as we learned in anatomy, you can move through the body joint by joint and flex or extend it. Or you can break exercises up into pushing movements and then pulling movements. Let’s say for example on Mondays you do pushing exercises. These could be push-ups or bench presses, leg extensions or squats, and overhead presses or deltoid raises. Then Wednesdays you do pulling exercises. This could be rows, lat pulldowns, pull-ups, flys or inner/outer thigh cable pulls.

Bodyweight exercises can be done anywhere, even between clients. These are the exercises that you do when moving your own body through a range of motion. Think, lunges, squats, push-ups, and pull-ups. A sub-category of bodyweight exercises are isometric exercises. These are also very convenient because they can be done anywhere and don’t take much time.

The next most convenient types of exercise are those done at home with a few pieces of equipment. Equipment like bands, small dumbbells, or an exercise ball. Even with little equipment, at home exercises can give you a total body workout.

Rotate! Daily living provides few reasons to rotate any of our joints other than our head as it looks to the left or right. We move in a mostly linear fashion so finding ways to rotate or laterally bend is something we must purposefully do. Take time each day to rotate the spine, the hip joints, and shoulder joints.

Wrist and ankle joints feel good and massage therapists can benefit from individual finger rotations too. Using your opposite hand, passively “rotate” each metacarpophalangeal joint in a circle.

Exercise Better by Changing it Up

Small changes to what you regularly do can make big changes in your body’s fitness. When you repeat the same exercises for long periods it’s harder to keep your mind present on what you are doing as your body goes through familiar patterns. Adding variety is a surefire way to level up your exercise. So, change it up and give your fitness a boost.

A small change in exercise could be adding one swim or bike ride a week to your regular walking routine. It could be taking a new class at the gym or adding some Pilates movements to your yoga program.

You can use something that adds balance to the exercise like a physio ball, foam roller, or Bosu ball. You can compound the exercise by doing two things at once, like a squat with front raise for shoulders. High intensity interval training or HIIT, is a popular type of exercise which mixes cardiovascular and strength exercises in short intervals.

Varying your workout can help you stay challenged and prevent falling into a rut. Remember to change it up based on your experience level and current fitness.

Respect Rest Days

Know your limits. It is helpful to remember ligaments and tendons need to be strong enough before you ask your muscles to lift a load. Even if it feels like you can lift more, be sure you’ve built up to the load over time to avoid injury. Progress with types of exercises and the amount that works for you. Taking an exercise class that is above your current fitness level isn’t doing you any favors.

Knowing when you need a rest day and when you should push yourself takes time to understand. Listen to your body. Ignore your mind as the, “I should be able to” or the “I used to do twice as much” thinking is not helpful. As we age our body progresses differently and responds differently to new movement patterns.

Work with how your body feels each day. If your workout for the day says to go at 80% of your max and you’re not feeling it, change the workout. It takes athletes years to know when to push and when to back off. If you are new to exercise, pay extra attention to what your body feels like daily and plan your movements accordingly.

Days of rest should be within your exercise program. That doesn’t mean you should lay on the couch all day but it does mean you take a rest from building your fitness. A rest day can be a light walk or something similar that maintains your fitness or simply moves your body.

Soreness isn’t Needed

Muscle soreness is an indication that you pushed yourself past your current level of fitness. While I personally like to have a bit of soreness from a workout, you don’t need to feel muscle soreness for exercise to be effective.

You will need to build your fitness if you are looking for improvements in strength, flexibility, or cardiovascular fitness. Fitness improvements can be achieved by focusing on improving your skills with each exercise and gradually progressing exercise intensity and training volume.

Repeating workouts and exercises for multiple weeks allows you to practice doing each exercise with better technique and more control. Learn the correct form in strength movements by using a mirror, videoing yourself, or hiring a trainer to teach you correctly from the beginning.

The key point to take from this is your fitness is improving even if you can’t go harder or do more. There will be a balance between the go-hard days and the relaxed pace/less weight days.

While massage therapists may have chosen a physically demanding career, it’s nothing we can’t handle as long as we pay attention to our fitness. Be fit, be strong and massage on!

Angela Lehman

About the Author

Angela Lehman is a massage therapist of 25 years turned online educator, promoting fitness and nutrition for massage therapists. She runs The Fit MT. With her kinesiology degree specialized in nutrition, she trains therapists in healthy eating, exercise and body mechanics to prolong their careers. Search to read her The Fit MT column on topics including body mechanicsgut health and more.