It’s not the pressure. It’s the point.

I make my living as a massage therapist.  It’s one of the few areas of my life where I can confidently say that I am a trained professional.  I’m good at it.  Over the years, I’ve come to identify a few different client stereotypes.

One particular type of customer has taught me something I thought might be worth writing down.

This is the client that says things like: “Use as much pressure as you possibly can.”  “I get massages all the time and no one presses hard enough, give me everything you’ve got.”

There are two things that are just about guaranteed to happen during a massage with this person.  The first happens almost every time.  About 20 seconds into the massage, they say, “That’s not hard enough, can you use more pressure, please?”

I want to respond, “Take it easy, Killer, we’ll get there,” but I’m a professional, so instead I say, “We’re just warming up a bit.  In a few minutes, if I’m still not using enough pressure, let me know.”

The second thing, without exaggeration, happens every single time a client tells me to press as hard as I can.  About 10-15 minutes into the massage, they say, “Aaaaaahhhhhh!  Oh sweet Jesus!!  That’s too much pressure!!!”  Or some derivative of that.  I’ve since learned that when someone says, “Trust me, you won’t hurt me,” I, in fact, should not trust them.

But, unfortunately, the moral of this story is not that I possess an immense, superhuman strength.  The interesting thing here is that when this shrieking occurs, I’m generally not using very much pressure at all.

When I first greet a client, I ask which areas are bothering them.  I always get a non-specific answer, “My back hurts.”  My inner nerd responds with, “As if that helps…there are only like a bajillion muscles in your back.”  But I’m a professional, so I say, “Ok!” and figure it out on my own.

If they say their back hurts, I begin the massage by feeling their back.  I check different muscles, compare the left and right side, look for inflammation, feel for tightness and eventually figure out which muscles are causing the pain.  This, of course, is when they tell me I’m not pressing hard enough.

When I have a good idea of the muscles that need work, I get even more specific.  I find the precise point of the muscle that is sore and, finally, begin to actually get to work.  This (before I had these clients figured out) is when I remember that they asked me to push as hard as I can.  So I do, they shriek, I apologize and they tell me how crazy strong I am.   Like clockwork.

The human body is absolutely not delicate.  It takes one of two things to actually hurt someone: Insane force, or pinpoint accuracy.

My official analysis is that these people have never had a quality massage before.  Some people look at me (I’m skinny), sigh and tell me to press as hard as I can because they had this giant man press as hard as he could with his elbows and it didn’t hurt them.  I press lightly with one hand and they scream.  With more strength than I’ll ever possess, Giant man couldn’t accomplish what I could using one finger.  Strength doesn’t mean much when you don’t push the right point.

The next time you think you aren’t strong enough and need to push harder, maybe it’s just that you’re missing the point.

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