Basic Strokes to Perform Massage

Nina Dali Monday, July 5, 2021

A whole body massage consists of a relatively small numbers of different strokes, repeated in a variety of ways, according to the particular needs of the part you are massaging. For the sake of simplicity, we have divided these strokes into four main types – gliding, medium-depth, deep tissue, and percussion.

Professionally, these types are known as effleurage, petrissage, friction, and percussion. Think of them as your ABC of massage with which you can build your own language of touch. When learning new strokes, don’t get too preoccupied with matters of technique. It is far more important to stay aware of what you are sensing with your hands and to let your body carry you’re your arms back and forth in a continuous rhythmic dance.

Before practising on another person, try the strokes out on your own legs, sitting on the floor. Besides being enjoyable, this will show you how the strokes feel, both from the giver’s and the receiver’s points of view. Experiment with different speeds and amounts of pressure and, above all, try to develop a sense of rhythm, so that your hands flow from one movement into another, without breaking contact.

Gliding strokes (Effleurage)

Like waves rippling over rocks, these gentle rhythmic strokes glide over the skin. Bye nature general rather than specific, they are used on all parts of the body to begin and end a massage. And as transitional strokes to ease the flow from one movement to another. They never work deeply on the muscle masses.

The long stroke is a broad, fluent, and soothing movement. It is used on each part of the body to apply oil and to warm and relax the area. In broad circling, the hands describe large spheres as if doing the breast stroke in miniature. This stroke also serves to spread the oil more evenly over the body. Perform both strokes with your hands relaxed so that their whole surface comes into contact with the receiver’s body. Feathering is a brief delicate stroke which brushes over the surface of the skin. It is mainly used to break contact gradually, the strokes fading away like echoes of what has gone before.

The Long Stroke: Let your hands float down to rest for a few second on your client’s or partner’s body. Now, keeping your hands together, move them slowly along the torso or limb, moulding them to the curves of the body. When you come to the limit of your natural reach, separate your hands and pull back along the sides. Circle around to repeat the stroke.

Feathering: Lightly brush your client’s or partner’s skin with your fingertips, using your hands alternately. Keep your arms and hands relaxed so that you can cover a wide area without changing position.

Broad Circling: Move your hands in fairly wide circles along the body, letting the circles overlap to form a continuous spiral pattern.

Medium-depth Strokes (Petrissage)

Following on from the gliding strokes, you now start to work more deeply on the large muscle masses, using these kneading, pulling and wringing strokes. In all three, your hands echo one another’s movements in a continuously alternating rhythm, relaxing the muscles, draining away waste products, and aiding venous and lymphatic circulation. Kneading consists of alternately squeezing and releasing handfuls of flesh in a broad, circular motion. It is useful for stretching and relaxing the soft, fleshy areas of the body, such as buttocks and thighs. Pulling is a firm lifting stroke used on the sides of the torso and limbs. In wringing, the hands move towards each other from opposite sides, so that the flesh is first bunched up, then stretched between them.

Kneading: Using the whole of your hands, alternately grasp and squeeze bunches of flesh – one hand releasing its hold as the other starts to gather a new handful. Don’t lift the hands off the body between strokes; rock smoothly from hand to hand, as if you were kneading dough.

Pulling: Place one hand on your client’s or partner’s far side, fingertips touching the floor or table and keep the other hand near it. Pull up with alternate hands, each time overlapping the place where the last hand was. Make your movements rhythmical as you slowly work your way along the side.

Wringing: Place your left hand on your client’s or partner’s nearest side, heel down, and your right hand on the far side, fingers down. Now push firmly forward with your left hand, and pull back with your right. Without stopping, change direction and wring the hands back to the opposite side. Move slowly along with each new stroke, keeping the flow continuous.

Deep Tissue Strokes (Friction)

Deep and focused, these friction movements make use of thumbs, fingerprints or heels of hands to reach right down into the tissue to where more hidden tensions may lie. Having soothed and relaxed your client or partner with the broader, lighter gliding and medium-depth strokes, you now penetrate below the superficial muscle layers or work around the joints with deep tissue strokes. It is important to work deeper gradually. In general, you will find that the body is less fragile than you think, but people vary greatly in their tolerance levels, and although it is sometimes effective to go to the borderline of pain, it is counterproductive to overstep the mark. To perform any of the strokes, focus your awareness on the parts of the hands you are using, but use your body weight to add depth to your pressure, allowing your hands to remain strong but relaxed.

Thumb-rolling: Press the balls of your thumbs away from you into your client’s or partner’s flesh, using short deep strokes or small circles, depending where you are working. Bring one thumb down just behind the other but push on a little further with each successive stroke so that you eventually cover a fairly broad area.

Heel of Hand Pressure: Push the heels of your hands gently but firmly forward into the flesh, bringing one heel down just behind the other. Let your hand move alternately and rhythmically.

Fingertip Pressure:

Using tiny elliptical circles, push in around the joints with your fingertips. Make sure that you are moving the underlying tissue, rather than sliding over the skin surface.


Within Holistic Massage, percussion belongs in a category of its own as, unlike the other strokes, its movements are stimulating rather than relaxing. As its name suggests, it encompasses a range of brisk rhythmic strokes performed repeatedly with alternate hands. Cupping is fairly noisy to apply; hacking, pummelling and plucking are quieter. The main value of percussion is to stimulate the soft-tissue areas, such as thighs and buttocks, toning the skin and improving the circulation. Before trying the strokes out on your client or partner, practise them on your own leg. Make sure that your hands are relaxed and your wrists loose before you start, and experiment with different speeds and pressures. Percussion is not always appropriate. Reserve it for occasions where a vigorous approach is required.

Hacking: First, shake your hands well to relax them. Now bounce the sides of your hands alternately and fairly rapidly up and down, palms facing one another and fingers loosely together. Wait until you have developed a good rhythm before hacking muscles directly.

Pummelling: Loosely clench your fists, than repeat the same rhythmic succession of alternate strokes with the fleshy sides of your fists. Let your hands be relaxed so that they bounce firmly yet lightly up and down.

Cupping: Cup your hands, arching them at the knuckles, fingers straight. Now repeat the same rapid sequence of alternate drumming strokes as hacking and pummelling. Your cupped hands trap air against the skin, than release it, making a loud clapping sound.

Plucking: Alternately pluck or pinch small bunches of flesh between your thumbs and fingertips. The flesh should slip easily away between the fingers with each plucking stroke.

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