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Massage Today
July, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 07 >> Sports / Exercise / Fitness

Simple Exercises for the Massage Therapist to Improve Performance

By Paul Lewis, RMT

As busy massage therapists, we consistently put a physical demand on our bodies to perform. Specific self-care exercises for our line of work that are easily incorporated into our unique daily routines can be hard to come by.

The Lewis Circles is a form of dynamic stretching, warming up and lengthening muscles that helps to warm-up your shoulders and upper thoracic area, while simultaneously improving mobility. This exercise has been taught to and used by health professionals as an effective self-care exercise used after an injury, in the prevention of injury and for overall improved physical performance.

Injury, Prevention & Physical Performance

If you have ever had an injury that put you in a sling or immobilized you in some way, your body will feel the effects of immobility. During recovery from an injury, you are usually advised not to move the injured hand, arm, shoulder, etc. to allow for resting and healing. You may have also noticed that the inactivity has caused your muscles to stiffen. Because of the reduced demand on the muscles, there is a reduced demand for oxygen and blood flow to the area resulting in a feeling of stiffness.

This exercise is commonly used during recovery from an injury or minor surgery to help reduce any complications that may arise due to inactivity. Further, it is a useful exercise in the prevention of injury. Health care professionals tell me that they use the exercise to help warm-up prior to treating their clients.

I also recommend this exercise to my clients as a warm-up, preventative and self-care activity because many of them work at a desk in front of computers (focused and staring) for extended periods of time, which also causes stiffness and discomfort, mostly felt in the neck, shoulders and upper back area.

This exercise is really for anyone interested in improving physical performance and can be done anywhere and anytime: between treatments, at the office, before a round of golf, or as a warm-up before running, for example.

lewis fig 1 - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Figure 1 The Simple How To

In simple terms, the Lewis Circles is an exercise that engages muscles in the upper thoracic, neck and shoulder area. As you perform the exercise, you will end up engaging and elongating muscles, increasing blood flow and helping with circulation.

Start by placing your finger tips gently onto the tops of the shoulders shortening the lever. Leading with the elbows, bring them together in front of the chest. With your fingers on the shoulders and elbows in front of you, start moving in a circular motion. (See Fig 1) Lift your elbows up towards your ears and then lower your elbows out to the side stretching the pectorals and chest muscles. (See Fig 2)

lewis fig 2 - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Figure 2 Repeat the action bringing the elbows back to the front of the chest circling slowly about four times in one direction and then in the other direction. In order to engage the cervical area, as you bring your elbows together in front of the chest, lower your chin to the chest. You should feel a gentle lengthening of the posterior neck muscles. As you bring your elbows towards the ceiling you should lift your head back to the horizon. All of this activity is going to act on the chest muscles, rotator cuff and shoulder, interscapular, back and cervical muscles.

Remember to move with slow controlled movements, and continue to breath. The movement should be pain-free. Always check with your doctor before engaging in physical activity... and enjoy.

As an international presenter, one of my goals is to incorporate the exercise into my discussions and presentations regardless of whether I am teaching a workshop or fitness class; leading the warm-up before a running marathon; demonstrating static and dynamic stretching at a "learn-to-run" seminar or treating a client for stiff neck and frozen shoulder issues.

Good health to you all!

Editor's note: For a demonstration of the Lewis Circles, view the YouTube video. Visit, and search for "Self-Care Exercises 'Lewis Circles' for health care".

Paul Lewis is a registered massage therapist, fitness instructor and reflexologist. For more information visit:


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