Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good Massages vs. Bad Massages

In my last post, I talked about how The Wife and spent Valentine's Day.  We decided to treat ourselves to a couples massage.  Now, because we were able to spend the day together, we had a great time.  The massage experience on the other hand, for lack of a better word, sucked. 

I've had several massages over the last few years.  They've either been couples massages to celebrate an anniversary, or as a post-race reward.  But I have never had one as bad as Monday afternoon.  In fact, it was so bad that we decided to get another couples massage on Friday at a different location just wash the Monday debacle out of our brains.  Ordinarily, we wouldn't choose to spend the money on this.  We're not rich.  There are more important things we're saving for and treats like this only come a handful of times each year.  Most of the time, I'm happy with using a foam roller to work out the kinks.  But, it was important to The Wife (and thus, important to me).

So, Friday evening we headed over to a different Spa.  This time we chose Sanctuary Salonspa.  It was a FAR superior experience.  We left relaxed and refreshed and not at all remorseful that we chose to spend a little of our hard-earned cash.  That got me thinking.  What made this massage so much better than the one earlier in the week?  Why was Spa X (not their real name, but my Mama always said, "If you can't say anything nice, zip it") a waste of money, and Sanctuary Salonspa transcendent?  Let's take a look. 

Scheduling & Customer Service
Your first step for getting a massage is arranging an appointment.  It's also where you'll decide the type of massage you'll get (relaxation, deep tissue, stone, etc.) how much your session will cost and possibly make a partial payment

Spa X
This is where our frustration started.  When The Wife called to arrange the appointment, she told there was a Valentine's Day special of X dollars for a couples massage.  When we settled our bill after the appointment, we were told that their 'special' was actually X dollars PER PERSON.  Now, I don't know about you, but when I'm told a price for a couples massage, I expect that price to cover both people.  This was like shopping for shoes only to find out that the store charges per shoe.  Was Spa X outright deceptive?  Eh, maybe.  Could they have been more transparent about their billing?  Absolutely.

Sanctuary Salonspa
There were no issues here.  We knew what to expect going in and what our bill would be at the end of the day..  The Wife arranged for a deep tissue massage for me and a relaxing Swedish massage for herself.  

The Meet-and-Greet
People get massages for all sorts of different reasons.  Your masseuse should review these reasons with you prior to your session.  They should ask you if special attention should be paid to any specific muscle groups and determine what kind of pressure you are comfortable with. 

For me, I want to know that the session is functional.  Sure, I want it to be relaxing, but I also want to have some kinks and knots worked out.  Loose muscles will help prevent injury and facilitate healing.  Loose back and shoulder muscles will even help me stay in the aero position longer and more comfortably.

Spa X
There was no meet and greet the first time around.  We were directed into our room by the receptionist, where we disrobed and waited under the blankets on our massage tables.  The masseuses came in, told us their names, and got to work.

Sanctuary Salonspa
After heading into separate locker rooms and changing into robes and sandals, The Wife and I sat down for a moment with our masseuses for a moment to talk about our sessions.  My masseuse, April, would focus on my traps (neck and shoulder), lats (outer-middle back), quads and calves.  My pressure would be a 7 or 8 out of 10.  In essence, she would be firm enough to work out the knots, but wouldn't beat the holy heck out of me until I was a quivering lump of goo. 

The Atmosphere
This shouldn't be too complicated. Everything about the spa's setup should be soothing, from the music, to the staff, to the decor.  I don't want to be distracted or taken out of the moment during my session. 

Spa X
Spa X also does manicures and pedicures.  They had a TV on in the main customer area running soap operas with the volume turned up to 11.  Needless to say, it wasn't what I was looking for.

Sanctuary Salonspa
The spa area was separated from the main customer area and from the hair styling and manicure/pedicure areas.  It was nice and peaceful; just the way I like it.

The Massage
Here is where the rubber meets the road.  We were paying good money for this.

Spa X
The massage at Spa X was nondescript.  Sure, they worked my shoulders, back, legs and arms, but didn't actually press down hard enough to make a difference.  I didn't feel like any progress was made.  I felt the same coming out of the massage as I did going in.  In fact, the only thing I can specifically remember about the experience was the 'smack-smack-smack' coming from my masseuse as she chewed her gum.

Sanctuary Salonspa
I knew quickly that this massage was going to have an impact.  We found a nice thick knot over my right shoulder blade.  April worked for several minutes on just this area, digging in deep to loosen up the knot.  I won't lie.  There were times when it hurt like a sonuvabitch, but she just told me to focus on my breathing, which helped me deal with the pain.  My legs were in pretty decent shape - no major knots there.  Although, I did find out that my quads are wicked ticklish. 

In the end, we had a much more rewarding experience at Sanctuary Salonspa.  Sure, it cost a few extra bucks compared to some of the budget places around town, but the extra money was worth it - especially for The Wife and I that only indulge ourselves a couple times per year. Now, this may sound like a commercial for Sanctuary Salonspa, but I'm not being paid to kiss their butts.  Shoot. I'm trying to save for a new bike.  I may not be back in a spa again for years.  Though, I've had massages at several different places, both good and bad.  In my experience, these folks rate right near the top.


So, if you're in the market for a massage.  I would recommend the following:

1.  Ask around.  The best place to start is with a referral.  

2.  Do your research.  Internet reviews are a good place to start, but to really ensure you're not going to get hosed, you should make the appointment in person.  Ask for a tour and check to see if everything meets your needs. 

3.  Keep the communication lines open.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Also, make sure you are clear about your needs and expectations. 

4.  Tips - as in gratuity.  This is a service industry after all.  Be generous - more so if they do an excellent job. Don't be a grinch.

I'm glad that The Wife and I had a chance to have a 'redo' on our spa date.  Could I have settled for a few minutes with the foam roller?  I suppose so.  But that's not really the point.  Sometimes we need to treat ourselves.

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