Table Height is EVERYTHING!

Bad advice can end your massage career. Here’s one piece of advice that nearly knocked me out of commission for good: use a standard table height setting for each massage.

How NOT to Set Your Table Height

Twenty-five years ago I was taught that to set my table height, my distal knuckles should touch the top of the table when my arms were at my sides. Look on the Internet and you’ll find a range of table height advice, like: the height of your table should be your height divided by two.

Though well intended, there are some serious flaws with standardizing a table height setting that result in a loss of leaning leverage for medium and deep pressure. With no leverage, backs, hands, arms and necks get trashed.

Here’s are three reasons why a standard rule to set your table height doesn’t work.

MTs Come in Different Limb Lengths

Two people at the same height don’t necessarily share the same limb length.  Jennifer and Amy could share the same height at 64 inches tall. But if Jennifer’s arms length is 1/2 inch shorter than Amy’s, side by side at the same massage table, Jennifer’s fingers could be 1/2  inch farther away from the top of the table than Amy’s.

Clients Come in Different Thicknesses

Clients come in all sizes. David, who weighs 305 lbs, is “thicker” than Justin who weighs 150. That means if David and Justin were lying on a table side-by-side, the top of David’s body would be an inch or two higher off the table than Justin’s. If you set your table height at the Justin level for each massage (standardize your table height setting), you’d be giving up an inch or two of leaning leverage when working on someone big, like David.

Body Parts Stick Up at Different Heights.

When a client is lying on the table, body parts stick up at varying heights. For instance, glutes will stick up off the table higher than calves. If you’re focusing on glutes and your table height is set for calves, you’ve got a leverage problem.

Set Your Table to Save Your Body

Setting your table height to save your body is not complicated. It just requires some front-end work. You’ll need to know three things: 1. what pressure the client wants, 2. the area of focus if there is one, and 3. the primary tools (fingers, thumbs, knuckles, fists, elbows/forearms) that you’re going to use to deliver medium to deep pressure.

Lower Your Table For Medium and Deep Pressure

Medium and deep pressure are going to require a lower table than light pressure—so that you can use leverage (rather than your upper-body) to generate pressure. In this video, I demonstrate how to lean for deeper pressure.

You can figure out the pressure the client wants (the pressure to start the massage with), by simply having that question on the intake form. That’s how we do it in our massage business. You can download our intake form here: Massage-Intake-Form-Download.docx (539 downloads) . I took our business name out so that you could plug yours in.

Better to Err on the Low Side

During the massage, since pressure is part perception, you’ll have to make sure that your idea of a specific pressure jibes with your client’s. If it turns out that your client’s deep pressure is your light pressure and you set the massage table low, no harm done.  You’ll just need to bend your legs.

On the other hand, if your table is too high for deep pressure, you won’t have the necessary leaning leverage and you’ll struggle to deliver deep pressure. This video shows how I vary my pressure by bending or straightening my legs.

Lower Your Table for “Thick” and Hills

As I mentioned above, glutes stick up off the table higher than calves. If Christopher wants 30 minutes on his glutes, then your table should be set lower than if you were going to work on his calves for 30 minutes. And if Christopher is big, than your table should be lower than another “glute client” who is thinner.

Lower Your Table for Thumbs, Knuckles and Fists

Lastly, the primary tool you are going to use to deliver medium to deep pressure will also determine table height. In order to get enough leaning leverage, thumbs, knuckles and fists require a lower table than elbows/forearms.


This is where the front-end work comes in. You’re going to have to experiment with different tools to deliver medium and deep pressure at different table heights. No matter if you prefer an elbow/forearm or thumb/knuckle to deliver deep pressure, keep the table low enough so that you can lean to generate pressure, rather than muscling it with your upper body. Remember that you can always bend your legs when you don’t need the leverage.

Table Height Cheat Sheet

Here’s the quick glance guide:

  1. Medium to deep pressure requires a lower table than light pressure.
  2. Thicker clients and areas of the body that stick up off the table, like glutes and thoracic back, will require a lower table.
  3. Thumbs, knuckles and fists require a lower table than elbows/forearms.

The bottom line is:

If your table height is not set to lean, you simply can’t have good body mechanics. Click To Tweet

Stuck? I’m here. Leave a comment below, email me or connect with me on Facebook. Pain is not an inevitable outcome for being an MT. Promise.

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