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Massage guns are a fairly common sight at gyms, fitness facilities and even on the couch for at-home recovery. We’ve long known the benefits of an old-fashioned, hands-on massage for recovery and stress relief. Now it’s possible to get some of those same benefits on your own schedule from the comfort of home. Athletes, from highly paid professionals to gym enthusiasts, have hopped on the massage gun train. Far from being a fad, there is real value to these motorized athletic massagers.
How massage guns work
Percussive massage guns help increase blood flow, hydrate muscle tissue and improve the body’s performance before and after a workout. Modern massage guns are quiet, portable and easy to use. They can offer precision massages with powerful percussion capabilities. There are also a variety of specially-designed heads to help target certain muscle areas.
Phoenix, Arizona-based Neuroathletic Coach and ZHealth Movement Specialist, Tony Rhine sees value in massage guns. “Mechanically, it will help increase circulation to an area,” he notes. “This means moving good stuff in (oxygen/nutrients in blood) and bad stuff out (waste products transported through lymph). This will speed up the repair process for your tissues and help keep inflammation down.”
Nicholas Trebesch, Personal Training Director at Missoula, Montana’s VRTX Fitness, sums it up: “In short, massage guns are tools we can use, as athletes, to assist in recovery. They work by repeatedly compressing muscle tissue, which stimulates blood flow. The extra blood flow can help to recover a specific target muscle more quickly than without use of a massage gun. There is some additional benefit of using a massage gun tool for lymphatic flow purposes to support your immune system.”
When to use a massage gun
Rhine favors using percussive massage guns to wind down after a long day of training or work. “It helps my system calm down and increases recovery for the next day’s activities,” he says. “They’re also great to use before movement or exercise, as it helps me move more fluidly and feel more in tune with my body.
Trebesch uses a massage gun to target specific, chronically overstimulated muscle groups. “My lower back muscles and shoulders take too much stress due to my workout regimen,” he adds. “Hitting those areas with the massage gun helps me to keep problem areas healthier and recover closer to the pace the rest of my body operates on.”
Things to consider
Massage guns can feel so relaxing it’s possible to overdo their use. “Five minutes on any muscle group will promote that extra blood flow and begin the assistance on recovery,” recommends Trebesch. “I wouldn’t use a massage gun more than once or twice a day, personally.”
Be careful not to go too hard, or too quickly. Start conservatively with low settings and gentle use. You can build up to more targeted intensity in certain areas if needed. Just as you’d slowly introduce a new gym routine, take your time introducing massage gun use into your routine. Otherwise, you’re asking for unwanted soreness and potential injury.
Rhine says that not everyone will respond the same way to massage gun use, but they are a great option to explore to help increase performance and recovery. He adds, “Studies have shown percussive massage guns help increase range of motion without impacting strength and help reduce pain and feelings of muscle soreness.”
Here are a few of the market’s best percussive massage guns:
• Best overall: Hyperice Hypervolt 2
• Best budget: RENPHO Power Massage Gun
• Best pro: Therabody Theragun PRO, Fifth Generation
• Best travel: Reathlete FOLD Percussive Massager
• Best basic: Trigger Point Performance Impact Massager
• Best beginner: Lifepro Sonic Handheld Percussive Massage Gun
Best overall massage gun
Hyperice Hypervolt 2
Hyperice has upgraded its original Hypervolt. It’s lighter, more powerful, and it has an ergonomic handle. The Hyperice is a straightforward massage machine that offers three percussion speeds, five heads (fork, ball, cushion, flat and bullet) and a run time of up to three hours. The machine also features Hyperice’s Patented Pressure Sensor Technology to help ensure athletes aren’t going too hard on sore muscles. It also connects to the Hyperice App via Bluetooth for automated speed control.
Best budget massage gun
RENPHO Power Massage Gun
Renpho’s Power Massage Gun is coming in on the budget end of the spectrum, but it’s still equipped with a high-torque brushless motor providing 12MM amplitude.It means the gun can deliver up to 50 pounds of massage intensity to relieve muscle and fascia tissue soreness. The Renpho is both power bank and USB C-chargeable. The device also shows speed control and battery life on the LED screen but powers off after 10 minutes of continuous use, which some users may find annoying. A choice of six heads allows users to tailor their experience, and the percussion can be adjusted from one to six, maxing out at 2,600 percussions per minute (PPM).
Best pro massage gun
Therabody Theragun PRO, Fifth Generation
For years now, Theragun has been a go-to brand for athletes seeking quality recovery time. The fifth generation of the company’s Theragun PRO delivers the experience one would expect from the brand. This massage gun has been fully redesigned from previous versions. It includes four visually-guided, built-in routines (Sleep, Warm Up, Recovery and Theragun Break) and a second-gen proprietary motor that’s 20% quieter than older iterations. It also has an ergonomic triangle handle and a customizable speed range (1750-2400 PPMs) lets users tailor their experience. Expect a use time of 150 minutes and fast USB-C charging.
Best travel massage gun
Reathlete FOLD Percussive Massager
Reathlete’s FOLD is one of the only quality folding percussive massage guns we found. It offers quality percussive treatment in a design that folds down small enough to fit in your carry-on. The foldable massager boasts a 14mm amplitude motor with up to 60 pounds of force. The quiet motor runs at 35-50 decibels (about the volume of a quiet library), so it won’t disturb your travel companions or gym crew. An impressive six-hour battery life ensures you can use valuable hotel plug space for other electronics.
Best basic massage gun
Trigger Point Performance Impact Massager
This four-speed massage gun features a quiet, brushless motor, which provides four speeds ranging from 2100 rpm to 3300 rpm. An angled handle with a top-weighted design offers more comfort and easily allows you to control pressure. A universal massage head is optimized for multiple muscle groups. The machine’s rechargeable battery gives two-plus hours of continuous use.
Best beginner massage gun
Lifepro Sonic Handheld Percussive Massage Gun
The Lifepro Percussive Massage Gun boasts the most extensive variety of head attachments of any gun we reviewed, with a whopping eight options. A quiet brushless motor gives anywhere from three to six hours of run time with five varying intensity levels (including a low-pressure 20 Hertz (Hz) or a more powerful 45 Hz. The Ready, Set, Go Easy-Start Guide makes this machine quick and easy for those new to athletic massage guns.
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