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The Real Massage Gun Benefits Every Athlete Should Know

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9 Minute Read

Benefits Of Massage Guns

Massage guns have made a name for themselves in the exercise and recovery world for good reason. Often pocket-sized, these hand-held devices pack a powerful punch that has countless benefits for athletes and leisure gym-goers alike.

Massage guns have the ability to penetrate muscle tissue via vibrations and powerful percussion, helping increase blood circulation, increase mobility, and decrease pain. But the benefits of massage guns don’t stop there. Read on to learn all about these powerful massagers that might soon replace (or at least compliment) your masseuse. 

Injury Prevention

The consensus among professionals and recreational athletes alike is relatively universal; moving your body regularly and having a routine to increase range of motion, strength, and stability is imperative in reducing injury.

Using a massage gun before or after exercise has been proven to help decrease tightness, and therefore improve flexibility and mobility. Many dynamic and static stretches designed to decrease muscle tightness also pose injury risks where gun massages do not.

Improved Flexibility & Mobility

By helping break up knots and loosen overly tight muscles through deep percussion, massage guns can help lengthen tight muscles and improve your flexibility and mobility.

They also help to reduce muscle stiffness and help your muscles relax. This, in turn, can not only help improve your posture and quality of life but will also positively impact the effectiveness of your workouts as you’ll be able to execute them with proper technique, hitting the right muscle groups you’re trying to target.

Scientific studies3 have been conducted to test the effect of a handheld massage gun (a Hypervolt model, specifically) on range of motion and performance, and found statistically significant improvements in ROM of test subjects who used a deep tissue massage gun. 

Pain Management

Pain relief is one of my absolute favorite benefits of massage gun therapy, and it’s largely due to the research supporting this claim. In just about every trial analyzing athletes using massage guns after exercise, a reduction in pain has been found.

More simply put; using a massage gun has been proven to help reduce muscular pain that athletes experience after working out.

Performance

Sports performance isn’t just a consideration for top-tier, professional athletes…even recreational athletes that are just out to move their bodies in order to lower blood pressure, increase longevity, and quality of life, should give serious consideration to their performance.

You can move your body all day long, but if you don’t pay attention to your performance, you might not be challenging yourself enough to see any improvement. Sure, repeating the same exact ’20 minutes on the elliptical’ on a daily basis is better than nothing, but it also won’t push you forward or improve your fitness past a plateau. 

The same goes for your recovery…if you aren’t finding new ways to optimize your stretching, warmups, massages, etc., you’re unlikely to see a different (better) result.

This is where massage guns come into play, with the diversity of percussion speeds and attachments giving you the ability to (safely) manipulate massage angles and hit muscles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to, you’ll quickly find an improvement in your recovery.

And everyone knows recovery plays an unsurmountable role in athletic performance. 

Flushing Lactic Acid

When you feel muscle tightness mid, or even post-workout before you get sore, that’s due to lactic acid. It’s part of your body’s natural response to muscular stress, but unfortunately, it’s quite uncomfortable.

Massages, including percussion massages with a handheld device, have been shown to help in the removal of lactic acid and even DOMS. (DOMS discussed below)

Increased Blood Flow

Healthy circulation is crucial to a long and healthy life. Blood vessels are the “highways” our bodies use to transport nutrients, waste products, and oxygen to and away from bodily tissues. Not only will good circulation help prevent severe issues like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, strokes, peripheral artery disease, and more, but from a recovery standpoint, this is important because good circulation equals better recovery of damaged tissues.

Though there are many ways to improve blood flow including general movement, cardio, icing, and heating, massages also do a phenomenal job in stimulating your lymphatic system to get the blood flowing to your muscles and supply them with oxygenated blood and needed nutrients.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

DOMS is mostly discussed among personal trainers, but I’m a firm believer that everyone should be aware of what causes it and the ways to prevent, or rather reduce it. Read our extensive guide to DOMS.

And you guessed it, massage guns can help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). By increasing blood flow to the areas where muscle fibers have been broken down you can speed up your recovery process and reduce post-workout pain and sore muscles.

Recovery

Recovering between high-intensity workouts is crucial if you don’t want to sustain an injury or burn your body out. But resting more than moving your body likely won’t help you reach your fitness goals. This is where massage guns come into play.

Because of massage therapy’s positive effects on removing lactic acid buildup, improving blood circulation, and reducing DOMS (as mentioned in the paragraphs above), it is a phenomenal tool to decrease your recovery times and get back to exercising and improving your performance quicker. 

At PhytoMethod, we are passionate about all things recovery and share our favorite tools and methods to improve the quality of your recovery days regularly so you can spend more time doing what you love.

Rehabilitation

Bouncing back from an injury can be a challenging journey, but with proper R&R (rest and recovery), you can quickly find yourself back at, or near 100%.

Within your recovery routine, massage guns can easily find their place. Whether you’re dealing with something traumatic, or even chronic, using a massage gun to increase blood flow and relieve muscle tension in just the right spots can do wonders for rehabilitation.

Don’t believe me? There’s a reason many physical therapists have found themselves swearing by massage guns as part of their physical therapy practice. Even professionals in athlete rehabilitation know the importance of deep tissue massage through percussive therapy.

Scar Tissue

Allow me to pre-frame by saying that no, a massage gun will not delete your scar. I wish it could, I do, but it’s just not the truth. With that being said, a massage can help reduce the appearance of scars1 by helping your body break up the tissue.

Stress Relief

If you’re someone who loves massages, then you know how oftentimes the real benefit is not physical. A full-body massage can put you in a deep state of relaxation, giving your mind some much-needed relief, especially if you’re experiencing a stressful day. Studies report that massage therapy can have positive effects on anxiety and mood state.2

This is why having an at-home massager that you can whip out on a moment’s notice to self-massage is so neat. Think of a massage gun as your personal massage therapy provider you can access at any time. As an added benefit, reduced stress improves the body’s immune response as well. 

Practical Benefits

On top of the above-listed health benefits that a massage gun can provide, these devices are also incredibly practical.

Their biggest competitors are traditional foam rollers and human masseuses. Now, massage guns are significantly more advanced than a foam roller, allowing for not only self-myofascial release but also deep percussion and easy handling. On top of that, foam rollers tend to be quite bulky; they won’t fit into every gym bag, and definitely can’t reach all of the possibly tight spots on your body with ease (unless you already have great flexibility… it’s a catch 22).

Massage guns come in different sizes, from small, travel-friendly, and pocket-sized devices to medium-sized (still very gym bag friendly) options, and their typical ergonomic handle allows you to reach almost every spot on your body, even without the help of massage therapists or masseuses.

This brings us to the next big benefit of massage guns. While it can be very beneficial to have a professional massage therapist or physical therapist use the massage gun on your body, you simply don’t need another person to self-massage. Thus, a massage gun is much more accessible than an in-person masseuse. You can take your device with you wherever you go, don’t need to schedule appointments or commute into town.

Must-Knows Before Getting A Massage Gun

Dangers Of Massage Guns

There are potential dangers when dealing with any electronic device that moves, especially ones that have rapid movements such as a massage gun, or a hand drill.

Be sure to read the manual, instructions, and any other information provided by the brand you purchase your gun from. After that, it’s really just common sense.

  • If your massage gun is hot to the touch, we suggest turning it off and contacting support rather than continuing to use it
  • Be careful with the rough attachments and fast speeds on sensitive, or even boney body parts such as your spine, wrists, and kneecaps.

Beyond that, as long as you don’t buy a knock-off massage gun that has zero reviews from some sketchy cloaked company, you should be fine.

Do note that if you have an injury you need to be very careful with, please seek medical advice and consult your physician prior to using a massage gun in the injured area.

Percussion Speed

“Percussion speed” measures how fast the attachment on your massage gun will move, typically measured in PPM (percussions per minute) or RPM (revolutions per minute).

Many highly advertised massage guns have very low, or even limited-range percussion speeds. And on the flip side, many guns out there with atrociously high speeds are completely useless.

For a rule of thumb, you’ll most often find yourself using speeds between 1,500 – 3,000 PPM. Anything below, or above that range is (very) unlikely to be utilized, so don’t fall victim to fluffed metrics in advertising.

Material Quality

While this comes as an obvious one because every time you buy a product, you want it to be high quality, it’s also a challenging one to measure since you can’t easily quantify material quality.

We have found the best way to measure material quality (other than just buying it and getting a feel for yourself) is to read through hundreds, or even thousands of reviews to learn from the experience of others. Look for how the device feels on the body, how comfortable it is to handle, and whether the attachments are solid and feel good.

In every one of our massage gun reviews, you can find a community verdict that covers this. So if you have a specific massage gun you’re considering, find it in our reviews category and see the community verdict.

Stall Force

I can’t stress enough how important stall force is – being the measure of how much pressure you can apply to your muscles with your massage gun before it, well, stalls.

If you happen to purchase a massage gun with a low stall force, you might quickly find yourself regretting your purchase. For example, on larger muscle groups such as your upper back and quads, many athletes want a deep tissue massage, and that’s only possible with a decent stall force.

For a rule of thumb, if your massage gun will stall with under 20 lbs of pressure, you might run into some issues. The stronger guns on the market can withstand upwards of 60 lbs of stall force, whereas the cheaper or even travel-size massage guns typically can only handle 15 – 20 lbs of force.

Battery Life

This is one of the most obvious metrics to look out for because nobody wants to have to take a massage intermission to wait for the massager to charge.

Many massage guns come with interchangeable batteries which is very helpful for times where you might forget to charge it and come back to a dead battery.

Once charged, however, a good massage gun should be able to last at least 2 hours (120 minutes) before needing to be recharged. In rare cases, some premium massage guns (such one from Hyperice or Therabody) have batteries that can last as much as 3, 4, or even 5 hours.

Amplitude

In my opinion, this is of equal importance as stall force, because amplitude measures how far your attachment head actually travels. This is especially important if you want a deep tissue massage, as you’ll need to apply serious manual pressure to get a deep massage if your amplitude is low.

For your quality of life, be certain your massage gun comes with at least 10 mm amplitude, and if you’re looking for a top-tier massage gun, I’d recommend ones with an amplitude of 14 – 16 mm.

Handle Size

While this might come as a surprise to some, this is one of the most common complaints that massage gun brands receive. They often have the battery inside the handle, which in some cases can lead to a really large handle, and if your hands are on the smaller side, this can be problematic.

It’s not fun to try to self-massage when you need two hands to hold your massage gun.

Types Of Massage Guns

Miniature

This category is reserved for those looking for ultra-portable massage guns, whether that’s to carry in your gym bag, or on your next flight. We recommend checking out the Theragun Mini, Hypervolt GO, or even our personal favorite…the Renhpo R3.

Rotating Arm

I’ll start by admitting that rotating (or adjustable) arm massage guns are somewhat rare. But, for those of you that have wrist or elbow pain, this will do wonders for you. Consider looking into the Renpho R4 Pro, or the Theragun PRO.


References

1. Field T. Massage therapy research review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016;24:19-31. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.04.005

2. Weerapong P, Hume PA, Kolt GS. The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports Med. 2005;35(3):235-256. doi:10.2165/00007256-200535030-00004

3. Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(4):690-694. Published 2020 Nov 19.

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