With massage Guns first appeared in 2016, changing the game for the recreational obsessed. The devices provide a combination of vibration and “percussion” – rapid striking by a mechanical arm – that can help relax muscles, reduce fatigue, and improve freedom of movement.
They work because the body responds to pressure, stretch, and force by increasing a function of the autonomic nervous system called parasympathetic activity, says Cameron Yuen, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City. This in turn promotes blood circulation and nutrient absorption. Plus, it feels good.
To use, slide the head of the massager over your skin and knead the target muscle for a minute or two. If you find an uncomfortable spot, increase the pressure, but don’t overdo it – too much force can cause the muscle to contract. And don’t forget to edit the areas above and below, says Yuen.
After some rigorous (and relaxing) testing, here are the best new massage guns.
1. TimTam PowerMassager Pro (500 $)
(Photo: Courtesy TimTam)
This tool competes with the Theragun Pro (below) in terms of performance, functionality, and effectiveness, but runs quieter. It has three speeds as well as warm-up, lumbar, neck, and relaxation massage modes. There are three attachments, including one that heats up to provide deeper relief on the tissue and a vibrating ball that increases the shaking sensation. A couple of uses caused persistent discomfort in my outer shin. It’s a bit difficult to maneuver, also because the power button (which also cycles through the speed settings) is on the inner handle. Unintentional beating can turn a soothing knead into an unexpected punch.
2. NordicTrack percussion massager ($ 99)
(Photo: Courtesy of NordicTrack)
This quiet, no-frills model is much cheaper than its counterparts. But there are compromises. Although it has three speed levels, it’s not as powerful as the others here. The massage felt a little superficial – more vibrations than percussions. While it might not be the best option for someone who works out intensely, it could work well on sensitive muscles or those with a low pain threshold. Overall, the drill-shaped tool was comfortable to maneuver and easily reached annoying knots in my upper back.
3. Hypervolt with Bluetooth ($ 349)
(Photo: Courtesy Hyperice)
With a length of 25 cm, this model packs a powerful massage in a compact design. It delivers good percussion at three speeds and is no louder than a hair clipper, which makes it the quietest here. While the 2.5-pound machine felt heavy at first, the weight of the massage provided just the right amount of pressure with no extra effort. And like the Theragun, it syncs via Bluetooth with an app that uses data from Apple Health and Strava to provide recommended warm-up, recovery, and personal care routines. It’s also getting smarter with AI learning your exercise habits to deliver personalized massages.
4. Compex Fixx 1.0 massager ($ 300)
(Photo: Courtesy of Compex)
Compex is known for its muscle stimulation devices and entered the massage gun game in 2019 with the Fixx 1.0. It’s a good lightweight option (1.7 pounds) with the power and percussion of more expensive models. The ergonomic handle sits comfortably in the hand, the device runs at three speeds and includes an attachment (two more are available for $ 30). The lowest setting prepared my quads and calves, and the highest helped me avoid the dreaded death the next day. But like the TimTam, the power button is on the handle so it can be easily turned off while in use.
5. Therabody Theragun Pro ($ 599)
(Photo: Courtesy Therabody)
The Theragun combines powerful percussion and a dizzying range of customization options. It’s a great tool for the serious athlete – the freedom from those relentless calf knots alone could justify the price. The device was comfortable to hold and did not cause hand fatigue. The downside: At 2.9 pounds, it’s the loudest and heaviest of the group.
From Outside Magazine, November 2020
Main photo: Hannah McCaughey