Is the famous Theragun the best massage tool money can buy?
We've got the buzz on which massage gun you really should invest in.
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It seems like every year the health and fitness world becomes obsessed with one trend and everyone starts singing its praises. One year everyone is crazed over the Keto diet, the next, everyone is obsessing with matching activewear sets from Fabletics. The year of 2020, though? It’s all about recovery. Hot on the heels of self-care being the biggest craze in wellness, massage guns are taking the fitness world by storm.
What is a massage gun and how does it work?
You’ve seen everyone from professional athletes to Justin Bieber using these futuristic-looking devices. Simply put, massage guns offer the benefits of a foam roller on steroids. These handheld electric tools target muscles using vibration and percussion to help relieve post-workout soreness and stiffness and accelerate muscle recovery, and they can be used pre-workout to help increase blood flow to cold muscles. But they’re not only for gym rats and athletes: Anyone who enjoys a massage can benefit from a massage gun.
Each massage gun has various attachments and a range of intensity settings so you can tend to tension anywhere on your body, from your larger muscle groups like quads and hamstrings, down to your calves and wrists.
How to use a massage gun
Using a massage gun is easy—during testing the hardest part for me was finding the “on” button. The majority of companies who make these products offer ‘how-to’ videos and even apps that show you which attachment and setting to try on each part of your body.
Depending on your personal preference, you may start the massage gun at whatever speed level you want. The basic instructions are to hold the gun in one hand and trace the length of the targeted muscle, and if you have a sore spot, hold it in place on that area until you feel the knot dissipate.
How we tested popular massage guns to find out which is worth it
These massage guns are not cheap—the marquis names run upwards of $450. To test for quality and value, I used three of the most popular massage guns on the market: the Theragun G3 ($399), Hyperice Hypervolt ($349), and Sportneer Percussive Massage Gun ($139). As an avid runner and all-around athlete, I’m used to aches and pains, and my various activities of running, pilates, and tumbling (yes, really) leave me with plenty of sore muscles to tend to. During my month of testing, I looked at factors such as ease of use, amount of force each gun offers, battery life, and wrote down my thoughts on how well each helped with muscle recovery.
Because we’re Reviewed, we didn’t want to only rely on my opinion. To rate the force of the massage guns, our lab team set up a simple experiment: They created a pendulum with a tennis ball on a rope, aimed each gun at the ball, and measured how far it projected the tennis ball on both the highest and lowest settings.
You don’t have to be a trained scientist (like ours) to see that the Theragun was the clear winner, propelling the tennis ball significantly further than both the Hypervolt (which came in second) and Sportneer (a very close third).
Our Theragun Review
Unboxing the Theragun in my office created quite a buzz, as it’s the most well known of them all. Everyone wanted to give it a try and see if it was worth the hype as well as the hefty price tag of nearly $400.
No doubt, this thing offers power. It has only two settings that could easily be described as “intense” and “more intense.” The Theragun, oddly enough, doesn’t really look like a gun at all, having a hefty triangular-shaped handle. It comes with four attachments, ranging from a small pointed one to get into all the nooks and crannies of your muscles to a larger round one intended for kneading out the major muscle groups. While it was never too intense for a sore spot, it certainly isn’t a tool I’d recommend if you’re looking for something low-key and relaxing.
I used it most frequently before and after running, and while it felt great on my muscles, I can assure you my face always had a slight grimace while using it, especially while working on extra-sore areas. When my coworkers tried it, this was always the massage gun that led to the “Ok, whoa, that’s enough!” reaction after using it for a bit. If you are a serious athlete with some seriously sore muscles you’re looking to loosen up, then the Theragun is the direction you should head in. It was also the only of the three that I found relatively easy to use on hard-to-reach areas of my back—I could shift my grip along the odd-shaped handle for better control.
One of the great things that made the Theragun stand out from the others is its free companion app, for iPhone and Android. On the app, you may select what part of the body you want to address, such as legs, back or shoulders, or even a circumstance you want to address, like jet lag or bed time. The app shows you what attachment, for how long, and where or how on your body you should use it. It’s very simple and helpful, especially for deciphering when to use each attachment. For the remainder of my testing, I used the knowledge I learned on this app when using the other massage guns as well.
The main complaint about the Theragun that we couldn’t get over? How loud it was. While using it in the office, I had people from the other side of the building come over to see what all the commotion was about. Not only does it feel like a mini-jackhammer pounding on your body, it sounds like one.
Our Hyperice Hypervolt Review
The Hypervolt has three speed settings, and looks like a cross between a power drill and a hair dryer—this contrasts to the triangular appearance of the Theragun but is similar in form to the Sportneer. It comes with five attachments, each meant for different parts of your body—these are similar to the Theragun’s four, with an additional forked attachment—great for calves—as the fifth option. On the Hyperice website, there are demo videos that show you how and where to use each attachment.
The first thing that stood out to me, especially in comparison to the Theragun, was how quiet the Hypervolt is, despite its power. At max speed, this machine produces 3,200 percussions per minute (PPM) versus the max of Theragun’s 2,400 PPM. Although it may go faster than the Theragun, as you can see from our tennis ball pendulum tests, it isn’t any stronger, so your muscles don’t feel like they’re experiencing more force.
The Hypervolt was able to get deep into my tissues without sounding like I was pounding away on my body. The packaging emphasizes how this machine is “whisper quiet,” which I wouldn’t have appreciated as much if I hadn’t been testing the Theragun simultaneously.
The Hypervolt also stood out for having the longest battery life out of all of the massage guns, at three hours. (Theragun lasts one hour and Sportneer, about 1.5 hours.)
For me, the Hypervolt’s offering of three settings was the sweet spot, as opposed to the Theragun’s two or the Sportneer’s five. The three settings allowed me to start slower, easing my muscles into recovery mode after a workout, then work my way up to the more intense speeds. With the Theragun, it didn’t feel like my muscles got a chance to ease into anything, because both speeds offered immediate intensity. The Sportneer’s five started weaker and moved on up, but I didn’t personally need that much nuance.
Though I have some complaints about the Hypervolt, they are minimal. The hair dryer-like design of the handle made it awkward to position on some spots of my back. I preferred the Theragun for reaching my back instead, as the triangular shape made it easier to hold in place. Plus, unlike the other two massage guns, the Hypervolt doesn't come with a carrying case—you have to purchase it separately for an additional $50. Seriously? Just give the people what they need and include the carrying case with the product—everyone’s lives will be easier.
Our Sportneer Deep Tissue Muscle Massager Review
At first glance, the Sportneer looks similar to the Hypervolt in form. It comes with five attachments, two of which are specifically for use with oils (neither of the other two had this). I tried using them with some essential oils, and it was a fine experience. Mainly, I enjoyed that the oil-specific attachments were made of metal, so when you started massaging your muscles, the sensation is cool to the touch—highly enjoyable after a long, sweaty run.
Unlike the other guns, the Sportneer has five speeds. Its highest, 3,200 PPM, is identical to the Hypervolt’s top speed and offers a similar sensation on the body (and a similar force on our tennis-ball test). The highlight, however, is that the Sportneer has several intensity settings that are gentler than either of the other two guns. This was the massager I reached for when my muscles were so tender I didn’t even want to foam roll, because I could put it on the lowest setting and gradually worked my way up.
The Sportneer website says that the battery life lasts anywhere from 1.5 to 5.5 hours, but I found that of all of the guns, I had to charge this one the most. I wasn’t using it any longer than the others—it just seemed to consistently run out of battery more often. The Sportneer is also on the quieter side, and didn’t cause my coworkers to venture out of their offices to see what was happening when I used it at my desk. The only other aspect I didn’t love is the hairdryer shape (like Hypervolt’s), because it made it tough to reach my back.
Is getting a massage gun worth it?
Were these massage guns refreshing to use after my long runs? Yes. Were they significantly different than using a foam roller? Not so much.
The main appeal of a massage gun is that I could get into muscles that are usually tough to roll out, like my traps and triceps, as well as the bottom of my feet, using the same tool. Usually, I end workouts by rolling out on a foam roller and then switching to a smaller ball for my feet. With massage guns, I could address all of these issues with one tool—and I could lie on the couch while doing it.
Which massage gun is right for you?
From our testing, there wasn’t a clear winner. Rather, there is a winner for every body type and budget.
Theragun: This is the massage gun for you if you have a large budget and want some serious muscle stimulation. By far the loudest out of all three massage guns we tested, the Theragun is reminiscent (in sound and feel) to taking a power tool to your muscles. Its triangular handle makes it easy to reach pretty much anywhere on your body. While the specs indicate it doesn’t have the highest PPM, it certainly has the most force, winning our tennis-ball pendulum test by a landslide. This is the device for you if you’re looking for an intense experience and don’t mind a little power when it comes to muscular massage.
Hypervolt: Consider this massage gun if you also have a larger budget but you’re looking for something with more options—and you enjoy marathon massage sessions. The five attachments and three speed settings provide more versatility than the more limited settings of the Theragun, in particular when you’re looking to wake up your muscles and get the blood flowing for a workout or for gentler recovery on a workout day off or right before bed. Perhaps most significantly, the Hypervolt has the longest battery life of all three, at three hours, or about double that of the others. The only downsides are that the handle makes it tough to reach places on your back, and you have to spend even more to get a carrying case.
Sportneer: This is your massage gun if you have a tighter budget but you also want something with multiple levels of power. With five speed levels, this delivered the most varied recovery options, and with its gentler-than-most low settings, it's the best for waking up tense muscles before a workout. If you’re someone who isn’t a fan of intensity when it comes to foam rolling or massage, the Sportneer can help you gradually ease in, or you can just leave it on a lower setting. On the downside, the design of the handle makes it tricky to reach certain spots on your back, and the device itself has the shortest battery life.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.