Though it takes a careful blend of nutrition and physical manipulation to achieve true workout recovery, it is fun to try out the various high-tech recovery tools that are meant to minimize muscle soreness (including CBD-infused activewear, which is hard to resist). However, only one category of these kinds of tools has science on its side: massage guns.
Massage guns, especially the variety that utilize percussive therapy, are essentially backed by the same oodles of scientific research that support massage as the ultimate workout recovery tool. The concept is the same — using force to manipulate your body’s soft tissue — but the mechanism differs.
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Instead of getting traditional massage therapy once a month, you can use these handheld devices from the comfort of your own home. Everyone from professional athletes to recreational gym-goers to those with chronic pain love these powerful massagers for many reasons: Percussive therapy is said to help muscles recover faster, reduce muscle pain and lactic acid build-up, improve range of motion and flexibility, encourage blood flow and more.
If you use a massage gun correctly, it can even help with sleep and stress. Just be careful if you have any injuries. And, not that you should invest in one for this reason alone, but the slow-mo videos of massage guns punching muscles look insanely Insta-worthy.
Convinced you need to get in on this muscle recovery magic? We tested eight percussion massagers that aren’t the wildly popular Theragun (although we also tested the Theragun to see what’s up with this gold standard) — most of the others cost less, but work just as well. Below the best massage gun list, learn what to look for when shopping for a massage gun.
Update, May 5, 2020: You can get $50 off the Hypervolt Plus ($399, down from $449) at Best Buy.
The TimTam All New Power Massager gave me a start when I turned it on. It offers just two power settings, both so robust that I had to hold the gun with two hands to control it. When people say that percussive massagers sound and feel like power drills, this is the kind of massage gun they’re talking about.
Personally, I couldn’t handle the sheer power that this massager delivers. It hurt to use even on muscles that weren’t sore, and I didn’t even try on muscles that were tender. Then again, I have a relatively low pain tolerance. Someone much more brawny and tough than myself may enjoy the high power output of the TimTam All New Power Massager.
The TimTam Power Massager is the best massage gun overall for people who are looking for more percussion, less vibration. While it does utilize both, the percussive motion is extremely intense and definitely hits deeper layers of soft tissue.
The Hypervolt Plus, the second generation of the powerful percussion massager from Hyperice, rivals the Theragun in functionality, effectiveness and design, but is the best massage gun if you’re also looking for the quietest. This massage gun is mighty and forceful, yet almost silent — I could actually enjoy a lengthy session with the Hypervolt Plus without feeling like my eardrums were shaking, which is the case with many massage guns, especially when used on the neck and shoulders.
Hyperice’s QuietGlide technology and 90-watt high-torque motor together deliver everything you could possibly want in a massage gun: A relaxing, pain-relieving experience. The Hypervolt Plus comes with five head attachments for working out muscle knots wherever you may experience them. The fork attachment is particularly effective for use between the shoulder blades and on the neck.
The Hypervolt Plus has five speed/power settings, which makes it ideal for those who experience varying levels of muscle soreness or pain. The lowest setting felt great when I used it on very sore muscles after leg day, while the highest setting works great on muscles that are tight but not tender.
Save $50: This product is marked down from $449 to $399 at Best Buy, now through March 8.
If I had to pick a favorite, I’d pick the Achedaway Vibration and Percussion Massager. Quiet and easy to handle, this device features five power and speed settings ranging from 1,500 to 3,250 rpm, which according to the website are suited to wake up muscles, release fascia, eliminate lactic acid, provide deep tissue massage and facilitate muscle recovery.
Its list price of $399 is on the high end, but still cheaper than the Hypervolt models and the highest-end Theragun model. The Achedaway massager feels very sturdy in hand, doesn’t make the inside of your head rattle, and provides varying levels of massage that are suitable for sore muscles.
The higher power settings felt great when I wasn’t sore, but didn’t hurt tender muscles, either — the perfect combo in my book. Like many other massagers, the Achedaway electric massager comes with multiple head attachments for massaging different muscle groups. I found that it’s the best massage gun when you’re truly sore or sensitive.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the $120 percussive massage gun from Sportneer worked just as well as the more expensive models on this list, especially since it’s more compact in size than most of the others.
This ultra-portable massager delivers percussive therapy at five different levels, from just 15 watts to a powerful 160 watts, and 1,200 rpm to 3,200 rpm. Depending on what power setting you use, the battery life on this massage gun can last from 1.5 to 5.5 hours. I used the Sportneer device on both achy and pain-free muscles, and both experiences were comparable to that of the Hypervolt Plus and the Achedaway devices — but especially satisfying because of the price point of this product.
The Sportneer massage gun comes with six head attachments, two of which have metal tips and can be used to massage yourself with CBD oil, a topical analgesic or essential oils. This percussive massager is also relatively quiet: The website claims the massage gun reaches a maximum of 55 decibels, which is softer than the volume at which most people listen to music.
Unlike the All New Power Massager, this TimTam model features more power settings that don’t feel like repetitive punches to the muscles. Overall, the Power Massager Pro felt less powerful, yet more effective, than the All New model — the Power Massager Pro has five settings and is far quieter.
It also comes with some unique attachments, including an auto-heating tip and a vibration attachment that increases the intensity of the vibration mechanism to add another element of massage alongside the percussion element. When using the auto-heating tip, the LED screen displays a temperature sensor so you can assess the heat, which increases up to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another cool element of the Power Massager Pro is the rotating head that swivels up to 175 degrees, so you can reach more areas on your own. The battery on the Power Massager Pro lasts up to an hour with continuous use.
There are a lot of budget-friendly massage guns on the market, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. I tested out a few budget options, including the HoMedics heated massage gun, Vivreal handheld massager and Renpho deep tissue massage gun, and landed on the Wahl Deep Tissue model as the best (but still not as good as a three-figure device).
It comes with four head attachments, including a four-pronged one that works magic on the lower back and hamstrings. The long handle is ergonomically designed so that you can hit hard-to-reach spots. This massage gun is the only one that allowed me to massage my entire back on my own: The others, even the most expensive products, all required a helping hand.
The one drawback to the Wahl massager is that it has a cord — I know, blasphemy — but the versatility and effectiveness truly outweigh that bit of outdatedness. Also, I don’t really see myself using a massage gun anywhere other than my home, so unless you plan to use your massager all over the world, the 9-foot cord shouldn’t be a huge issue.
In May 2020, Theragun rebranded as Therabody and released an entire suite of new percussive massagers, which includes the Theragun Pro Generation 4. The Theragun Pro G4 is the new version of the Theragun G3 Pro. (The Theragun G3, a similar version, was previously on this list. You can read our full review to learn more.)
Anyway, as Theragun (er, now Therabody) is considered the gold standard in percussive therapy, its most luxurious, feature-rich model must be the best of the best, right?
In all truth, I have to say yes. Having tested more than 20 massage guns, including three other Theraguns, the Theragun Pro G4 is pretty dang impressive — especially compared to the previous line of Theraguns.
The new Theragun Pro G4 is, first and foremost, much quieter than its former iteration. Loudness has been a chief complaint of Theragun buyers since the company’s early days, and the brand finally made a move to remedy that.
I’m not saying the Pro G4 is silent — it’s still louder than the near-silent Hypervolt Plus — but it doesn’t rattle my brain like the G3 did, thanks to Theragun’s new QuietForce Technology. If you’re an athlete or serious exerciser who can deal with what sounds like a muted turkey carver (and you’re willing to pay $600 for percussive therapy at your fingertips), the Theragun Pro G4 is a great choice for you.
With up to 60 pounds of force, a rotating arm and ergonomic handle, a deep reach of 16mm into your muscle tissue, and speeds up to 2,400 repetitions per minute, the Theragun Pro is built for those who need legitimate percussive therapy multiple times per week. In short, it’s the real deal, but it’s probably not worth it for the average exerciser.
If you do want the G3, you can still get it on Amazon for $349.
The Theragun Prime is another new Theragun included in the company’s rebrand and launch of four new massage guns. Its prior equivalent was the Theragun Liv, which used to be in this list of best massage guns, and is also reviewed in-depth here (you can still get the Theragun Liv on Amazon for $199).
Like the Theragun Pro G4, the Theragun Prime’s main impressive feature is that it’s much quieter than its now-defunct counterpart. In fact, the Prime rivals the famously quiet Hypervolt Plus in terms of volume level — that’s a massive improvement from the Liv.
The improvements don’t stop there, though: Where the Theragun Liv only had two preprogrammed speeds and came with two closed-cell foam attachments, the new Theragun Prime has five built-in speeds (from 1,750 rpm to 2,400 rpm) and comes with five closed-cell foam attachments.
At $299, the Theragun Prime is still pricey, but doesn’t induce sticker shock quite like the Pro G4. To me, the improvements make the Theragun Prime seem well worth the price. The competition to the Prime, to me, is the original Hypervolt: These two massage guns have many similar features and hover around the same price range. The choice is yours for the making!
Just released in November 2019, this massager from ExoGun offers the same experience as the Hypervolt and Theragun: A luxury feel and effective massage. While I’m not sure that the ExoGun DreamPro is worth the $600 list price, it does offer what most shoppers look for in a luxury model.
The DreamPro offers six power and speed settings (the most out of any device on this list), ranging from 1,200 to 3,200 repetitions per minute and 20 to 53 Hertz in vibration speed. As for sound level, this massager clocks in at 70 decibels, which might be a little loud for some. I enjoyed the three middle settings on the DreamPro the most, as the lower end felt too gentle and the higher end felt too powerful.
What I really like about the DreamPro is its 30-day risk free trial, something that none of the other companies on this list offer. So if you’re unsure about whether a massage gun will meet your needs, the ExoGun DreamPro might be a good place to start despite its steep price tag.
Percussion therapy and vibration therapy are often used interchangeably, but the two mechanisms do differ. Percussive therapy involves a punching or thumping motion, while vibration therapy involves, well, vibration. The majority of massage guns combine the two mechanisms, resulting in a therapy that reaches deeper layers of tissue (percussion) in addition to the superficial layers (vibration).
When I tried out the Nordictrack Percussion Recovery Gun, I felt that it lacked the percussion part of the equation. The massage felt very superficial, as if it wasn’t penetrating much deeper than my skin. I had a few friends try out the Nordictrack device to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and they came to the same consensus: This massage gun probably won’t do the trick for people who workout often and experience intense muscle soreness and knots.
It might, however, work well for people who have very sensitive skin, muscles or joints, or those who need a device with lower power due to an injury or illness, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.
What to look for in a percussive massage gun
Speed and power: These two elements are definitely the most important. Everyone’s pain tolerance and massage preferences differ, but anyone can benefit from a massager with at least two settings: one being less intense so you can still use the gun on very sore muscles where you are experiencing muscle tension or pain.
Type of motion: As discussed in the Nordictrack description, percussion and vibration are very different. When shopping for a massage gun, consider which mechanism is more important to you.
Portability: If you’re going to be traveling with your massage gun, you’ll want one that can easily fit into a bag or suitcase, or one that has its own carrying case. Though most are indeed handheld massagers, some units are rather bulky, such as the TimTam models.
Attachments and accessories: Where on your body will you use the massage gun? If you’ll only use it on just your large muscles, such as your back and legs, you probably don’t need many attachments or accessories. But if you intend to use it on specific areas and trigger points, such as the arch of your foot or your neck, you’d benefit from smaller attachments intended for those specific areas.
Battery life: Pretty self-explanatory — the longer the battery life, the better, as with all electronics.
Cost: Of course, you’ll want to look for a therapeutic massager device within your budget. The most expensive massage guns usually offer more adjustable speed, power and motion settings, but less expensive models can certainly get the job done.
Other great ways to recover from tough workouts
If you’re not exactly into the idea of punching your muscles — which can be painful if you’re really sore and tender — you should know that massage guns aren’t your only option for post-workout recovery.
Cryotherapy: Ever wonder what it’s like to submerge your body in subzero temperatures? With the growing popularity of whole-body cryotherapy, you can try it out pretty much anywhere.
Far-infrared therapy: Tom Brady uses fancy infrared-infused pajamas and bed sheets to keep himself in tip-top shape. It’s supposed to induce the same benefits as heat therapy, but without actually making you sweaty. Find out if it works.
Compression therapy: What’s been around for ages as a medical therapy has made its way into the fitness world as a recovery mechanism. You might feel silly wearing big inflatable boots, but there’s some pretty convincing science behind compression therapy for muscle recovery.
Using a foam roller: You can always stick to the basics. Science says using a foam roller is great for tight muscles and joint mobilization, which may help relieve some soreness — or at least make it easier to move around when you’re already really sore. Hyperice, the company that makes the quiet Hypervolt massage gun, also makes a vibrating foam roller, so you can get the effects of percussive therapy and foam rolling at the same time.
Recovered and ready to hit the gym again? Beat boredom on your next treadmill run and find out if Orangetheory Fitness is worth the hype.
Originally published in 2019.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.