While plenty of gadgets may come in and out of your gym bag to promote muscle recovery, massage guns are among the devices most often recommended by physical therapists. With the simple placement of the massage gun and the push of a button, you can encourage much of your discomfort to beat a hasty retreat.
But with as many potential benefits as a massage gun offers, it could still be counterproductive to use it incorrectly. If you don’t know how to use a massage gun properly, you run the risk of paying a premium price for suboptimal results. Here, you’ll learn how to leave your muscles feeling rejuvenated after spending time with your favorite piece of recovery equipment.
What Is a Massage Gun?
A massage gun is a handheld device with a protruding rubber attachment that vibrates rapidly against your muscles, aiming to loosen them in the process. These are not a one-speed solution; most enable you to modify the force and frequency of the vibrations to suit your tolerance and comfort levels.
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At most, the surface area of the massage gun that will be in contact with your muscles is usually only a few inches wide. This enables the application of the muscle-relaxing vibrations to be very precise, getting into very specific areas of your muscles. Think about the difference between rolling your muscles with a softball and a lacrosse ball — the smaller one lets you get much deeper.
How Does a Massage Gun Work?
Although a massage gun is a very sophisticated machine, its actual function is quite simple. When you turn it on, the massage gun’s rubber attachment will vibrate against whatever muscle you put it against.
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The vibration against your muscles can loosen the tissue and increase blood flow to that area. Not only will this relax your muscles, but the increased blood flow to the area can also help remove toxins and other waste products from your muscles that have accumulated over time. (1)
How to Use a Massage Gun
Although a massage gun is relatively simple to use, that’s no guarantee that you’ll automatically get the most out of it every time you break it out. There is a correct way to use any piece of equipment. Here’s how to make the most out of this one.
- Step 1: Identify the sore or tight muscles you want to target.
- Step 2: Choose the appropriate massage-head attachment for the target area (i.e., large muscle = larger head size; small muscle = smaller head size).
- Step 3: Begin with the massage gun on a low-speed setting and slowly sweep the attachment head over the muscle.
- Step 4: Gradually increase the speed or depth of pressure to any areas within the muscle that feel particularly tight or sore.
- Step 5: After 30 seconds to two minutes, move on to the next muscle group.
Three Areas of Caution
These prescribed steps offer excellent guidelines for achieving muscle relaxation with a massage gun. With that being said, there are also three additional tips you should adhere to so that your experience with a massage gun remains pleasant and beneficial.
- Tip 1: Avoid applying your massage gun to any bony areas or nerves.
- Tip 2: Stop using your massage gun if you experience pain or other radiating symptoms such as numbness or tingling.
- Tip 3: Do not use the massage gun on areas with open or unhealed wounds, any swollen areas, or any muscle tissues that you think might be injured or strained.
Benefits of Using a Massage Gun
There are several reasons that massage guns often come highly recommended by physical therapists. Sure enough, a massage gun can be an efficient tool for muscle maintenance, and a cost-effective device as well.
Easy Access to a Quality Massage
Massage guns and foam rollers are two of the most popular pieces of equipment for self-delivered massage. That said, the massage gun is often easier to use to give yourself a deep, specific massage.
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“The massage gun trumps the foam roller in its portability, as well as its ability to be applied to nearly all the muscle groups in the body relatively easily,” Asti tells BarBend. “It can be used one-handed or applied by a partner for harder-to-reach areas. The variability in settings and attachments is also great for addressing different needs of your body in the same session.”
Increased Flexibility and Reduced Muscle Soreness
A properly managed massage-gun session should leave your body feeling more relaxed. Relaxation may be its own reward, but there are also distinct physiological benefits along with it.
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“After proper application of the massage gun, you should feel warmth in the area, and you may see some light redness as well, which is normal,” Asti explains. “You should also experience an increased sense of flexibility, reduced muscle tension, and a reduction in post-workout muscle fatigue and soreness. It should definitely not feel more painful or sore if you’ve done things properly.”
Targeted Muscle Therapy
One of the foremost advantages of massage guns is their ability to deliver an isolated massage to desired muscle groups on demand. This means that if your training session is a chest and triceps workout, for example, you can apply your massage gun specifically to these muscles both before and after you train them.
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“Depending on your preference, you can use a massage gun before exercise to help warm up the tissues you’re about to work, or you can use it after to address any soreness and tightness caused by your workout,” Asti says. “Whichever you choose, spending 30 seconds to two minutes per muscle group should be plenty to achieve your desired effect.”
An Inexpensive Massage on Demand
If you enjoy the benefits of massage, the cost of a massage gun — which is higher than that of many massage-based, muscle-recovery solutions — might be appealing to you. This is because a massage gun may be a lot of money upfront, but is comparatively inexpensive next to multiple hours on a massage table.
“When it comes to frequency of use, a massage gun is more cost-effective than regular hands-on massages,” Asti says. “In fact, for the typical cost of a four-pack of 60-minute massage sessions, you could pay for a top-of-the-line massage gun that would likely last you a few years.”
Note: While massage guns are a great way for you to experience quick muscle relief on your own, Asti cautions against regarding them as a one-size-fits-all solution. This is because their therapeutic benefits are limited only to percussive massage; professional massage therapists are far more versatile with their techniques.
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“Trained professionals will vary their pressure, technique, and movements throughout a session to manage your areas of discomfort or tension,” Asti explains. “Other advantages of professional massage include the stress relief and relaxation that extend beyond muscle recovery. Your best-case scenario might entail using a massage gun in between regular professional massage sessions to get the most benefits.”
But if you prefer to give yourself your own massages or cannot afford regular massage treatments, massage guns are a solid option.
A massage gun can be a functional, practical, and relatively inexpensive way to experience all of the benefits that can accompany muscle relief. Knowing how to use a massage gun properly can help confer these benefits to you at the simple touch of a button. Work hard and recover harder — your gains are waiting.
- Sams L, Langdown BL, Simons J, Vseteckova J. The Effect Of Percussive Therapy On Musculoskeletal Performance And Experiences Of Pain: A Systematic Literature Review. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2023 Apr 1;18(2):309-327.
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