Article Credit : Whitney Heins, the founder of The Mother Runners, a VDOT-O2 certified running coach, 2:56 marathoner, freelance writer, a former award-winning TV news journalist
Massage guns for runners are all the rage these days with the Theragun being the cream of the crop. But are massage guns worth the money? Can massage guns really help your running?
When massage therapists, physical therapists, and my chiropractor started using them on me, I started paying attention—maybe massage guns could be worth the investment. So, I hopped on the massage gun bandwagon and am giving you an honest review.
In this article I will share:
- How massage guns work
- Research that supports the benefits of massage guns for runners
- How to use a massage gun, and
- A review of the top-of-the-line Therabody’s Theragun PRO versus Hyperice’s Hypervolt Plus (the company best known for its Normatec compression boot)
Let’s face it—quality massage guns aren’t cheap. You want to avoid buying a cheaper one that isn’t effective. And, you want to avoid buying an expensive one that proves to be just the next shiny toy in a runner’s recovery box that’s quickly replaced by the next thing.
How Do Percussive Massage Guns Work?
A percussive massage gun is a powerful tool that looks a bit sleeker than a nail gun.
It works by applying localized vibration to the muscles, triggering a response from the nervous system to supply more blood to the area. Increased blood flow serves to aid in healing (recovery) and warm-up the muscles.
This may sound a lot like a foam roller, but a massage gun does not replace a foam roller. Foam rollers impact the outer layer of the muscle, providing myofascial release, potentially addressing adhesions in the muscle fascia A massage gun, on the other hand, is a deep tissue massage into your muscle—activating the muscle and providing increased blood flow.
Do percussive massage guns help runners?
Research shows that percussive massage can help runners in two areas:
- improvement of performance when used as part of a warm-up before a run, and
- reduction of post-run soreness.
- Improved range of motion: Research suggests that there may be an improved range of motion when you use a percussive massage gun before a run. A 2020 study in the Journal of Sport Science and Medicine found that a 5-min percussive massage on the calves elicited a large increase in the range of motion of the foot and ankle. Particularly for injury-prone athletes, improved range of motion before a run can be beneficial.
- Improved recovery: A 2017 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed improvement in muscle soreness. The study looked at the effects of 15 minutes of percussive massage post-workout and found this provided both immediate and short-term relief to muscle soreness.
- From my personal experience, this has rung true. I have found if I use a massage gun within a couple of hours of a hard effort, I have less soreness the day after. I have also found if I use the massage gun on key muscle groups for about 15 seconds before a run or workout, I move more fluidly.
- How to use a massage gun
There are right ways and wrong ways to use a massage gun. I will admit I used it the wrong way when I borrowed one from my neighbor to attack a sore quad. I used it too close to the tendon and muscle attachment of my knee and my pain and soreness worsened.
In general, remember that more is not better when using massage guns!
DOs of Massage Gun Use
- DO start low on the power and slow on the vibration with a massage gun. Get used to what it feels like and what feels good before increasing power and speed. Note: areas like calves will be more sensitive than hamstrings and quads.
- DO move the gun over your skin. Staying in one spot for too long can cause aggravation.
- DO use on large muscle groups but avoid tendons and muscle attachments. This can also cause aggravation.
- DO use a massage gun on major muscle groups for about 15-30 seconds as part of a WARM-UP.
- DO use a massage gun on major muscle groups for 1-2 minutes after a run or workout.
DON’Ts of Massage Gun Use
- DON’T do it so that it hurts—especially when treating an injury. Ask your physical therapist or doctor if it is okay to use to address a running injury.
- DON’T use for too long, especially in one spot. More is not better. This can aggravate tissue.
- DON’T use on tendons and muscle attachments.
- DON’T have a massage gun replace your dynamic warm-up or foam rolling. It is meant to enhance your existing warm-up and cool-down routines.
- DON’T use if you are on blood thinners until you talk with your doctor. (Or if you bruise easily).
And, obviously, don’t use on your face, internal organs, broken bones, etc. That’s common sense!