If you’re an athlete or frequent gym-goer, you already know how sore and tense your muscles can get after a workout; but, you might not know too much about massage guns.
But once you start looking into them a little bit, you’ll discover a rabbit-hole that goes deeper than you might have ever imagined. But don’t worry, we’ve got it all covered in this beginner’s guide. From the benefits and basic terminology through to how to use a massage gun, we’ll check out all the basics so that the next time you’re facing sore muscles, you’ll have the tools to make them better. Just think of it like a mobile massage therapist!
What is a massage gun?
As a relatively modern invention, massage guns are fast becoming a valuable tool in fitness circles as a recovery aid, through a special form of percussive treatment that delivers a series of rapid blows that penetrate deep into the soft tissue
The force and vibration produced by the machine are advertised to deliver a whole range of benefits including pain relief, reduced muscle stiffness, increased range of movement and faster recovery time from intense workouts or training sessions. At present, there have not been too many clinical studies that can prove the effectiveness, but a study by the US National Center for Biotechnology shows that they do help with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
Who can benefit from using a massage gun?
The good news is that massage guns can benefit anyone who has issues with sore muscles or muscle pain following exercise and exertion. Whether you’re a casual gym-goer, professional athlete or recreational sportsperson, percussion massage can help in both post and pre-warm-up, cool-down and recovery. The best part is, that you don’t need to have a certain level of fitness to use one, everyone can benefit from using one.
Those casual users can include people who have physically demanding jobs and those who get sore back muscles from sitting at an office desk all day. So, if you’re interested in getting one and are worried that you’re not an elite athlete, there’s really no problem. Whether you exercise or not, the right massage just might help you reduce muscle soreness.
There are certain groups of people who we wouldn’t recommend a massage gun to however, and we’ll get to them further down in this guide.
PPM, amplitude and stall time
Massage guns largely have the same function and don’t vary too much in the way they deliver a treatment, but do have some pretty fundamental differences in the strength and speed in which they do so. When shopping around for your device, apart from the usual specs like battery time and weight, you’ll see mention of three other measurements that you might not be too familiar with: ppm, amplitude and stall time.
PPM – This stands for Percussions Per Minute and is essentially the speed (or intensity) at which the massage head hits your body. Most massage guns have different speed settings ranging from 800 right up to 3200. If you’re not a pro athlete or don’t want anything too hard, a lower PPM will be better for you.
Amplitude – When looking at massagers you’ll see a number set that refers to the amplitude. Also known as ‘stroke’ this measurement usually comes in millimetres and refers to the depth at which the massage head ‘pushes’ out. So, the more millimetres, the deeper the massage.
Stall time (force) – Is the amount (in pounds) of pressure that a device can take before it powers off. For instance, if you really want a hard massage and are pushing the device into your leg or arm, you’re going to want a high stall time to make sure that the device continues to operate.
What do the different heads do?
As you shop around for your massage gun, you’ll notice that some of them offer a range of different heads and attachments. The usual amount is around four but some specialist products can have up to ten or even more. The following heads are the most common and should be included with any massager you buy. If they aren’t part of the deal, consider another option as they are very helpful in targeting different areas of the body.
The ball – This is the most common attachment which targets the most areas. You can use it on larger muscle areas such as the chest or legs but it’s also good for the bottom of your foot or the back of your neck.
The flat – Another ‘all-rounder’ attachment, the flat head looks like a common hammer tip and is suitable for all body parts. It’s especially effective in softening up muscle tissue in the more dense areas of the body, such as the quads, pecs and back.
The bullet – One of the more advanced attachments, the bullet is best used on the ‘trigger’ points on your body, which are often the tight and hard-to-reach spots in-between major muscle groups. It’s especially good at working on small and tight muscle knots.
The fork – With two flexible prongs, the fork is best used on the spine, neck and shoulder areas for general massage and loosening of muscle groups.
So, there’s the what. Here’s the how. These are the basics steps on how to safely use a massage gun for the first time:
- Turn the massage gun on before you put it onto your body. This way you can ease it into your muscle at a comfortable level without catching yourself off guard and causing bruising (or worse).
- Always start at the lowest speed until you’ve had the chance to acclimatise to the feeling and have a better idea about your tolerance level. One thing to bear in mind is that the soreness you’re feeling could be micro-tears in the muscle, so go extra easy on these areas to avoid injuring yourself.
- Once you’re on your way, you’ll want to ‘float’ the massage head across the muscles instead of pointing it vertically downwards. This way you can enjoy a more balanced massage as the head will make its own way across the affected area in a gentler fashion.
- Take it easy. If it hurts, stop. Massage guns are a fairly powerful way to deliver muscle treatment, but they are still supposed to be relaxing. If you find yourself tensing or flexing during operation, consider lowering the setting or putting less pressure.
How long should you use a massage gun?
Most of us will feel something like a ‘good’ pain when using the gun, meaning that the sore areas are reacting to the treatment and loosening up. This doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to ‘push through’ if something really hurts. The massage head is essentially causing hundreds of ‘micro-traumas’ to the selected muscle group throughout all the pounding. While this can help increase blood flow, soreness and tightness, you don’t want to use it for too long.
Everyone is different, depending on their muscle mass, but here are some broad timing tips for for casuals and professionals:
- Pre-workout: Muscle activation, 30s
- Short interval breaks during the workout: Muscle stimulation, 15s
- After the workout: Recovery, 2-5 minutes per area
How to use a massage gun pre-workout
While massage guns are best-known for use after intense workouts or training sessions, they can be used beforehand as a way to enhance performance and lessen the risk of muscle injury (if used right). By applying the massage head to the muscle group, they become ‘activated’ and are more quickly able to perform larger ranges of motion. The massage guns will also loosen the muscles by increasing blood flow.
Before your workout, go ahead and use your device on the areas you’re going to work for around 30 seconds, on the lowest setting. Don’t go in too hard, or for too long because at this point the muscles are only just ‘waking up’ and are likely to be stiff.
You can also use the machine during your workout, in-between sets or during a break. This will ensure that the muscles stay warm during your resting period and that blood is fully able to freely access the working area.
How to use a massage gun post-workout
After your session, the worked muscles are going to be fatigued and awash with lactic acid. By using a massage gun immediately afterwards you can help them recover faster. Remember: your muscles are already strained, tight, inflamed and stretched so it’s very important to treat them gently and not use the device for too long.
If you go at them too hard, you may accidentally increase their micro-tearing and make the overall recovery time much longer. The appropriate time to use higher settings is in the days following the workout,, once the muscles have had the time to settle down.
When you shouldn’t use a massage gun
Percussive therapy is not gentle, so if you have any of the following conditions, avoid using one. If you’re planning on applying treatment anyway, always consult a medical professional such as your doctor or a physiotherapist, and make sure you know how to use a massage gun safely. By ignoring any advice you run a risk of causing serious injury.
Pulled muscles – Do not use any kind of massage gun or device on an injured hamstring or any other pulled muscles. They have already been overstretched, torn and damaged. Allow them to fully heal and consult your doctor or physio to get the all-clear before resuming treatment.
Ligament strain – Just like a pulled muscle, you can damage your ligaments by overstretching them. Using a massage gun on the affected area will worsen the strain; instead, avoid moving and stimulating the area as much as possible until it has fully recovered.
Inflamed areas – If you have conditions related to inflammation, do not use a massage gun. This includes tendonitis, fasciitis, bursitis, periostitis and other related issues.
If you use blood thinners – Even aspirin, it’s best to avoid using these kinds of machines. Muscle percussion increases blood flow in the targeted area, and if you’re on blood thinners, the area will bruise very quickly.
If you’re prone to blood clots – You may end up releasing a blood clot with the massager, which can then travel in your bloodstream. This is very dangerous and can even lead to death.
If you have any broken bones – This one might be obvious but is worth mentioning. Even if the area appears to have healed and your cast is off, you can reverse any recovery by using a massage gun too early.
If you have any of the following conditions – Always consult your doctor before using a massage gun:
- Varicose veins
- Conditions that affect blood vessels such as peripheral artery disease or thrombosis.
- High blood pressure
- Muscle disorders
Which one should you get?
Massage guns are more popular than ever, meaning that there are loads out there to choose from. In fact, probably too many. If this is your first device, it can be quite overwhelming to even know where to start. Which ones offer the best value? Which ones are the strongest? Or the quietest? Well, not to worry because you can read this in-depth look at the best massage guns to help you make your choice.
So there you go – now you know a lot more about massage guns than you did a little while back. If it sounds like something you’d love to try out, just make sure to read the manual properly and observe the safety tips we’ve mentioned. Otherwise, have fun and give your muscles the treatment they deserve.