How To Use a Massage Gun for Muscle Recovery

how to use massage gun woman using massage gun on her back

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Maybe you’re looking to improve blood flow after an intense workout, or maybe you just need to loosen those muscle knots after all those hours in less-than-ideal posture at your WFH setup. (Yes, you. This is your sign to relax your jaw and stop hunching your shoulders!) Either way, you’ve probably considered purchasing a massage gun at one point or another. 

Once you try one on your sore or tired muscles, you may never want to live without a massage gun in your home gym. They’re easy to use and feel so good pre-workout, post-workout, or just when you slept funny.

But buying a massage gun is one thing. Using one effectively is another. Here’s how to use a massage gun properly (and when it’s best to not use it), plus what to do with all of those funky-looking attachments it comes with.

Here’s the TL;DR on how the best massage guns stack up:

  • Theragun Pro ($599): The gold standard of massage guns (with a price tag to match). This is the massage gun to have, with six different attachments for all your recovery needs, a quiet percussive motor, and thousands of rave reviews.
  • Hyperice Hypervolt 2 ($249): This moderately priced gun is perfect for people with smaller hands with its rubberized, ergonomic handle. The massage gun comes with five attachments, three speeds, and bluetooth capabilities. However, you can expect a lower battery life than its Theragun counterpart.
  • Sportneer Elite D9 ($109): The budget-friendly massage gun. Expect ease of use with six pre-programmed speeds that rival the strength of its more expensive counterparts and a handy carrying case for easy transport. 
  • Ekrin B37s ($229.99): This massage gun is highly rated for its customer-centric features like a lifetime warranty and competitive customer care services. This model features six attachments best for pre- and post-workout massages and is meant to last with its impressive engineering and high-quality materials. 

How Do Massage Guns Work?

Massage guns use targeted percussive therapy on muscles via the attachment head on the gun moving up and down at a rapid rate. (The Theragun Pro, for example, pulses 40 times per second.) This is the same kind of movement that makes you say “ahh” after a deep tissue massage. It can also help improve delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), flexibility, and mobility. 

“This momentarily increases blood flow to the area as well as desensitizes the area being treated,” says Jesse Feder, RDN, CPT, CSCS. “By constantly applying a stimulus to the muscles, your nervous system ‘calms down’ and can temporarily relieve pain, stiffness, and muscle aches.” 

It differs from another common therapy in the fitness world—vibration therapy. 

  • Percussive therapy: Percussive therapy penetrates muscles deeper than its vibration counterpart. Massage guns like Theragun reach move up and down rapidly on the muscle, which can create an intense feeling of pressure. This also applies force to your fascia (the connective tissue that encases muscles, organs, and other parts of the body) or to reduce muscle tension.
  • Vibration therapy: Vibration therapy also aims to reduce muscle tension with less intense pressure. Typically, items like foam rollers fall into this category, but some inexpensive massage gun options with less power can also have this effect. 

Both vibration and percussive therapy manipulate the sensation surrounding soft tissue, which helps reduce muscle soreness and fatigue after workouts icon-trusted-source Frontiers in Physiology “An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis” View Source . You’ll improve blood flow and tightness with both, but percussive therapy reaches deeper and is often more effective for hard-to-reach muscles. 

On the flip side, if you suffer from chronic pain and sensitive muscles, you may want to avoid percussive therapy and opt for the less intense vibration therapy. 

Either way, it’s also important to keep in mind what massage guns can’t do. “The massage gun does not do more than desensitize an area for a temporary amount of time,” says Victoria Sekely, DPT, CSCS and creator of Train Smart Run Strong. “There is zero change to your fascia or musculature. But if it feels good, then it’s beneficial because it feels good, not because anything is actually changing.”

When To Use a Massage Gun

Massage guns have many applications, but the most common uses are to desensitize muscular tension and warm up muscles.

The Nessie Tip:

Torque, RPM, and amps are words t, but they’re actually terms that measure massage gun intensity. The higher each factor is on your gun, the slower you should start.

Torque: The higher the torque, the higher the force. Massage guns with 60 pounds of torque are considered strong.
RPM: Revolutions (or pulses) per minute. You can expect a range between 2,000 RPM to 3,200 RPM.
Amps: The higher the amps, the deeper it will penetrate the muscle. Amps range between 12mm on the lower end and 16mm on the higher end.

Keep in mind that different massage guns are best suited for different needs, and it’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions on your specific device to get the most bang for your buck.

Pre-Workout Massage Gun Routine

A massage gun can be used in your pre-workout routine to help warm up your muscles. This increases blood flow to the parts of your body you’re going to exercise. When your muscles are activated and warm, it may also improve your range of motion icon-trusted-source Journal of Sports Science and Medicine “The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance” View Source during your workout.

Note that a massage gun should be only one part of your pre-workout routine. You should continue incorporating light cardio and dynamic stretching to reduce the risk of injury. 

How long should you use your massage gun pre-workout? Use the massage gun for about five minutes total to boost blood circulation. You can rotate between different muscles every 30 seconds. 

Post-Workout Massage Gun Routine

To help your body cool down after a workout, use the massage gun on the body parts that you worked out the most. This will help relax your nervous system and keep the circulation strong so your fatigued muscles get plenty of oxygen and nutrients to recover.

Let’s say you just finished a strenuous run. (Don’t worry, treadmills count too.) Your routine with the massage gun could look like this: 

  • Two-minute massage on the glutes (your butt)
  • Three-minute massage on the vastus lateralis and medialis (lateral thighs and quads)
  • Two-minute massage on the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris (hamstrings)
  • Two-minute massage on the gastrocnemius (calves)

The above routine can be used directly after the run, then again in 24-36 hours. 

How long should you use your massage gun post-workout? After your workout, use the massage gun for two to three minutes on each muscle that was activated. This may help the muscle feel looser without causing more pain.

Muscle Reactivation Massage Gun Routine

If your muscles start to spasm or feel fatigued, you can use the massage gun to reactivate that specific muscle. Then, continue your workout!

“The physiology behind deep vibration starts with the stimulation of our deep pressure receptors, Pacinian corpuscles icon-trusted-source Britannica “Pacinian corpuscles” View Source , which are located under our skin,” says Dr. Courtney James, DPT, Lecturer of Anatomy and Physiology at Curry College, and owner of PT Prehab, LLC.

She explains that once these receptors (or muscles) detect the high-frequency vibration, they send a signal to higher neural pathways, triggering a cascade reaction. 

“This ultimately relaxes the muscle spindles through a reflex pathway which allows the muscle fibers to assume a more relaxed state,” says James. 

How long should you use your massage gun for reactivation? Muscle activation, or stimulating a muscle group that’s otherwise fatigued, can take 10-15 minutes. It’s important to honor your body—and yes, we’ll mention it again, the manufacturer’s instructions—before using your massage gun on a single area for more than three minutes. 

How To Treat Sore Muscle

While nothing (other than time) can completely eliminate sore muscles for good, massage guns are proven to provide temporary relief icon-trusted-source Frontiers in Physiology “Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” View Source

Make sure that the setting and attachment you’re using don’t cause you pain and that the treatment feels good.

How long should you use your massage gun for recovery? To treat DOMS, use your massage gun for three to five minutes on each muscle group. Continue for 10-15 minutes, but don’t exceed 20.

How To Use A Massage Gun Properly

Just like how different workouts are better for different people, certain massage guns will work better for some than others. In general, though, you want to follow the same basic steps below, no matter the brand. Then you can work your way up to more intense settings.

  1. Choose your attachment: Depending on the muscle group you’re working, decide if you need an attachment that’s best for smaller areas or larger ones. Bullets tend to be targeted attachments best for small muscles, while large balls are best for bigger muscle groups.
  2. Turn on your device away from your body: Before you touch skin to gun, power on the device away from your body. This will help avoid injury and find a setting that feels most comfortable.
  3. Start slow: Even if you’ve used a massage gun umpteen times, start slow and gradually increase it. Just like when you roll out your yoga mat, you may have a day where you slip right into a handstand scorpion, and another where you struggle to do any inversions at all. Just. Start. Slow. 
  4. Don’t use pressure: The goal is to help decrease inflammation, not cause more. When using your massage gun, “float” on top of your skin versus applying pressure. 
  5. Move on: Channel your inner Ariana Grande and say “Thank u, next” about every two minutes. Moving to different muscle groups frequently will help avoid overworking your muscles. If you begin to feel pain while using the massage gun, you may have overworked it.
Infographic: Five steps for proper massage gun use. How to use massage guns. Choose the right attachment, start the device without it touching your body, use the slowest setting and gradually increase as desired, avoid using pressure and float it along your muscles, switch out the muscle you're applying it to every two minutes.

Remember, whether you’re new to massage guns or a pro, it’s important to find a comfortable attachment for the area, start with a slow speed and increase gradually, and cover the whole muscle during the massage, giving light pressure to “float” throughout the session. 

What Not To Do With Your Massage Gun

As helpful as massage guns can be, it’s possible to use them in a way that’s… not so helpful. “While the rationale behind deep vibration and muscle relaxation has physiological backing, users should be warned of over-inflated advertisements promising performance enhancement, change in muscle composition, or energy medicine, ” says James.  

The improper use of deep vibration can be irritating to an injured or healing muscle. Her tip? Talk to a certified physical therapist if you’re healing or injured before using a massage gun.

While this what-not-to-do-list is relatively short and self-explanatory, we’re going to share it anyway:

  • Don’t use it on your bones (stay on soft tissue).
  • Don’t use it on musculoskeletal injuries like sprains or strain injuries.
  • Avoid using it on bruises or open wounds.
  • Don’t use it if you have pain that doesn’t seem to come from sore muscles.
  • Don’t use it for longer than 10-15 minutes at a time.

In short: Don’t use it where or when it could hurt. That also means that you should never apply too much force, use a high setting if it doesn’t feel good, or use the wrong attachment on the wrong body part.

How To Use the Different Massage Gun Attachments

Depending on which model you purchased (or will purchase after this article), your massage gun may come with up to 10 different attachments. We’ll cover the four most common ones here so you know how to use them properly and on what muscle group.

Infographic: Massage gun attachments and where to use each kind. Flat head attachments can be used on any size muscle groups. Fork attachments can target the neck and spine. Bullet attachments can be applied to specific trigger points and knots. Large ball attachments can be used on medium to large muscle groups.

As a general rule, blunted and round attachments are best for large muscle groups and sensitive areas of the body. Pointier attachments are better for deep tissue work and targeted areas. 

Large Ball Attachment

The large ball attachment is common, and you’ll find these accompanying most massage guns by default. It’s best to use the large ball attachment to target large and medium-sized muscle groups like glutes, hamstrings, and quads. It’s also suitable for areas like the arms, waist, and hips. 

Flat Head Attachment

The flat head attachment is also good for most areas of the body and can be used for low-impact massages post-workout and to relieve sore muscles. Use the flat head to target muscles from pecs to glutes, all the way to smaller, more sensitive muscle groups. 

Bullet Attachment

This attachment gets the deepest tissue impact possible. Get familiar with your massage gun before installing this attachment, then use it to target specific trigger points or knots.

Fork Attachment

You may not use your fork attachment on a day-to-day basis. But this add-on is great for your neck, sides of the spine, and achilles tendon. Just remember it’s important to avoid bone when using it. 

Alternative Muscle Recovery

Perhaps a fork attachment vibrating at 3,000 revolutions per minute on what looks like a heavy duty drill from Home Depot is a bit much for you. Nothing screams cozy and soothing like a thick, weighted blanket. Here, we’ve researched the effectiveness of weighted blankets in aiding muscle recovery, and tested and reviewed the leading brands.

Also consider slipping on a pair of recovery sandals—something we’ve also reviewed and tested for you—between workouts to compensate for your ‘yesterday was leg day’ waddling.

While we’d love for you to learn everything about how to use a massage gun, we want you to get back to that report so you can afford one. And before you go out and buy a massage gun, because we know you need one after reading this, use the Ness app to collect points!

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