The Most Effective Way for Runners to Use Massage Guns
By now you’ve probably seen plenty of massage gun commercials on TV. Tons of professional athletes and sports teams, including professional soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, swear by them. But are massage guns really worth the hype?
Massage guns are designed to give you an intense, deep tissue massage, with the goal of improving recovery. And although many athletes sing praises to Theragun and other brands of massage guns, it’s important to remember that nothing can replace the basics of recovery. Sleep, rest, hydration, and stretching are always important to do after a hard workout.
But if you are looking to take your recovery to the next level, massage guns could be just the thing you’re looking for.
Do Massage Guns Really Improve Recovery?
The main claim of massage guns is that they improve recovery, thus improving your performance. It’s quite the claim, I mean, just imagine training for a marathon – but cutting out half of the sore days, the limping around and having to ice sore muscles after every run. If you could cut down muscle soreness, you could train more and worry less – and you could get one step closer to beating your PR. But do massage guns really improve recovery?
A study done a few years ago tested whether vibration therapy helps to reduce muscle soreness. Researchers took a group of thirty professional futsal players and divided them into two groups – one group that did vibration therapy and one group that did nothing.
Researchers found that the players that were in the vibration therapy group reported less muscle soreness than the control group. And they even had more leg flexibility as well. (1)
Another study compared the effects of massage therapy and vibration therapy. They found that both worked well to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (that’s the sore muscle feeling you get the day after you work out). Interestingly, they found that massage therapy was especially beneficial in restoring concentric strength – the type of movement that strengthens and increases your muscle size. On the other hand, vibration therapy was helpful in reducing early pain, in other words, delaying and decreasing soreness. (2)
Massage guns are a combination of massage and vibration therapy. In fact, most massage guns even go a step beyond vibration therapy. Dr. Jason Wersland, founder of Therabody, claims that Theragun massage guns use a new type of therapy – percussive therapy, “which is a deeper, more effective mode of recovery and body activation.” (3)
How Do Massage Guns Work?
Basically, massage guns stimulate your muscles through vibration, increasing blood flow to the area and repeatedly hitting deep into the muscle for intense massaging. Just like your normal massage, they can be great for sore or tight muscles.
It’s important to note that you should always thoroughly read the directions on your massage gun before using it. Many come with different tools for specific types of massages or different parts of the body. So, make sure to check that out before using it to avoid injury. You can actually make your body more sore if you use it wrong, so be careful.
Foam Rollers Vs. Massage Guns
If you do a quick search for foam rollers online you can find a great one for less than 20 bucks. Massage guns, on the other hand, can cost anywhere from $100 to $600. That’s a pretty big investment.
But are massage guns really that much better than foam rollers? Physical therapist Donald Zerio says that massage guns “do work in the same sense that foam rolling works” – by loosening up tight muscles and giving you some relief after a hard workout. (3)
However, a massage gun is different from a foam roller. A massage gun focuses on vibration, which sends messages to your central nervous system, making your brain more aware of your targeted muscle. Foam rolling, on the other hand, focuses on myofascial release – easing tension and tightness in specific trigger points in your muscles. (4)
Sometimes, you have pain in a certain area of your body, let’s say, your thigh, but you don’t know exactly where the pain trigger point is. Foam rolling would be a great option for that because you can quickly cover a large muscle area. With massage guns, it’s better to know what specific area of your body you are going to target, then stay within that area, because it is more intense (it targets deeper in your muscles) than foam rolling.
Most people suggest both foam rolling and using massage guns, because they don’t replace the one or the other.
But What About for Runners?
Sir Mo Farah, Olympic long-distance running champion, is a huge advocate for Theragun. He says, “I love to use the Theragun right before training to help activate my muscles, and I’ve noticed I am not as tight after I finish a run. It helps me properly cool down and recover so the next day, I can go out and do it again.” (5)
For runners, massage guns can be a special pre-workout tool. Doing a quick 5-minute percussive massage on your calves can improve flexibility and improve range of motion in your feet and ankles, stimulating your muscles before your run. A study last year showed that using a massage gun before a run improves range of motion in the plantar flexor muscles (those are your foot muscles and your Achilles’ tendon). (6)
For injury-prone runners, a massage gun could be a great tool to use with your warmup before you run to loosen up muscles and help prevent injury.
The Final Verdict
So, is it worth it? Well, it depends. If you have a specific tight spot or sore muscle that could be benefit from using a massage gun very frequently, purchasing one would be a great option for you. If you are unsure about whether you’d enjoy massage gun massages, I would recommend holding off on buying one until you’re sure you’d put it to good use.
They’re certainly not for everyone. If you bruise easily or if you have a chronic pain condition, using a massage gun could actually hurt you more than it would help you. Make sure to try one (check out your local gym or even your friend’s house) before going out and spending $500.
Nothing is going to completely prevent muscle soreness or magically heal your tight muscles. Always remember that rest and recovery are important, and don’t overdo it on your workouts. A little goes a long way and consistency is key.
This article was written by Rachael Kraft and published on Monday, 25 October 2021. It was last updated on Friday, 25 March 2022.