The New York Times Recommends Theragun
If you're like us, you occasionally short-circuit the product search process by seeking advice online. One of our favourite go-to product review sites is Wirecutter, owned by The New York Times. Last month, Wirecutter recommended six massage guns for six types of user, and Theragun earned two of its picks.
Wirecutter's best overall massage gun ("Powerful, with a multi-grip handle") is the Therabody Theragun Prime.
Wirecutter said the Theragun Prime is:
Best for: Try this device if you’re willing to pay top dollar for a powerful, well-designed massage gun with an upscale feel. It’s also Bluetooth enabled, which allows you to pair it with your phone and follow guided programs via the companion app.
Why we like it: The compact Therabody Theragun Prime has a triangular handle, which allows for multiple grip options meant to ease ergonomic strain. We found it nice to occasionally switch our grip, and doing so provided added leverage when we wanted to apply more pressure. It has five speeds (from 1,750 ppm to 2,400 ppm) and a 16 mm amplitude—the highest of all our picks.
LED lights on the display show the speed and the battery level. The control button is conveniently located on the handle and accessible with a thumb. We like the ability to cycle up and down through all five speeds, a feature that none of our other picks have.
Through the Therabody app, you can explore a bunch of guided programs. The Theragun Prime promises two hours of battery life, and in our tests it went the distance.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Theragun Prime sounds like a small power tool when it turns on and remains relatively noisy; we had a hard time simultaneously watching TV and tending to our hamstrings. It also does not come with a carrying case but does have a dust bag.
And its "Best Compact Massager" is the Therabody Theragun Mini 2nd Generation.
Wirecutter said the Theragun Mini is:
Best for: Those looking for a compact massager that tackles the basics and is good for travel will like this pick.
Why we like it: Some massage guns with a long handle feel like you have to guide them along the muscles, but the Therabody Theragun Mini 2nd Generation needs no such push—it’s as easy as dragging a paintbrush. Its triangular, lightweight shape is easy to hold, and at just over five inches tall, it’s better at reaching harder-to-reach surface areas on the body, such as the undersides of the legs.
With a solid battery life, simple functionality, and not-too-loud sound—we could still hear a TV at normal volume while using it (unlike the bigger Therabody Theragun Prime)—this is a great entry option for someone looking to purchase a massage gun for the first time or for something to take on the go (it weighs 1 pound). Like the Theragun Prime, the Theragun Mini is Bluetooth enabled and connects to the Therabody app, with access to guided programs.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Theragun Mini has only three speeds (1,750, 2,100, and 2,400 ppm) and three attachments (our other picks have four or more). Because of its size, some might gravitate towards using it for travel, but the two-hour battery life would necessitate also packing a charger. Another quirk of its design is in the way you might grip the massager—be sure not to place fingers too close to the narrow end with the moving attachment, as they can get pinched. The 20 pounds of stall force is the lowest of any of our picks, so people looking for more power and a deeper massage might look for a different massager.
With its picks, Wirecutter offered a good summary of what a massage gun is, and how it works:
A massage gun is a handheld device that delivers percussive massage: quick, repeated strikes to the body patterned after a Swedish massage technique called tapotement. You’ll notice three terms typically mentioned within massage gun specs:
Amplitude: This measures how far the shaft of the device moves in and out in order to make contact with your body. The greater the amplitude—measured in millimeters—the deeper the massage, theoretically.
Percussions per minute (ppm): This is the rate at which the device drums into your body.
Stall force: This indicates the amount of pressure (in pounds) that you can apply to the device during use before the motor stops.
Most massage guns come with a variety of attachments that allow you to target specific muscles or deliver a particular kind of massage. For instance, smaller, narrower attachments work well on areas like feet, hands, and calves; rounder, wider shapes work well on larger muscle groups such as quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Nearly all massage guns are relatively noisy and, depending on your level of sensitivity, fairly intense.
They work by quickly and repeatedly punching the body, triggering blood vessels to dilate. This action assists in hydrating muscle tissue with blood and can help release knots, explained Ericka Clinton, dean of the massage therapy program at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences and a New York–licensed massage therapist.
Evidence shows that manual massage (using the hands only) helps decrease pain and improve function, at least in the short term. When it comes to the benefits of massage guns specifically, there isn’t a lot of hard data. “The benefits that come from [these tools] are going to be small at best,” said Christie Aschwanden, science journalist and author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery.
What we do know is that a massage gun cannot flush lactic acid from your muscles (that’s not how muscle soreness works). It can’t eradicate cellulite. It can increase circulation—but so can taking a walk, as Aschwanden pointed out. It can also help work out a tight spot in your shoulder at the end of a workday, contribute to an energizing pre-workout warm-up, or soothe your legs as part of a post-run recovery.
Using one can feel great—and that’s meaningful. “The very most basic level of recovery is just rest and rejuvenation, and anything that facilitates that is good,” said Aschwanden.
A massage gun might appeal to you if you feel the effects of hunching over a phone or computer regularly or any other work-related aches and pains; if you face chronic tight spots, sore muscles, or other soft-tissue complaints; or if you simply enjoy the sensation of a percussive massage.
Massage guns have grown especially popular among athletes (and weekend warriors) of all levels. In professional settings, massage guns can enhance what a massage therapist, physical therapist, or athletic trainer can offer—with less wear and tear on the practitioner’s hands, wrists, and elbows. “It gets you a lot in a very short span of time,” said Ericka Clinton of the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences.
Check out Red Dot Running Company's range of Theraguns here.