You know the feeling: the all-too-familiar post-workout aching muscle hobble. The kind of uncomfortable feeling that could leave you sidelined with soreness for days. Yet, day after day, we all bear the sometimes-debilitating pain like a badge of honor. It’s considered a sign your hard work and sweat paid off and that toned body you desire is just a few more workouts away.
This painful, yet oddly rewarding, feeling in your muscles is something called delayed onset muscle syndrome, or DOMS, and it can legitimately slow you down. One 2012 study noted: “DOMS can affect athletic performance by causing a reduction in joint range of motion, shock attenuation and peak torque.” The authors go on to say, if not addressed, premature return to exercise could result in “unaccustomed stress to be placed on muscle ligaments and tendons.”
But alas, what can ya do?
“Massage guns can play a role in recovery to help reduce one’s perceived pain levels and minimize muscle soreness of DOMS,” says Bob Otto, physical therapist at Climb On Physical Therapy. Massage guns work through two modalities — vibration therapy and percussive stimulation to soft tissue — depending on their power.
“The main difference is that percussive therapy reaches deeper into the muscle,” explains Dr. Jason Wersland, DC, founder and Chief Wellness Officer of Therabody. “While vibration therapy feels good on the surface of the body, it’s a 'global' experience as opposed to a targeted one. Percussive therapy targets treatment areas by reaching deep enough into the muscle to increase the amount of blood flow and oxygen needed for efficient treatment and recovery.”
On the surface, it can be hard to distinguish between different massage guns, but having tested a number of them, I can say there is a marked difference across the price gradient. Pricing can be as low as $30 on Amazon and tops out at $600 for professional grade.
The most notable differences can be found in quality of build and two key performance stats called stall force and amplitude. Stall force is the amount of pressure needed for the gun to stop applying perpendicular force into the muscle. Essentially the gun’s power peaks. Amplitude is a measure of how much distance the massage gun head can travel back and forth.
Budget guns will have a stall force of around 20 to 30 pounds and an amplitude of 8 to 10mm, while mid- and higher-tier guns will have 40 to 50 pounds of stall force and 12mm to 16mm of amplitude. These numbers alter the effectiveness of the device and whether it provides vibration therapy or percussive stimulation. If there’s not enough perpendicular force applied to your soft tissue and the amplitude is not great enough for the head to travel off the body, the gun will not reach deep muscles. It's a bit like the difference between the tickle of a Swedish massage and the potency of a deep tissue one.
If you’re just looking for temporary relief from sore muscles and are not concerned with the potential sports performance benefits, the less expensive guns will be more than suitable. However, if your primary goal is to aid fitness recovery and performance, we suggest spending between $200 and $600. We’ve spent hours pounding our sore, achy muscles, to land upon the following picks.
Best Overall Massage Gun
Brands like Theragun and Hyperice have dominated the massage gun marketplace, and rightfully so because they make some of the best. However, over time new imitators have starting producing worthy competitors.
One such brand is Ekrin, a company started by two collegiate athletes devoted to “improving athletic performance through muscle recovery and injury prevention.” In a head-to-head comparison against competitor guns, the Ekrin B37 outperformed in every notable stat – stall force, amplitude, noise and battery life. And it has a much more appealing price point.
The B37 offers a whopping 56 pounds of stall force from a 12mm amplitude head, more than enough to reach the deepest of muscle knots with percussive force. The impressive eight hours of battery life outlasts every gun we tested by leaps and bounds. With five speeds ranging from 1400 to 3,200 percussions per minute, the B37 is surprising quiet for such a powerful engine. It comes standard with four different head attachments — a flat, bullet, round foam and fork neatly tuck in a hard carrying case with the gun.
What you don't get with the B37 is name recognition and a Bluetooth-connected app. But with a 30-day return policy and lifetime warranty, you don't have anything to lose by giving it a shot.
Best Upgrade Massage Gun
Theragun pioneered the percussive gun and has long been considered the gold standard. The flagship model, the Theragun Pro, is professional-grade quality and trusted by physical and massage therapists, chiropractors and sports professionals. Side-by-side against other massage guns, there’s no comparison. It’s better built, more powerful, easier to grip, gives a better massage, and just provides all-around a better experience.
The commercial-grade brushless motor delivers up to 60 pounds of no stall force at five different speeds (1750, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2400 percussions per minute). At 16mm, it offers the highest level of amplitude of any gun, giving a noticeably deeper massage over guns with 12mm and 10mm amplitude. It comes standard with six different head attachments, two swappable 150-minute rechargeable batteries and a hard carrying case.
At first, I found the triangle handle grip annoying, but after experimenting it’s all I wanted to use. The different grips and adjustable head angles make it easier to access hard-to-reach body parts while putting less stress on your wrist.
Perhaps the coolest feature isn’t the gun itself, but the Theragun app. Connected via Bluetooth, you can access step-by-step tutorials on how to best to use the gun and even have the app automatically adjust the speed and provide real-time recommendations for a truly individual session.
Editor's note: Theragun Pro normally goes for $599 but is currently 25 percent off, making now a great time to pounce.
Best Budget Massage Gun
Looking at the stats alone, you’d think this gun would cost much more. The Lifepro Sonic offers the type of power seen on guns more than twice its price. The relatively quiet (55dB to 75dB) brushless motor offers five vibration levels, topping out at a robust 3,000 percussions per minute.
Like more expensive guns, it comes with a carrying case and five different head attachments. You’ll get three to six hours of portable power, with indicator lights on the back indicating how much juice you have left.
If you’re wondering why you would spend twice as much for a similarly performing gun, it is worth noting that the Sonic lacks Bluetooth connectivity and the amplitude (12 millimeters) is not the deepest. Also, the plastic casing doesn’t feel as solid as more expensive guns.
That said, Lifepro does have a video library to help you put the gun to best use, and it is backed by a lifetime warranty, so if something were to break Lifepro will replace it.
Most Approachable Massage Gun
Unlike most massagers on the market that hype their percussive force, Lyric’s design and interface really trumpet the wellness aspect of vibration technology. Toward that end, this unit features a wider range of frequency with a lower amplitude (12 millimeters) and vibrations that come in waves, mimicking the body’s natural rhythms.
A user-friendly touchscreen on the back enables you to select the goal of your session, be it energy to kick off your morning, pain relief after a tough workout or calm after a stressful day. There’s a companion app for guided sessions, with the touchscreen handily indicating which body parts to hit as you progress, as well as a long-reach handle you can attach to get at less-accessible spots.
Lyric comes in toned-down colors and a streamlined form factor — its charger and four attachments are integrated into a little rectangle that cradles and powers up the unit itself — further reflecting its aspiration to fit seamlessly into your life, home and self-care routine.
Most Powerful Massage Gun
Hyperice is no stranger to recovery products. It's one of the leaders in self-massage and recovery items, so it makes sense the brand offers one of the best massage guns on the market. When it comes to quality of build, there’s no question the Hypervolt 2 Pro is one of the best. This solidly built, 2.6-pound gun with an easy-to-grip silicone handle delivers an impressive 60 pounds of stall force and tops out at 2,700 PPM (percussions per minute). In terms of raw power, the 90W motor with 14mm of amplitude pounded away and felt more powerful than every gun tested.
The Hypervolt Plus also comes with five different heads and three hours of battery life. A significant upgrade over previous editions is that it has five pre-set speeds (as opposed to three), and you can toggle between them by turning a user-friendly dial rather than tapping a button.
Like the Theragun, the Hypervolt Plus connects via Bluetooth to an app where you can find video-guided routines for warming up, relaxation, and recovery. Access expert advice from some of the best minds in athletic training, like Michael Gervais and Dr. Kelly Starrett, on topics such as how to improve your range of motion and coping with stress.
Best Portable Massage Gun
For such a small gun, the Ekrin Bantam packs a punch — literally! This petite massage gun is perfect for portable massage use and warming up for the gym, track or any traveling exercise. This solidly built mini-gun delivers 35 pounds of stall force at speeds of 2000, 2600, and 3200 RPM.
Neatly packed in a small rectangular carrying case, it comes with four head attachments to customize your treatment depending on body part. The six-hour battery can be charged via USB, eliminating the need for bulky dedicated chargers, which further adds to its superior portability status. The 10mm amplitude may not penetrate as deep as full-sized guns, but with such a high stall force, it’s just great for on-the-go use.
Quietest Massage Gun
Massage guns are quite loud. Even some that are marketed as being quiet can be rather annoying to those around you. Of all the guns I tested, the Hydragun was by far the quietest, registering at less than half the volume (30 to 50 decibels) of similarly priced guns.
Made with solid-feeling aerospace-grade aluminum, the Hydragun packs pretty respectable stats. There are six different speeds, with a max of 3600 rpm. The head offers 12mm of amplitude with 40 pounds of stall force. It comes standard with six different head attachments, a carrying case and outlet plugs for US and Euro specs that charge a 2600 maH battery for roughly 3.6 hours of use.