As much as I hate cliches, I can’t deny the facts: now that I’m in my 30s, my body isn’t what it used to be. For most of my life, this was a tired joke; recently, however, I happened to work late a few nights in a row...and apparently, I was holding my head the wrong way.
You'd have thought I was doing neck sit-ups all through my working sessions. I woke up unable to move my head. I couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t look left at all, and trying to look right involved manually turning my head, like the dummy of a mediocre ventriloquist.
With limited movement, increasing blood flow to my neck muscles was nearly impossible. Luckily, I had at my disposal two picks from one of the industry leaders in massage guns: Therabody.
Founded in 2016 by Dr. Jason Wersland, Therabody is known for its revolutionary breakthroughs in recovery tools, and its flagship product, the Theragun, has continually held its place as one of the best percussive massage guns on the market. After trying my luck with static stretching — and taking a healthy dose of anti-inflammatories — I turned to the sleek recovery devices hoping to ease the pain.
Therabody gave me two options: their premium-level Theragun Elite and their ultra-portable Theragun Mini. It seemed intuitive that the larger, ergonomically-sound Elite would loosen muscles faster, but in my preliminary research I found that some users absolutely raved over the compact Mini. And so, for over a month, I put them to the test.
First, of course, I needed to fix my neck — and fast. But second, I wanted to use them as Therabody intended: as an integral part of my pre- and post-workout routines.
Do massage guns even work?
Allow me to introduce you to three little letters: DMS. A deep muscle stimulator, like Theragun, increases blood flow and releases histamines, which decreases inflammation and muscle soreness. It can acutely massage away knots in targeted muscles, like my neck, but on a more general level, I found it loosened me up to a state not achievable through basic stretching.
While I was specifically looking to heal an injured muscle, my two Theraguns really shined in pre- and post-workout routines. While not a complete substitute for stretching, these devices were like a foam roller on speed, helping quicken the process of getting muscles warmed up — and cooling them down — while also increasing muscle flexibility.
And in the lineup of massage guns currently on the market, Therabody stands out, offering top-of-the-line amplitude — how far the head travels in one percussion — across its lineup for deep-penetrating relief and increased blood flow. Additionally, all Theraguns have adjustable speed settings — even the Mini — and can be cranked up all the way to 2,400 percussions per minute. This is all to say, it’ll shake you so fast your inner ears will tingle.
And for the less athletic among us, Theraguns are fantastic for messaging areas that arise from simply existing beyond the age of 30. Honestly, half the time I use my Theragun to massage my wife’s back at the end of a long day.
Therabody Theragun Elite
Not to be confused with the more expensive Theragun Pro, the Theragun Elite is my favorite choice for most people. The new Elite includes useful updates, such as longer battery life and, most importantly, a quieter motor. The QX65 motor is surrounded by QuietForce Technology that is honestly incredible. This was a relief after using the previous Theragun iteration for years, which used a motor so loud you’d have to turn on subtitles if you were trying to watch a show and work out cramps at the same time.
Compared to the Pro, the Elite’s head doesn’t adjust — a feature I didn’t miss too much — and the stall force is downgraded from 60 to 40 pounds. But unless you’re training for an Ironman Triathlon, 40 pounds is plenty of power.
Another slick aspect I didn’t think I’d love as much as I did: the smart app integration. Therabody’s app allows you to access step-by-step tutorials for newbies, and can provide recommendations on how to best use the Theragun during pre- and post-workout routines. You can even connect the Theragun Elite to the app via Bluetooth for a guided recovery session controlled by your chosen program.
Therabody Theragun Mini
I was skeptical of the Mini at first. Massage guns are, essentially, power tools, in my opinion, and I felt like bigger was always better. And while it’s true that the Mini’s shallower, less forceful strokes don’t pack the same punch as other Theragun devices, it’s also not meant to compete with the Elite.
These slight performance sacrifices have allowed for a smaller silhouette that’s easy to toss into a bag. I brought my Mini skiing with me, and the 150-minute battery life meant I didn’t even need to pack a charger. The simple, ergonomic design made easy work of soreness in my legs and feet, which were killing me after a day on the slopes. Would the Elite have done a better job? Sure, but I can’t cram an Elite into my bag’s side pocket.
Theragun vs. Theragun: The Verdict
To be clear, there are cheaper massage guns on the market. But there are certain things to avoid skimping on – running shoes, your mattress, ski helmets – because the benefits are well worth the price.
For those who want to incorporate percussion therapy into their warm-up and cool-down routines, the Elite is worth the price tag. Combined with static or dynamic stretching, the difference you’ll feel during and after exercise is pretty incredible. It can be used to avoid injury, and is also key to reducing injury time dramatically. And while the Pro has more power, once you get used to the quiet performance of the Elite, it’s impossible to go back.
However, the unexpected star of my testing was the Mini. If you’re looking for the occasional massage in an extremely convenient package — or travel extensively for work — I can’t recommend the Mini enough. Its size makes it easy to pack on a trip or in a gym bag, which means you can pretty much always have it with you. And this is important, because percussive therapy is much more effective if you develop a consistent routine. With the Mini, I found that sticking to a steady regimen was much easier.