How to Use a Massage Gun
Massage guns are a powerful tool in an athlete’s bag of tricks for accelerating workout recovery, activating muscles before training or competition, and releasing tight or sore muscles. Learning the best ways to use your massage gun will help you get the most out of percussive therapy’s benefits to maximize your athletic performance.
This article breaks down all of the basics you’ll need to know about getting started with your massage gun. It also covers the tips and strategies you can put in place for the various use-cases for percussive therapy as an athlete.
How Do Massage Guns Work?
Massage guns use percussive therapy to stimulate nerve receptors in your muscles through rapid pulses of concentrated pressure directly onto the tissue.
In our Ultimate Guide to Percussive Therapy article, we unpack all of the science and benefits of how massage guns work. To give you a brief introduction to how percussive therapy affects your body and boosts workout recovery, we’ll give you the list of effects and benefits massage guns provide.
Benefits of Massage Guns and Percussive Therapy:
Improving blood and lymph circulation
Releasing muscle fascia and connective tissue
Accelerating muscle repair and workout recovery
Improving range of motion
Clearing lactate (lactic acid)
Relieving muscle stiffness and spasms
Activation of the nervous system
Reducing stress and improving sleep
Reducing pain– Mobility Athlete | Ultimate Guide to Percussive Therapy
Percussive therapy’s benefits supply you with a lot of overlap between muscle activation before training and jumpstarting workout recovery post-training.
For example, improving blood flow and circulation is an excellent way to prime your muscles as part of your warm-up routine before ramping up the intensity of training or competition. But it is also a great way to accelerate recovery post-workout by re-oxygenating depleted muscle tissue and enhancing the nutrient delivery your body needs to repair damaged tissue.
How To Use a Massage Gun
Massage guns are a versatile tool. Their benefits span throughout the entire day, from before you even step foot in the gym to long after your training session when you wind down for the day.
However, the purpose you’re using your massage gun for will change your strategy for how you will use it. From the massage head you choose to pressure and timing, there are optimal ways to approach your treatment protocols.
In the next few sections, we’ll go over the best ways to use percussive therapy for the various scenarios you’ll encounter as an athlete.
Choosing the Right Massage Gun Attachment Head
Most massage guns come with a variety pack of attachment heads that you can swap out on the armature of the device.
While some attachments are very niche and tailored towards a specific purpose, there are some general rules you can follow for selecting the right massage head for the treatment you are trying to accomplish.
The primary rule for massage heads is that the attachment’s diameter affects the concentration of pressure from the massage gun.
A smaller diameter concentrates and directs more pressure to a single targeted area. These types of attachments are great for trigger-point release post-workout or when you’re already experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness and want to release muscle tightness in specific areas.
Broader diameter attachments spread out the pressure from the massage gun over a larger surface area, allowing you to apply percussive and vibration therapy evenly throughout larger muscle groups.
These larger attachments, like the Theragun’s Dampener attachment, are fantastic for general use during both warm-up and recovery. If you’re unsure which massage head to select, this will be your go-to attachment for most of your massage gun treatments.
Using Massage Gun Before Exercise for Warm-Up
While massage guns may be primarily viewed as a workout recovery tool, their ability to activate muscles, improve blood flow, and enhance range of motion makes them a perfect tool to use as part of your warm-up routine.
The first step you should take when using a massage gun for a warm-up is to examine your upcoming training session to identify the muscle groups you’ll be using.
For example, suppose your training session will focus on lower-body movements like squats, leg press, hamstring curls, and calf raises. In that case, you can identify the quads, glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, and lower back to target with your massage gun for your warm-up.
Massage Gun Warm-Up Exercise:
- Identify muscle groups you will be using.
- 30 Seconds for each muscle group in 10-second increments.
- Increment 1: Target the muscle origin point moving back and forth across the muscle fibers.
- Increment 2: Target insertion points back and forth across the muscle fibers (attachment points of the muscle to your body that does move during contraction.)
- Increment 3: Cover the entire muscle group – back and forth along the muscle fibers from the origin to the end of the muscle.
- Repeat for each muscle group.
Using Massage Gun for Recovery After Exercise
Percussive therapy provides a cascade of benefits for accelerating recovery post-training. Improved circulation and nutrient delivery give your muscles what they need to repair. Metabolic waste created during your workout gets flushed from your body. And it also helps balance your stress hormones to create the optimal environment for maximizing your body’s recovery systems.
Using your massage gun for recovery is a straightforward process. The significant difference from the warm-up protocol will be the extended time spent massaging each muscle group.
Massage Gun Recovery Exercise:
- Identify the muscle groups you will be targeting.
- 2-Minutes for each muscle group
- During the 2-minute interval, thoroughly and slowly cover each muscle group.
- Cover muscle fibers in up-down, back-forth, and side-to-side motions.
- Repeat for each targeted muscle group.
Using Massage Gun During Exercise or In-Game
There are a few different scenarios where you can use your massage gun to help you maintain optimal performance during competition or even intra-training.
To reactivate muscle groups after periods of inactivity:
Some sports require you to spend periods of time inactive between bouts of high intensity. For example, a defensive player in football will be idle during the offensive possessions of the game. This time allows muscles to cool off before the player heads back onto the field.
Halftime is another example of an extended timeframe where active muscles begin to cool off. A massage gun can be a perfect way to quickly stimulate your nervous system and muscle tissue to bring you back to peak performance.
The massage protocol used for this use-case should be similar in design as the “warm-up exercise” protocol listed above.
To alleviate muscle tightness or soreness that occurs during competition:
Whether you’re competing for fun or your livelihood, competition can be a high stakes scenario where your body needs to be functioning at its best. Muscle tightness, cramps, or reduced range of motion can significantly impact your overall performance.
Using percussive therapy can help you temporarily alleviate trigger points, reactivate muscle tissues, and improve circulation to help you get back in the game when it counts.
However, if you’re a competing athlete – it is always best to default to the guidance of your trainer or on-site physician to determine if you’re cleared to play. A massage gun may help with your everyday muscle tightness and soreness, but identifying potential injury or risk of injury should be your first priority as an athlete.
Tips For Using a Massage Gun on Yourself
Some muscle groups are more accessible than others with a massage gun on yourself. The easiest way to reach your entire body is, of course, to recruit a second person to give you a hand. But more often than not, you’ll find yourself using your massage gun on your own.
The best way to use a massage gun on yourself is to determine which grip style works best for you and your biomechanics. Devices like the Theragun PRO help alleviate this issue by using an ergonomic triangular design and articulating massage arm to maximize the areas your can reach when using your massage gun on your own.
Finding the right massage gun to match your needs is the best first step to getting the most out of your percussive therapy. We’ll leave a few resources in the next section to help you decide which massage gun is right for you.
Choosing the Right Massage Gun
The design style is the first decision you will want to evaluate when selecting a massage gun. Massage guns like Theragun’s lineup have a triangular grip design, while devices like Hypervolt use a straight grip design. Take a look at this in-depth article comparing the Theragun PRO versus the Hypervolt 2 Pro to help you determine which is best for you.
If you like the ergonomic triangular design of the Theragun, but don’t know which device in their 4th generation lineup is best for you, take a look at our comparison guide between the Theragun PRO vs. Elite vs. Prime massage guns.
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