Turmeric tablets, CBD muscle wipes, celery juice, lavender epsom salt… the list goes on. As a CrossFit coach and athlete, I’ve tried a lot of recovery tools—which span from tried-and-true to trendy-AF—in the name of faster recovery and boosted performance. So when Theragun—a $600 contraption that looks like the lovechild of the beloved Hitachi Wand and a powertool—showed up on my doorstep (courtesy of generous PR folk) I was obviously pumped to try it.
If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably seen the Theragun, and competitor products Hypervolt by Hyperice ($349) or TimTam Power Massager ($199), pop up on your feed. While professional athletes like Kyrie Irving and Antonio Brown use percussive therapy on the sideline, fitness influencers and exercise-loving celebs (like Shakira or Chelsea Handler) have turned to the jackhammering gadget, too.
Hey, if it works for A-lister and seven-figure-making athletes, it has to be good enough for me and my #fitfam, right? Read on to learn more about what these tools do, how they feel, and how to use them correctly.
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What Do These Tools Do, Exactly?
“The Theragun and Hyperice’s Hypervolt devices work through vibration/percussion therapy. Basically, they use a unique combinations of frequency and amplitude (and torque) to create an oscillation back and forth at different speeds and depths into soft tissue,” explains Corinne Croce, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Co-Founder Body Evolved in NYC.
The idea is that you apply the massage device to your connective tissue as it reps out 40 beats per second, in order to relieve muscle tension. Translation: these are not your average hand massages or Brookstone massage chairs.
They essentially do what a lacrosse ball or foam roller does: loosen muscles, relieve tension, boost recovery, and improve circulation. However, where it can be difficult to isolate certain trigger points with a foam roller—for instance, in the lower or upper back—the smaller, firmer attachments allow you to *really* hit every little crevice.
Additionally, Croce says, “The unique frequencies of these devices can also inhibit the brain from feeling the acute pain you might experience while working soft tissue.” Apparently, this is because pain signals travel on certain frequencies and these tools travel more quickly potentially overriding the pain signals the brain receives. Woah.
IMO, the biggest difference between a foam roller and my TheraGun is that—unless I make a particularly egregious yelp as I crush through a trigger point—my nextdoor neighbors can’t hear when I’m foam rolling. With the Theragun, there’s no questions as to when I have the tool on (it actually sounds like a powertool).
I’ve also recently procured a Hypervolt and while it’s much quiet than the Theragun, it’s definitely louder than the sound of a styrofoam roller on carpet. (But then again, what isn’t?).
What Do Theragun and Hypervolt Feel Like?
Despite the fact they look (and sound) more like a construction tool than #selfcare aid, these tools don’t actually hit the body with enough force to actually hurt. In some ways it feels like any ‘ole massage that hurts-so-good. And because it can really hit the knots, there’s the inevitable euphoria of working through (nay, conquering) the troubling spots.
Personally, I like to use these devices after a particularly grueling CrossFit workout. In fact, instead of sitting around in an old-school massage chain, post-WOD you’ll find a group of us Theragunning and Hypervolting each other. Friends who muscle-TLC together, stay together, right?
How To Use Them
“With any advanced technology like the Hypervolt, it’s important to understand just how powerful the Hypervolt is,” says Star Sage, Marketing & Client Relations Manager at Hyperice when I asked her if there was a right and wrong way to use the device.
Croce suggests the following tips for using these tools safely: “Start with a small region of soft tissue and work with it for a maximum of 2 minutes. Anything longer than two minutes or static work has the potential to irritate the focused region, and/or create an opposite reaction of decreased blood flow due to the lasting compression,” she says.
Not so surprisingly: she suggests avoiding using the tool on acute injuries, or directly on tendons, nerves or nerve bundles because they can become inflamed and irritated.
Finally, she says, “Remember, deeper is not necessarily better or more effective. The approach of harder, longer, deeper and the more painful the better can cause more harm than good. Start with lighter work for less time. Be patient, consistent and purposeful in taking care of your body.”
Should You Invest?
Obviously the biggest disadvantage of these tools is the price. But research has found that vibrating technology is *actually* effective at reducing delayed-onset-muscle-soreness, so it’s a science-backed investment.
And Vinh Pham Co-Founder of Myodetox, a group of design-forward manual therapy clinics that is reimagining the traditional therapy and rehab experience, says “Most people are more likely to use something when it’s a little pricey. Spending that extra money is going to make you use it more, so you use it more. Plus personally, I use it more than a foam roller because it’s easier to use.” Makes sense.
The bottom line: Recovery is a crucial part of exercising, and these tools can be a great addition to a recovery routine. “But it’s is critical that recovery routines incorporates other things like sleep, nutrition, and reduced stress levels alongside any soft tissue modality,” says Croce.