I’m always sore. I blame my high school buddies, who challenged me to a daily push-up competition during our pandemic stay-at-home orders. My running mileage has also increased significantly with all this time on my hands. Combine all that activity with the fact that I am solidly in my 40s, and yeah, my muscles hurt all the time. I’m not alone; based on some informal polling, I’d say that roughly 100 percent of the dads reading this article right now are at least a little sore from trying to pretend they’re not as old as their age implies. It’s time to take a serious look at those high-end massage guns that are probably blowing up your social media feed.
You know what I’m talking about. They look like Black & Decker power tools and have become indispensable accessories for seemingly all pro athletes in recent years. I used one of the high-end models at a running camp last fall and spent most of my downtime torturing my quads. I immediately understood all the hype. If you’ve never used one, imagine a tiny but very strong man punching the muscle of your choice 2,000 times a minute. It’s like a deep tissue massage with the push of a button—not that there’s any conclusive science to suggest these tools will actually help you recover from that hard workout any faster. The brands behind these devices say they increase blood flow while reducing inflammation and tension, all of which might be true, but the jury’s still out on that research. You don’t need studies to tell you a massage feels great, and these guns give you that feeling with the push of a button.
The technology has gotten better over the years. Therabody (formerly known as Theragun), the leader in the massage gun space, has released a new model that’s outrageously powerful, quieter, and easier to use than its previous products. Meanwhile, devices in the budget category have improved and are finally worthy of your attention. I spent the past three weeks testing three popular models from different price ranges. All three had their benefits, although I don’t think just one is the silver bullet for muscle pain. I’ll always foam roll and use pressure-point devices, but these guns are a powerful addition to my recovery routine.
Theragun Pro Gen 4 ($599)
Best For: Replacing your massage therapist
Here it is, the Cadillac of massage guns. The darling of social media and sponsored athletes. You could argue that the Theragun Pro is overpriced, but you can’t argue with the results: this new Pro G4 delivers a superior massage. The key is the QuietForce brushless motor that has five different speeds, from 1,700 to 2,400 percussions per minute. And it has power in the metric that truly counts: 60 pounds of stall force, which is an estimate of how much force each percussion delivers to your body. This is a commercial-grade machine, and it feels like it, from the hefty build to the wallop it puts into your muscles. The Gen 4 has a new motor that’s supposedly half as loud as the Gen 3 version, but it’s still the loudest of the three I tested. I’m guessing that the trade-off for all that power is a bit of background noise. So, you have to ask yourself: do you want a quiet, relaxing massage, or do you want to suffer in the best way possible? If you have trouble with big, hard-to-penetrate muscles like your glutes, the Pro is your jam. It’s not light—2.9 pounds—but it has an adjustable arm that lets you use it to work a variety of areas without fatiguing your hands. It comes with a number of attachments, a carrying case, and an extra battery, so you can always have one charged and ready to rock. But do you need a recovery tool this powerful? It depends. Do weekend warriors need carbon fiber mountain bikes? If you want a gun that might eliminate the need to get that weekly massage, don’t bother with anything else.
Trigger Point Impact ($199)
Best For: The everyday athlete
The Impact sits in a weird limbo world: much cheaper than the industry leaders in the space but still too expensive (at least to me) to be considered a “budget” choice. The gun also performs in that middle ground: better than cheaper tools but not as powerful as the top-tier guns. It has four speeds—from 2,100 to 3,300 percussions per minute—which sounds like a lot, but remember: stall force is the number you’re looking for when comparing these guns. Trigger Point doesn’t advertise the stall force on its website or packaging, and when I reached out to the brand, it couldn’t give me any specifics. Judging by how the gun feels, I’m guessing the stall force is somewhere in the middle between the Sportneer and the Theragun. It’s plenty powerful, and the unique design lets you use two hands at once to drive the head into your muscle. The battery is designed to shut down after ten minutes of use, which is annoying but probably for the best—I imagine you could overdo it with these guns and walk out of a session like a wet noodle. The Impact doesn’t deliver the thumping of the Theragun, but it is significantly quieter and weighs half a pound less. It doesn’t come with a lot of frills—there is no carrying case and no extra attachments—but it is a solid piece of machinery that can give you a relatively deep massage without forcing you to dip into your kid’s college fund. For the majority of people, the Impact is likely as much of a gun as they’ll ever need.
Sportneer Percussion ($140)
Best For: Quiet massages on sensitive muscles
This little gun gets crazy-good reviews on Amazon and is considered to be one of the best budget options on the market. It’s so inexpensive that it had me wondering if it would offer anything beyond one of those handheld massagers they sell at Bed Bath and Beyond. The Sportneer is definitely the least powerful model I reviewed, with 20 pounds of stall force, compared to 60 in the Theragun. And you can feel the difference, not just in the thump to your muscles but in the gun’s weight and build. It’s lightweight where the Theragun is meaty. But a beefy motor and more power don’t always mean better performance. It depends on what you’re looking for. This tool isn’t going to give you the same deep-tissue beating that the Theragun gives you, but 20 pounds of stall force is still significant. This is a legitimate recovery tool and happens to be way quieter than the other two on this list. On the lowest setting, you can barely hear it. It offers five different percussion-per-minute rates—from 1,200 to 3,200—and comes with a handful of attachment heads so you can fine-tune the pressure. The Sportneer ended up being my wife’s favorite of the three I reviewed. (She said the Theragun was too intense.) I liked it for sensitive areas like my calves and triceps. If you want a massage gun to add to your recovery routine and budget is your top concern, the Sportneer is the gun for you.
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