How To Use A Massage Gun To Turbocharge Recovery

How To Use A Massage Gun

Ok, let’s get this out of the way first, using a massage gun isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s quite simple. It’s so simple, you might be wondering why we’d waste our time writing such an article.

The truth is that while using a massage gun is fairly simple, it does require a degree of common sense. There are also certain cases in which using a massage gun may not be advised as well as tips for getting the most out of your massage gun.

That’s what we’re here for. Even if you already know the basics about massage guns, you may just learn a thing or two to help you maximize your massage session and speed post-workout recovery.

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Massage Gun 101: Getting Started

A massage gun is a handheld, portable device that delivers percussive massage treatment or vibration therapy. They can be used to relieve muscle tension and soreness, improve blood flow, increase mobility, and speed recovery. 

Here are some basic steps for how to use a massage gun properly:

  1. It’s a good idea to turn the massage gun on BEFORE placing it on your body. Turning the gun on while in contact with your body can be a bit jarring and might lead to bruising.
  2. Start on the lowest speed. Until you’ve had a chance to assess your tolerance level, starting out on high can be a bit painful. Also, keep in mind that soreness can be a result of micro tears in the muscle or increased inflammation. Beating the muscles into submission could do more harm than good. More is not always better.
  3. Whatever speed you’re using, you want to “float” the massage gun across the muscles. Extreme downward pressure of the massage head on the body is not necessary – light to moderate pressure is best.. Let the massage gun do the work as you gently glide it over the affected areas.
  4. Remember to relax! You bought a massage gun to relieve muscle tightness, not make it worse. If you’re too tense and flexing the muscle while going over it, you’re not getting the full benefit of the tool. Just breathe – inhale, exhale, and slowly move the massage gun across the muscle

Avoid using a massage gun on bony areas as well as bruises, open wounds, or musculoskeletal injuries. If you have arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, or other musculoskeletal issues, talk to your doctor before using a massage gun.

How Long Should You Use Your Massage Gun?

Using a massage gun can create that good kind of pain – the kind of pain you feel when a massage therapist works out a knot. While using a massage gun on sore, tight muscles can be a little painful, it feels good to loosen things up. 

That being said, you can definitely have too much of a good thing.

The same way exercise creates micro-tears in the muscles, using a massage gun delivers micro-traumas to your muscles with each percussion. Over the short-term, massage guns help improve blood flow and relieve tightness, but prolonged use can have the opposite effect if you’re not careful.

Follow these guidelines for the most benefit:

  1. Muscle Activation- 30 Seconds: Before a workout or activity, target your muscles with the massage gun for up to 30 seconds to activate the muscles and nerve fibers.
  2. Muscle Reactivation- 15 Seconds: Mid-workout and feeling a little tired? Muscles starting to fatigue or spasm? Give them a little boost with another 15 second session.
  3. Recovery and Pain Relief- 2 Minutes: Post-workout or when DOMS set in, you can safely use your massage gun for up to 2 minutes on each muscle group. This process can be repeated throughout the day with at least 1-2 hours rest in between.

Generally speaking, it’s safe to use a massage gun on a daily basis. Just stick to the guidelines above and limit your use to 2 minutes per muscle group. If you feel intense pain when using the massage gun, stop use immediately. 

How To Use Massage Gun Attachments

Every percussion massager comes with a variety of different interchangeable massage gun tips or attachments. The 4 you see below are pretty standard. If you’re a little confused as to how to use the massage gun attachments, let us clear it up.

massage gun attachments

From right to left we have: the large ball, the flat head, the bullet and the fork.

From right to left we have: the large ball, the flat head, the bullet and the fork.

  1. The Large Ball– The most commonly used massage gun attachment. Depending on the manufacturer, it’s made of either a dense rubber or hardened foam. Designed to treat both large and medium group muscles like the glutes, hamstrings, and quad’s, it’s the most versatile attachment overall.
  2. The Flat Head– A great multi-purpose massage gun attachment. From the pecs to the glutes to the legs, the flat head is ideal for smaller muscle groups and full-body massage. Because it doesn’t have any sharp edges, it won’t hurt quite as much if you happen to run over bones while massaging.
  3. The Bullet– If you want to use your massage gun for specific trigger points or knots, this is a great choice. This massage gun attachment is great to really focus on one particular spot on the body such as the shoulders or different ligament attachment points.
  4. The Fork Head– The dual-pronged head allows you to target areas such as the spine, and could be helpful for lower back pain. If you’re careful, you can use the massage gun gently along the back of the neck. To do so, start off slow and on the lowest setting to assess your tolerance. It can also be used for other places like the calf muscles or along the achilles too.

Depending which massage gun you purchase, you may receive more attachments. Some massage guns come with smaller variations on the attachments above such as a small ball or a smaller flat head. 

Here are some additional attachments you might see:

  • IT Band Blade – A flat, wedge-shaped attachment designed for stripping soft tissues. This attachment can be used to loosen tight IT bands. 
  • Arrowhead – A tapered attachment that comes to a rounded point. This attachment is similar to the bullet but has a more pointed tip, making it ideal for deep tissue massage and trigger points.
  • Padded Round – A rounded attachment that uses air to cushion its percussion. This attachment is very comfortable to use around bony areas of the body like the spine, shoulders, and upper neck. 
massage gun attachments comparison

Using A Massage Gun Post Workout

After a grueling workout, your fatigued muscles are probably spent. By using a massage gun immediately after a workout, you can aid your recovery. Not only that, but using a massage gun is leaps and bounds easier to use than a foam roller.

Keep in mind, however, that your muscles are already stretched, strained, and inflamed. Adhere to the 2-minute rule for each muscle group as closely as possible. The last thing you want to do is exacerbate the soreness or cause more injury. You simply want to use it enough to flush the lactic acid from the muscles.

In addition to using the massage gun, drink plenty of water. Remember, working out and using a massage gun is going to increase blood flow and overall circulation. If you’re going to eliminate the toxins and lactic acid released into the blood, water is the primary transporter. Although the science isn’t 100% clear or certain how much water you should drink, 2-3 liters a day is generally accepted as adequate to avoid dehydration.

Ice Or Heat After Using A Massage Gun

Using a massage gun helps release tight muscles. Releasing those trigger points and tension requires a lot of deep muscle therapy and therefore can leave your muscles quite tender. For that reason we recommend you stay away from heat for a little while after using a massage gun. The blood in your body is already flowing and the muscles are on fire, you don’t need to heat them up any more! Instead, start with some sort of cryotherapy.

If you’re not quite ready for a cold shower, we recommend using something like a Cryosphere. It’s portable, it’s mess free, and it’s insanely cold!

using a cryotherapy massager

Guidelines for using ice and heat are as follows:

Ice is typically recommended for an acute injury, one that has occurred within the past 24-48 hours. Ice not only decreases pain, but also causes vasoconstriction or narrowing of the blood vessels. This will keep swelling to a minimum and reduce the amount of time it will take to heal from the new injury. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing process and helps protect against further injury and promote healing.

Heat on the other hand, should be applied to more chronic conditions to help relax and loosen the tissues and stimulate blood flow to the affected area. People who suffer from stiff muscles and joints often find that heat delivers temporary palliative relief. However, it’s important to exercise caution because heat can cause inflammation to get worse.

Ice or Heat Tips:

  1. Ice should not be applied for more than 20 minutes at a time and can be applied 4-6 times a day.
  2. Do not apply the ice directly to the skin, rather wrap it in a cloth towel so there is always a layer between you and the ice itself.
  3. Applying ice too often, directly on the skin, or using it too long can damage the tissues and even result in frostbite!
  4. Heat should be applied in 30- minute intervals.
  5. Using a heating pad is okay, but use caution to not fall asleep or leave it on for too long. A warm, wet towel is the preferred method of applying heat.
  6. Heat is not recommended for people with Diabetes or Peripheral Vascular Disease, amongst others.

Can You Use A Massage Gun For Weight Loss?

Now you may have heard that massage helps facilitate weight loss. Here’s the thing: using a massage gun does not cause you to drop pounds directly, but could potentially be a facilitator. Let us explain.

The idea that massage can help you lose weight is based on the premise that using a massage gun improves lymphatic flow, thus helping you flush out toxins, lactic acid, and other junk from the body. By doing so, the body works more efficiently, increases metabolism and as a result, increases your ability to burn fat.

The idea makes sense logically and there are studies that suggest mobilizing the lymphatic system does combat obesity.

The other line of thought is that by using a massage gun post-workout, you’ll prevent muscle soreness and possible injuries. If you do that, you’ll be able to maintain your intensity levels, thereby expediting weight loss. That too makes sense.

Here’s our take: If you’re buying a massage gun strictly for weight loss, we think you’ll be sorely disappointed. Unfortunately, losing weight requires a multi-faceted approach including a better diet, exercise, plenty of rest, and proper RECOVERY. So again, when you buy a massage gun, think of it more as an adjunct rather than a primary contributor on your weight loss journey.

So that’s the overall basics of how to use a massage gun. For their intended purpose, they work wonders! But, like anything, it’s important to use discretion and operate them responsibly.

*Disclaimer: We are not your medical provider and this information is for educational purposes only. You should always use good common sense and listen to your body. Increased pain with continued use is a major red flag. Always consult with your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen.

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