After months of mostly lying around in sweatpants, I started a new workout regimen late last year to kick my butt into gear. With that came an onset of muscle soreness that irritated me even when I wasn’t exercising. I know that using a foam roller can help relieve tension, but I often find it awkward and painful, especially in tender areas. In non-pandemic times, I would’ve likely gone to a massage therapist, but that’s been out of the question for the past year. So when I started seeing ads for Theragun pop up in my Instagram feed, I was intrigued. After doing some research, I decided to take advantage of a Cyber Monday deal and purchased the Theragun Elite ($399) as a Christmas gift for myself. Not only has it helped me with post-workout recovery, but it also helps alleviate everyday aches and pains (or, at least, for my aging body).
The Elite is just one of Theragun’s percussive therapy devices; the company also sells the Mini ($200), the Pro ($599) and the Prime ($299). Also known as a massage gun (Theragun is short for therapy gun, after all), it works by essentially pummeling your muscles with several pounds of force to increase blood flow and reduce stiffness and fatigue. Though Theragun might be the most popular brand name in this category, it does have several competitors on the market, including Hyperice, Achedaway and TimTam.
I ended up opting for the Theragun based mostly on positive reviews and the company’s overall good standing. I was also attracted to its unique triangular shape, which I assumed meant I could use it to reach less accessible parts of my body like my back. I chose the Elite over the other models because it seemed like a middle-of-the-road option between the “basic” Prime and the more advanced Pro (I ruled out the Mini as it’s a tiny travel-sized device that isn’t as flexible as the full-sized versions). The Elite has a force meter, wireless charging capabilities and the ability to store preset routines, all of which the Prime lacks. The Pro, which has an adjustable arm and adds 20 extra pounds of force, seemed a little overkill for my needs.
Still, the Theragun Elite looks and feels like a premium product. It’s a little heavy at 2.2 pounds, but I found it remarkably well-balanced thanks in part to that triangular design. There are three main grips: the standard grip (the handle is 45 degrees from the head), the base grip (the area closest to the head), and the reverse grip. The reverse grip is great for reaching hard-to-access areas like your back, while the base grip is best for areas where you want more control, like your feet or hands. I will say, however, that getting a partner to use the Theragun on my back is a whole lot easier than trying to maneuver it myself.
The Elite comes with its own carrying case, along with five attachment heads: the standard, the dampener, the cone, the wedge and a small “thumb” shape. The latter three options are for more detailed work, which I didn’t think was necessary for the most part (The cone attachment, for example, is for pinpointing smaller muscles in the hands and feet, while the wedge attachment is uniquely designed for the shoulder blades and the IT band). I’ve actually been sticking to the dampener attachment as that’s the most gentle and therefore works for most parts of the body.
Atop the device is a small OLED screen that displays battery life as well as the selected speed (it goes from 1,750 to 2,400 pulses per minute). Theragun rates the Elite’s battery life at two hours per charge. That might not sound like much, but you’re rarely using the Theragun for more than a few minutes at a time — the company recommends a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of two minutes per muscle group. I’ve often let the Theragun go weeks without charging and it hasn’t been a problem.
I was pretty intimidated by the Theragun at first. I’m no athlete and I was a little afraid of subjecting my muscles to that much pounding. Thankfully, there’s a helpful companion app that guided me through the process. It has several routines for me to choose from; there are introductory all-in-one programs as well as ones that target specific body parts like the lower back. There are also routines that help you warm up or recover from specific activities like running or swimming, with the idea that you use your muscles differently in different sports.
Plus, since the app is connected to the Theragun over Bluetooth, the device automatically switches between different frequencies depending on what part of the body I’m targeting. What I really love is that the app gives me real-time feedback on how hard I should be pushing on my muscles; this way I know if I’m shoving it too hard or too soft and can adjust my force accordingly. It admittedly felt a little weird initially, but I grew accustomed to it. In fact, after following the app-guided routines for a while, I grew confident enough to use the device without the app at all.
I’ve been using it for a few months now, and while I don’t think it’s a complete cure-all — regular stretches are still important! — I do think it’s helped me a lot. My muscle soreness doesn't last as long, and I seem to have improved range of motion and flexibility during my workouts. Aside from just workout recovery, the Theragun has also proven useful when I want quick relief from shoulder pain after being hunched over my keyboard, or when I just want to relax after a long day. Yes it’s expensive and it’s definitely a luxury that not everyone needs, but it does live up to its promise.