Find out exactly how to use massage gun devices to keep soreness at bay and improve your mobility.
Advertisement
Person using massage gun on leg
Credit: Getty Images

It's a real pain — literally and figuratively — to feel so sore after a workout that you hobble around for the next few days. Thankfully, prioritizing your recovery can make a world of difference in keeping aches under control Enter: the massage gun, a high-tech, powerful recovery tool that fitness experts and casual gymgoers alike have been adding to their arsenals. The handheld devices, also known as percussion massage guns, feature nozzles that pulsate to increase blood flow to your muscles, releasing tension and byproduct waste in muscles such as lactic acid, therefore helping you recover faster. The devices might seem tricky and intimidating at first, but figuring out how to use a massage gun is actually easier than you might think.

Learning the best way to use a massage gun is worth the effort since that'll ensure you get maximum benefits and avoid injuring yourself. By improving your range of motion, they help you avoid overcompensating with dominant muscles when performing exercises, a mistake that can lead to injury.

Here's your complete guide on how to use a massage gun to avoid aches and pains.

How to Use a Massage Gun Properly

Your massage gun will likely come with multiple settings, speeds, and interchangeable gun heads. "It will involve a bit of trial and error to identify the best settings for optimal experience," says Rahul Shah, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon. But generally speaking, larger gun heads tend to work better on bigger muscles and groups of muscles, (think: glute max) while smaller attachments are ideal for targeting pain or soreness in specific, accessory muscles (think glute min or glute med) that may be tender, he notes.

Step 1: Identify the Area(s) of Tension

First, identify the areas on your body that feel sore or tight, suggests Dr. Shah. From there, check to make sure there are open wounds or irritation on the skin of the area you're aiming to target. Once you've located the general region of soreness, search for the "area of the muscle with the most bulk and least amount of bony prominence," says Dr. Shah.

Step 2: Start Low and Slow

Turn your massage gun on the lowest setting, place the head of the device on the area, and begin to glide it over the muscle. "Pay attention to feedback [from your body, such as] increased pain, irritation, or pain which travels to other areas," says Dr. Shah. "This is a sign to stop using the device." If all is well, then you can gradually increase different settings of percussion speed and intensity, still watching for any red flags of additional pain, he says. (Related: This Massage Gun Is the Only Thing That Relieves My Muscle Pain)

Step 3: Add Some Light Stretching

Stretching before or after using the massage gun may help you achieve muscle relief even faster, adds Dr. Shah. He suggests focusing your massage gun sessions around your neck, back, shoulders, and legs. "Since these are the areas of the body with most [muscle density], the massage guns can cause local stimulation to drive the cascade of blood flow [to other areas]," he explains. "These are also the areas where muscles are likely to build lactic acid and other byproducts, increasing muscle fatigue." Your massage gun routine shouldn't take too long. "Generally speaking, using the device for a few seconds to a few minutes on the muscle group should suffice," says Dr. Shah.

How to Use a Massage Gun On Certain Muscle Groups

You'll find that some areas of the body and muscle groups come up again and again — both with reoccurring soreness and within expert guidance. Below, you'll find some of the main target areas and how to use your massage gun on those trouble spots, as demonstrated by Pamela Geisel, M.S., C.S.C.S, an exercise physiologist and the manager of Performance Services at Hospital for Special Surgery.

How to Use a Massage Gun On Your Calves

calf
Credit: Pamela Geisel

How to Use a Massage Gun On Your Hips

hip
Credit: Pamela Geisel

How to Use a Massage Gun On Your Hamstrings

thigh
Credit: Pamela Geisel

How to Use a Massage Gun On Your Neck

neck
Credit: Pamela Geisel

How to Use a Massage Gun On Your Quads

thigh-1
Credit: Pamela Geisel

How to Use a Massage Gun On Your Inner Thighs

inner-thigh
Credit: Pamela Geisel

The Best Way to Use a Massage Gun for Every Type of Workout

Before you start moving a massage gun everywhere across your body, consider your modality of choice and whether you have specific goals for your training. Certain types of workouts or sports will naturally lead to stiffness in specific areas of muscle groups, and a massage gun will benefit you most if you target said sore spots. To get a better idea of how to utilize a massage gun for your needs, here are a few examples of massage gun routines tailored to various types of activities.

How to Use a Massage Gun for Running

Running works your gluteus maximus, inner and outer thigh muscles, quads, hamstrings, and calves, which is why the exercise can easily lead to soreness of your lower body. With that in mind, runners can benefit from focusing their massage gun sessions on their quads and calf complex, and should show their hamstrings extra love after speed workouts, says Winnie Yu, P.T., D.P.T., C.P.T., physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York. (Sprinting carries more of a risk of a hamstring injury, according to an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.)

  • Quads (muscles located on the front of your thighs)
  • Hamstrings (muscles on the back of your thighs)
  • Calf muscles
  • Glutes (the muscles of your butt)

How to Use a Massage Gun for Strength Training and Weight Lifting

When it comes to weight lifting, the best way to use a massage gun will vary by the type of lifter, says Yu. Generally, you want to use the massage gun on the muscles you target during your session, which could feel sore or tight after the workout, she says. Using a massage gun on your rectus femoris (the upper, inner part of each quad), can help to limit excessive anterior pelvic tilt which translates to arching your back too much when lifting, says Yu. This can help with reducing your risk of lower back injury when lifting — something that can be common in beginners who are new to the proper form as well as advanced lifters who are working with heavy loads.

  • Rectus femoris
  • Erector spinae muscles (muscles of your lower back that run along the sides of your spinal column)
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

How to Use a Massage Gun for Boxing

If you love boxing, you want to focus your massage gun on the muscles of your upper body, which can become tight from assuming guarded, defensive positions and throwing punches, says Yu. Your calves also take a hit from staying light on your feet to move around the bag or ring, so spend some time on your calf muscles as well, she advises.

How to Use a Massage Gun for Swimming

Swimming works pretty much every muscle in your body — and, bonus, it's low impact! — including muscles such as your lats, delts, and traps that get neglected during activities such as running or cycling. Showing these muscles some extra attention during your massage gun sessions can pay off.

  • Upper traps
  • Rhomboids (muscles of your upper back located deeper than your trap muscles)
  • Lats (the largest muscles of your upper body, which extend from your underarm to the top of your glutes)
  • Middle traps (the portion of muscle located just below the upper traps)

How to Use a Massage Gun for Dance Cardio

Don't be fooled by dancers who make it look easy — those leaps and jumps require a lot of your leg muscles. Don't neglect your calf muscles, which help receive and produce force during locomotive movements such as jumping.

  • Calf muscles
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Message Gun

Make sure to thoroughly read the instructions of your massage gun, as each will come with different modes, uses, and directions. In general, there are a few things you should always avoid, according to Dr. Shah:

  • Do not use a massage gun on areas where your skin has cuts or rashes, since the tool could cause further irritation.
  • Do not use a massage gun on areas where you have an injury, torn muscle, pain, swelling, or any similar concern.
  • Avoid using a massage gun on a bony area.
  • Do not use a massage gun if you're pregnant, unless your doctor has given you the okay.

It might seem unnecessary at first, but you really should discuss using a massage gun with your doctor before starting a recovery practice with the tool. Your doc will be able to evaluate your medical history and point out any red flags that could indicate it's not safe for you to use a massage gun. For example, Therabody (a recovery tech brand) notes that people should consult a medical professional before using one of its devices if they use a pacemaker or ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator), are on blood-thinners, or have certain conditions, including severe scoliosis or uncontrolled hypertension. Consult your doctor to learn more about your risks and alternative options. (Related: Which Is Better: A Foam Roller or Massage Gun?)

When to Use Massage a Massage Gun

Depending on your preference, massage guns can be used before or after a workout, since increasing circulation throughout the body is helpful in both cases, says Dr. Shah. "Using a massage gun before your workout on the muscle group you intend to focus on can help relieve stiffness, and potentially prime the muscle for increased activity," he says. "Using it after can help to stimulate additional blood flow and work to disperse lactic acid build-up." Massage guns are generally safe to use daily, but you should always check with your doctor to be sure, says Dr. Shah.

Once you've determined the best way to add a massage gun to your routine based on your needs, you can start using the tech to your advantage. When it comes to soreness, no need to grin and bear it.