Percussion massager guns have been all the rage the last couple of years. And for very good reasons too. One, they feel pretty dang good. Two, studies have shown they actually improve athletic performance and recovery. But with so many options out there, how do you choose the right one? Well, that is what this little guide is for. In this article, we will go over the things you should consider and look out for when picking the right percussive massager.
Massage Intensity: Pressure, Speed, Stroke Length - Torque, RPM and Amps
When looking at percussion massagers, you will invariably find weird lingo, abbreviations, and acronyms such as RPM, torque (stall force), and amps. So we will do a quick overview of what each means in this article because it matters when it comes to how intense of a massage you can get.
Torque (stall force) is a measure of force that can be applied to something before it stalls. That is why it is also called stalled force. But from a massage gun standpoint, the amount of torque (expressed in pounds or kg) is the amount of pressure you can apply to the gun before it stalls---meaning how hard you can push the gun into the massage. For example, the Theragun G3Pro has 60 pounds (27kg) of torque, so it means that you can exert a maximum of 60 pounds of pressure into the massage gun before it stalls. Some of you may think that it is a small number because the people massaging you weight 2-3x that much. However, when someone is massaging you, they are only putting a tiny fraction of their body weight into the massage. So 60 pounds of torque (stalled force) is quite a bit for a massage. This information is only available on some massagers. This is not something most of us ever have to worry about because we don't often exert more than 5-10 pounds of pressure when using the massage gun.
RPM is a measure of speed. RPM stands for revolutions per minute, or how many "percussions" per minute. So if a massage gun has a max RPM of 3,400, that means the massager is hitting you 3,400 times a minute.
Amps from a conventional standpoint is a measure of electric current. In the case of percussion massage guns like the Theragun, it is measure of stroke length, or how far out the arm will go from its starting position. It is usually measured in millimeters (mm). The higher the "amps" means the further the gun's arm will travel, so the massage will penetrate deeper. So if you have two massagers with the same RPM and same torque, the one with the higher stroke length will penetrate deeper. The usual stroke length on these massagers range from 10 to 16 mm (millimeters), with TimTam being the outlier with a 26 mm stroke length.
So the intensity of a massage will depend on a combination of these three. However, out of those three, I would say the most significant factor in the intensity of the massage is would be RPM. Additionally, which of the massage heads you use for your massage also matters in terms of terms of how intense the massage is. Each massager usually comes with 4 to 6 detachable massage heads for different massage types and body parts. Usually the more dense or pointy the massage head is, the more intense the massage.
Pain Tolerance and Lifestyle
How is your pain tolerance? Is it low or high? If it is low, you should get one that lets you adjust the speed (RPM) to under 2,000 and has a more circular massage head. Most massagers will come with 4-6 removable massage heads to cater to the type of massage you want. The pointier massage heads will hurt a bit more than the more circular ones. I found that the Purewave CM-7 is the perfect entry level percussion massager for those that do not have high pain tolerance but still want percussive therapy.
The lifestyle you live matters too when you are choosing the right kind of massager. If you live a more active lifestyle, you want one that can apply a tougher massage to break up lactic acid and promote performance and healing. For that, you will need a massager that can go higher than 2,000 RPM. Also, you would prefer a massager with a longer stroke length, at least 12 mm. Lastly, you want to choose a massager that has both 1) a pointy massage head for breaking up tight soft tissue and 2) a massage head with a wide surface area for working on bigger muscle groups. Remember, most massagers will come with 4-6 detachable massage heads.
If you live a sedentary lifestyle, your needs are less rigorous in terms of massage guns. You just need to get one that will allow for adjusting the speed, has multiple massage heads, and will last you for years to come. Pretty much any of the top percussion massagers on the market will meet your needs.
Beware of Cheap Knockoffs
Since Amazon established their FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) program, the Amazon market has gotten a lot bigger. This has allowed many small businesses with quality products to come in and compete with big brands. But this has also allowed a lot of crappy products to exist on the platform. This goes for pretty much any category of product ton Amazon, and percussion massagers are no different. There are a lot on there of questionable quality.
Although Amazon has a pretty decent return policy within the first 30 days, if the product breaks outside of that 30 day window, you're out of luck when it comes to a refund from Amazon. With expensive electronics (like massage guns), I feel it is always better to pay more for a recognizable brand with a reputation for developing quality products and good customer service rather than pay less for an unknown brand with nonexistent customer service. This is because electronic devices have a lot of components to it and so a lot can go wrong. So you want to be able to buy from a company that 1) has a long history of delivery quality product, 2) has good customer service you can get in touch with in case of device malfunction, and/or 3) has a generous warranty on the device.
So, yes, beware of cheap massage guns from unknown brands---even if they have stellar reviews. Although Amazon has gotten much better at weeding out fake reviews, there are still ways to fake reviews on Amazon.
Spend a little more to buy from a reputable brand. So who are the reputable brands? Well, we reviewed the best massage guns in a previous article so you can look at that. But to name several of the top trusted brands for percussion massage guns, I would say Theragun, Hyperice, Exerscribe, Kraft, and TimTam fit into that mold. Of course that is not an exhaustive list. But my advice is to spend a little more to have piece of mind that the your purchase will work well for years to come.