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Top 5 things to look for in a Massage Gun

The latest trend in sports performance is here to stay, but how can you pick which one is right for you?

If you've spent time in a gym, physical therapy office, or heck, been on Instagram in the last few months, you know that massage guns are all the rage these days. With new brands popping up every week (or so it seems), the decision of which one to pick has become an increasingly daunting task.

In this post, we aim to make your purchasing decision easier by identifying the top 5 things you should look for when evaluating a massage gun. Given the prices that these powerful self-care tools command, the decision of which brand to invest in shouldn't be taken lightly.

But first, what exactly ARE massage guns and how do they work?

Massage guns are relatively recent inventions that have gained a lot of popularity in recent months. These devices provide rapid strikes to the body (called percussions) that effectively increase blood flow, relax tense muscles, and reduce the risk of injury. They provide similar benefits to deep tissue massage therapy, except the devices can be used anytime and anywhere, and the effects can be felt within minutes.

These devices were popularized by brands such as Theragun and Hyperice, but new entrants to the market have emerged, each promising bigger and better features at lower and lower prices... 

Let's sift through the marketing hype and take a closer look. The list of the "Top 5 Things to Look For in a Massage Gun" is in no particular order - each point is important, but ultimately depends on what features you value most.

Full Disclosure: We created our own massage device from scratch, called the Medik Percussive Massager, which was launched in December 2019. However, the information provided in this article is for educational purposes and written to be as impartial as possible. After reading this article and learning what to look for in a massage gun, we encourage everyone to do their due diligence in researching the best product for their needs!

1. Reliability and Product Quality

The last thing you want is to invest in a machine that malfunctions on you in the middle of your workout, or dies after just a month of use. Of course, there's always the chance that you receive a faulty product - but that's where the manufacturer warranty comes in. Invest in a device that is built from quality materials and offers a strong warranty.

The device should look premium and feel sturdy in your hand. Rough edges or poor exterior finish indicate a lackluster quality control process. Seeing the same design sold under many different brands (usually for highly discounted prices) is often an indicator of poor quality, since these brands are simply purchasing generic product from the same supplier, affixing their logo, and enticing you with a discount.

A strong warranty is a good indicator of reliability, but one major thing that most people forget is that a warranty is only as good as the company that honors it. With the shift from brick-and-mortar stores towards e-commerce, it's easy for questionable companies to offer enticing 3 year, 5 year, or even lifetime warranties, only to disappear after making the sale. Or, they hide expensive fees in the fine-print of their warranty policy, making cashing in on the warranty more hassle than it's worth. This essentially makes the warranty useless.

Expect to invest at least $250 to $400 on a quality machine from a reputable brand. Avoid low priced knock-off brands due to their questionable quality and warranty claims.

2. Noise

For many years, massage guns were known for being notoriously loud and obnoxious. They sounded like power tools, which is about as far away as you can get from a relaxing massage experience. In loud gyms or open areas, you might be able to get away with an obnoxious massage gun... but do yourself, your ears, and your fellow gym-goers a solid and limit the noise.

Look for a device that uses a brushless motor, since these are quiet enough to use in your home late at night without disturbing your sleeping child, spouse, or housemates.

Anything below 70 decibels is good, with 60-65 being the preferred range. Be wary of brands that misleadingly advertise extremely low decibel ratings (30-45 DB), as they are often citing the decibel rating of their lowest speed setting, rather than their max, or taking the reading from a position farther away from the device.

3. Battery Life

The majority of the time, a battery life of 45 minutes to an hour is sufficient for a single user, as that session length would be perfect to complete a full body treatment in one continuous session before requiring a charge. However, there are certain times that a longer battery life, such as 3 or 4 hours, can come in handy.

Most often, we hear customer comments about the merits of long battery life after they compete in athletic events & tournaments, after traveling, in group settings (where the device is shared among friends), and in professional settings such as physical therapy offices or gyms. What these situations have in common is that the device is being used continuously or over a full-day without the opportunity to be hooked up to a charging port.

With a 3 hour battery life, a device would last over a week between charges if used 20 minutes per day. It's a quality of life feature that ensures you don't have to constantly check that your device is fully charged up before taking it anywhere.

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4. Ergonomics

Some of the biggest complaints we hear about massage guns are weight/bulkiness, wrist strain, and difficulty reaching all areas of the body. While weight and bulkiness will improve over time as the technology powering these devices advances (most of the weight is concentrated in the battery and the motor), a lot of advances have already been made to reduce wrist strain for users and make it easier to reach all areas of the body.

Look for a device that has a swiveling head, as the different angles allow you to effectively target all muscle groups and still keep your wrist in a neutral position throughout the massage. It's a seemingly insignificant difference, but when you're holding a 2.5lb device vibrating at 3200rpm for 20 minutes, the alignment of your wrist makes a world of difference.

Second, look for a device that makes it easy to reach all areas of your body. The swivel head, as we said above, plays an important role in that, but so does the device handle/grip. Some devices have handles with multiple different gripping points, which gives you more flexibility in how you can hold the device when reaching. However, areas like the back would still be difficult to target without the assistance of another person.

We, on the other hand, opted to forgo the multi-grip and go with a slightly longer handle. We felt that the combination of the longer handle with the swivel head allows you to reach your entire body with ease, while still giving you flexibility in how you treat your different muscle groups. Which solution you go with ultimately depends on your personal preference.

5. Power and Efficacy

Without getting too technical, there are three main parts that make up percussions from a massage gun:

  • Speed (measured in revolutions per minute, or RPM)
  • Stroke Length (how far does the head attachment travel with each revolution)
  • Stall Force (the amount of pressure that can be applied to the body)

Speed is the number of times the massage head strikes the body per minute. This is usually expressed in RPM, or revolutions per minute. Therefore, a speed level of 3200rpm means the device is striking your body 53 times per second. This number is perceived as "strength" or "intensity." Look for a device that can offer a wide range of RPMs and several adjustable speed settings, since there will be times you need a light massage, and other times you will need quick tension release. (Keep in mind that more speed settings doesn't necessarily mean better. Having 9, 12, or 20 speed settings just results in speed settings that are imperceptibly different from one another.)

Stroke length is the distance the head travels back and forth with each revolution. A higher stroke length results in more of a "pounding" sensation that travels deeper into the body, and a lower stroke length results in more of a soothing vibration feeling. Common stroke lengths go from 6mm up to 16mm. For most users, 10-12mm will provide a balance between relaxation and relieving tight knots. For users who are extremely muscular or professional athletes, a stroke length of 16mm might be more effective, but too intense for average users. For users seeking purely relaxation, a massage gun is likely not the best choice due to the wide availability and lower price of standard massagers. Find a device that uses a stroke length that suits your specific needs.

Lastly, we have stall force, which is the amount of pressure that can be applied to the body before the motor stalls. If you are a professional athlete or are very muscular, being able to press the massage gun into your body with more force can come in handy for targeting deep knots. However, a high stall force would likely be too intense for an older or less built user, or for when you have tender sore muscles. Look for a device that has a stall force that suits your specific use case. 40-45lbs stall force strikes a good balance between power and general usability. Moving up to 60lbs stall force can be useful for extremely built individuals, but too intense for others. Most common off-brand or knockoff products cut costs in the motor, resulting in 25-35lb stall force, which would be suitable primarily for older or less built individuals.

In Conclusion:

There are 5 factors to consider when deciding on which massage gun to purchase:

  • Reliability and Product Quality
  • Noise
  • Battery Life
  • Ergonomics
  • Power and Efficacy

Pick a high quality device from a reputable brand that offers a strong warranty in case something goes wrong. Make sure the device is quiet and has a battery life that suits your intended use case. Ergonomics can't be emphasized enough - a swivel head and having the ability to treat all areas of your body with ease will truly elevate your user experience. Lastly, make sure what you're buying actually works effectively! Find a stroke length and stall force that is right for you.

Now that we've covered the top 5 things to look for in a massage gun, we'd like to take a quick minute to tell you about our own massage gun, the Medik Percussive Massager. Obviously, we might be biased, but we personally think we did a fantastic job hitting each of these 5 points.

  • We use premium materials such as PA6 nylon and include a hand-made travel case, along with a 2-year warranty for any product failure.
  • 65db noise rating at our highest speed setting. Almost imperceptible in a gym setting, and quiet enough for nighttime use at home.
  • 3-4 hours of battery life on a single charge (real world results.)
  • Swivel head and extended length handle. No wrist pain and treat your entire back on your own.
  • 45lb stall force, 12mm stroke length, and 3 speed settings from 1800-3200rpm. Perfect for most users.

Any questions you have about our product, please feel free to email us at contactus@arriste.com, or send us a DM on Instagram @arristeofficial. Thanks so much for reading!

PS: If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing with a friend who is in the market for a massage gun so that they can make the most educated purchase decision as well. Our goal here was to educate you and ensure that you have the proper knowledge and tools needed to sift through the marketing hype and make an informed purchase, and we hope we succeeded in doing so.

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