How a massage gun can help your exercise regime – and the key things not to do with one

Expert tips on the benefits of massage guns, how they work and how to use them (and how not to use them).

Massage guns are becoming increasingly popular as a tool for preventing and recovering from muscle soreness and tension.

They can be a quick and relatively inexpensive way to support your exercise regime and make a difference to how your body feels.

Female athlete seated on a yoga mat using a massage gun on her lower legCredit: Shutterstock/Denis Botarev
Massage guns help to increase blood flow to the area you’re working on

Massage gun benefits

Increased blood flow

These handheld devices work by delivering ‘percussive therapy’ (which applies rapid and repetitive pressure) to the muscle area you’re working on, and helps to increase blood flow,” explains Lee Mitchell, a personal trainer and fitness ambassador for Renpho.

A 2023 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine aimed to look further into how massage guns can help to enhance muscle recovery through blood flow changes. Vibration was applied to the calf muscles of 26 university student participants. Researchers found that blood flow in the calf area significantly increased, without affecting the heart rate of the participants. The researchers concluded that this provides some evidence that massage guns can support muscle recovery.


Reduces muscle tightness and soreness

Mitchell says that the percussive therapy provided by massage guns “can also help to loosen tight muscles and reduce soreness”.

A 2023 systematic literature review of the impact of percussive therapy on experiences of pain and muscle soreness following exercise found it can be helpful. The research, published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, identified it can help to decrease symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness, and help to improve flexibility.

An easy alternative to massage

While it’s not always an option to have a professional muscle rub before or following exercise, massage guns can offer a convenient alternative that still provides some of the benefits of hands-on massage therapy.

“Massage guns are fundamentally alternatives for soft tissue techniques such as foam rolling, deep tissue massage and muscle inhibition work,” explains Michael Fatica, a consultant osteopath for Back in Shape, an online rehabilitation programme for treating back pain.

“It is essentially using technology to interact with the muscles to provide improved circulation, the breakdown of scar tissue and improved overall function,” he adds.

Injury prevention

If you’ve only considered massage guns as being potentially beneficial following a workout, think again, says Mitchell.

“Using a massage gun before exercise can help to warm up the muscles and increase blood flow, which can improve flexibility and prevent injury,” he explains. “By using the gun on targeted muscle groups, you can help to activate them and prepare them for the workout ahead.”

Fatica says his clients find using a massage gun before exercise benefits them because they “move better” during physical activity.

Older lady receiving massage gun treatmentCredit: Shutterstock/Yakobchuk Viacheslav
Percussive therapy (where rapid, repetitive pressure is applied) can help to break up knots in the muscles

Helps the body’s recovery process

Mitchell says massage guns can be beneficial in aiding exercise recovery.

“The percussive therapy can help to break up knots and adhesions in the muscles and this can improve range of motion and decrease the risk of injury.

“Massage guns also work by stimulating the nervous system, which can help reduce pain and improve overall relaxation. This can be especially helpful after a long workout.”


Aids post-workout stretching

Fatica says that the smaller massage guns can also be useful to enhance stretching.

“When used during a muscle stretch, they can achieve noticeable differences compared with standard stretching,” he explains.

“Additionally, they can make some post-exercise stretches a little more pleasant when certain areas are particularly tight or sore.”

Limitations of massage guns

While there are benefits to using a massage gun before and after exercise, there are also pointers to keep in mind to avoid becoming reliant on them.

Benefits are short-term

“Like all recovery tools, massage guns aren’t a magic fix and they’re limited in what they can do,” says Brian McLaughlin, a physical therapist at Perfect Stride.

“At their core, these devices can help increase blood flow, and alleviate tightness and pain in the targeted muscles – but only in the short-term.”

Not a total substitute for warm-ups and cooldowns

While they can be useful as part of your pre and post-workout routine, these devices cannot replace other critical processes such as warming up and cooling down properly, or having a professional sports massage, McLaughlin warns.

“Ultimately, to get the most benefit from a massage gun, you need to combine recovery types, and use these devices along with active movements, like stretches, for long-term results.”

Male athlete using a massage gun on his calf areaCredit: Shutterstock/M-Production
Less is more when it comes to getting the most from a massage gun session

Expert tips on how to get the most from a massage gun

Get the settings right

Fatica advises setting your massage gun at a higher vibration level but with less pressure to begin with. You can then gently increase the pressure, depending on how your muscles are feeling. His key message is to bear in mind that you’re not trying to tenderise a steak, so less pressure is best at first.

Don’t use it for too long

Less is more is also the secret to getting the most from your massage gun session. While it might be tempting to spend a while focusing on a particularly tight spot or area, that’s not recommended. Therabody advises spending no longer than two minutes on each muscle group. It also advises that a full body massage gun session should be no longer than 15 minutes.

McLaughlin recommends using these devices for between 30 seconds and two minutes at a time on each muscle group. What’s vital is to keep moving the massage gun constantly, so you can pay attention to how your body is reacting.

“If you find your muscles are tensing too much, move to a different spot or change the intensity, setting or tip to see if that makes a difference,” he says.

Don’t use a massage gun after every workout

McLaughlin explains that you shouldn’t be using the massage gun too often.

“If you tend to reach for your massage gun after every workout, you might need to change things up a little, as it should only be used after the most intense workouts. If you use it every time, that’s a sign you could be pushing your body too hard, too often.”

Looking for a massage gun? John Lewis sells a range from £60 up to £469.
Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her


Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time. She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante, and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

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