Have you ever thought about home-based percussion therapy. I didn’t until someone told me about it. Who even knew there were devices for such a thing? Hence this Theragun Elite review.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
Percussion therapy releases rapid bursts of pressure into the tissue of the body. Put more simply, it’s deep tissue massage. Typically you would go to a physical therapist or a licensed massage person to get this. But this is 2020 so there are home-based options that provide the same effect.
And no, I’m not talking about a foam roller as a self-myofascial release tool. This is a more high tech solution that comes in the form of a massage gun.
The thing loosely resembles a gun, hence the name. But instead of bullets, it shoots relief through your muscles, aids recovery, decreases soreness and increases your range of motion. A massage gun does this by punching you – rapidly and repeatedly.
Does such a thing actually work? I’ve been using the Theragun Elite for the past few weeks. Here’s what I made of it.
From the second you open the box it’s evident that this is a high quality product. Inside you’ll find the Theragun Elite, five attachments, a power adapter and a small instruction booklet.
So you can store everything neatly away, there’s also a black, smart looking, protective carrying case. It’s very useful for taking it with you on trips and making sure you don’t lose any parts.
The massage gun itself is different from other such devices on the market in a number of ways. The most obvious is the design. The thing comes with an ergonomic multi-grip allowing you to hold it in a number of ways. This helps minimise the strain on your hands while you are massaging yourself. As far as dimensions, the gun comes in at 9.5 in x 6.7 in x 2.9 in.
I tested the Theragun Elite model in black. It also comes in white if you’re not a fan of that colour. There are other models ranking from the ultra-portable and ultra-cheap mini, to the Pro. The Elite is the second most powerful device in the lineup.
The attachments slip easily on and off. Simply pull the attachment firmly and it comes off the end of the gun. Press a replacement in its place and it neatly clicks on.
I ended up using the default round foam most often as it is the softest of the bunch. As an avid runner I am guilty of not stretching enough, hence my muscles need a bit of work. The round foam attachment allowed me to ease into things. Therabody gives it an impact level of 3/10 and its great for overall use, tight muscles and bony areas.
You also get another round one but it is smaller and firmer with an impact level of 5. When I felt a little braver I would use that one. The other three attachments offer a further variety of shapes and sizes. They include a Wedge attachment which also has an impact level of 5 but is better suited for specific areas such as shoulder blades.
We then get to the more hard-core attachments. The level 7 Thumb attachment should be used for trigger points and the lower back, while the final pointy Cone attachment is the firmest of the bunch with a rating of 10. Therabody says it should be utilised for pinpoint muscle treatment, including the hands and feet. I did not dare use that one!
All off these attachments are made of non-porous closed-cell foam. I love the fact that this is high quality material that you can clean easily for a hygienic and relaxing experience.
There are other customisation options, too. On the front of the device you’ll find a single physical button. Tap this firmly and the device will power on. The OLED screen will spring to life letting you know the device is ready to go.
Press the button once again and it will start up. You’ll then notice that the soft foam around the physical button is press-able. Click right above it to increase the number of percussions per minute, right below it to decrease the percussions.
There are five different built-in speeds to choose from: 1750, 1900, 2100, 2200, and 2400. If you are new to the massage gun game I suggest you go for the lowest one. The accompanying smartphone app allows you to further customise the number of percussions and choose any value between 1750 and 2400.
The Elite model can withstand up to 40 pounds of force. What this means is that if you press harder than that, it will begin to stall. This has not happened to me once during the few weeks I’ve been using it.
The great thing about Theragun is that it lets you know exactly how hard you should be pressing to get the most effect. This can be seen both on the OLED display and the smartphone app. But more about this later.
You (and others in your household) will be happy to know that the device is not loud. Therabody says it has used “advanced sound insulation around the QX65 model of the proprietary brushless motor with QuietForce Technology”. I’m not sure what all that means but the end result is something that is very discreet. The sound is perhaps only slightly louder than an electric hair clipper, shaver or a standard electric toothbrush.
As far as battery life, the Lithium-ion battery is good for up to two hours of continuous use. So even if you power it on every day you should be good for at least a week or two.
The Elite model is one of the most recent additions to the Theragun range. The only device that outshines it in performance is the pricier Pro model. The difference between them is that the Pro model comes with one extra attachment, a more powerful motor that can withstand up to 60 pounds of force and two swappable batteries that are good for around 300 minutes of use. Pretty much everything else is the same.
The setup and customisation process should take no longer than 10 minutes. Download the Therabody app for your iPhone or Android device and start it up. You’ll then need to register a login by typing your email address and choosing a password. Standard stuff.
The app will then ask whether you want to connect your health data (in my case Apple Health as I am using an iPhone). I chose yes to all. The health data allows the app to suggest routines tailored to you. As I run often I ended up using the run routine most.
There are lots that you can try such as sleep, upper back, lower back, wellness, glutei quads, neck, hamstrings, need shins, tennis, plantar fasciitis, shoulders, tech neck, stairs, workout and hands. This is where the list of suggested routines for me ended. But as the Therabody app continues to interact with and learn from your behaviors, over time it suggests further customized treatments.
Your other option is to tap the Explore tab in the app. There you’ll find a multitude of other routines grouped into Body, Activities and Ailment categories. Whatever sport you are into, or whatever muscle ailment you have, you are sure to find a routine in the database to relieve your muscle soreness.
Having a massage gun is all and good, but just as important as the quality of hardware is the quality of the software. This is something many people don’t realise.
The good news is that Therabody shines on both counts. Its software is just as good as its hardware. The app walks you through everything – so much so that it becomes an educational experience. I think you will struggle to find any other massage gun with software that even approaches the quality found on Theragun.
But back to the setup.
The final step is connecting your Theragun to the smartphone app. The software will ask you whether its ok to use the Bluetooth connection – click ok. Then you need to turn on your Theragun and choose your version. In my case I clicked on Elite.
The app will instantly find it and give the message that it has been added. You are now ready to go.
To use Theragun Elite start by selecting the appropriate attachment. I suggest you follow the routines in the app. This will not only guide you to the correct attachment to use, but it will also instruct on how long, where, how much pressure to apply to the muscles.
For example, a very simple routine is called Shoulders – it reduces tension in this area to help you move easier. The routine lasts only 120 seconds and requires you to work 1 minute on one shoulder, the next minute on the other.
The benefit of using the app as you are doing this is that it times you and alerts when to switch from one shoulder to the other. It also shows the correct grip to use and it presents a rolling chart displaying in real-time whether you are pressing with enough force.
Just make sure to switch Theragun on before you open the routine. Otherwise the force meter will not show on your smartphone. A bit of trial and error allowed me to discover this.
Here’s a video clip I’ve made of the Shoulder routine. This will give you a better idea on how it works.
Once you have done a routine a few times you might opt to do it without the app. The OLED display has the benefit of showing your current speed and a responsive force meter. You can therefore follow most of the metrics – it’s just that it’s much easier to do this with the app.
If you have a few favourite routines, you can save them as presents on Theragun. That way you can play them on the go without your phone.
You could also try a more complex routine. A good example is the one for post-run recovery. This one consists of working on 6 distinct groups of muscles: feet, shins, calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes. It takes 10 minutes to complete.
I’ve been training for months for the Paris marathon that was due to be held in April. Like so many other events this year it was cancelled. But I’m still training as it has been postponed for November now. All this running, however, means my muscles are stiff as a rock and this happened gradually without me even noticing.
After doing the running routine with Theragun about 3 times on 3 subsequent days, I had to give it a few days rest. The effect of doing a routine on stiff muscles is that they eventually become painful to touch. This is because you are loosening them up – gradually. The deep amplitude of the percussion gun gives very powerful pressure which has the benefit of really working out the muscle knots.
It’s just as if you were to go to physiotherapy or a massage professional. If your muscles are very stiff it will be painful to touch after the massage. It is exactly the same with Theragun. What is also the same is the great relaxed feeling you have after the treatment!
Here’s a little Youtube video of the running recovery routine. I’ve speeded up chunks of it, otherwise it would last more than 10 minutes.
Another great thing about a massage gun with the current situation is that it’s totally safe. Here I’m talking about the COVID pandemic that has pushed at-home devices to the forefront. You are certainly not going to catch a virus if you use a massage gun in the comfort of your living room.
Overall, I found the build quality of Theragun Elite to be excellent. I really liked the multi-grip handle design as it allows easier access to those hard to reach areas. The deep amplitude of Theragun gives firm pressure and sends vibrations that really loosen up those muscle knots. This is a powerful gadget, that is excellent, customisable (5 different attachments, various speed settings), quiet and extremely simple to use.
Theragun is said to be the most often used percussive therapy device by physical therapists, trainers, chiropractors, professional sports teams and others. The above are just some of the reasons for this.
If you’ve ever been to a massage professional or physio-therapist, the after-effect of using a percussion gun is not all too different. A slight soreness accompanied by a feeling of relaxed wellbeing and improvement in the range of motion.
As an avid runner I am guilty of not stretching enough. But I will be using a massage gun from now on as I have experienced the benefits in the few weeks I’ve been using Theragun Elite. The convenience of having such a device at home cannot be overstated.
But even if you don’t find time to exercise often a massage gun can be useful. Particularly as this year unexpectedly ushered us into the age of work-from home. If you sit in a computer chair for hours on end, you need something to relieve a stiff back, neck and shoulders daily.
Reliable hardware and build quality is crucial when it comes to massage guns, but just as important is the quality of the software. Theragun Elite ticks both of these boxes with flying colours, and that is something that cannot be said for most of the lower cost knockoff brands. Let’s just say you’ll definitely get your money’s worth if you invest in a legitimate brand with high quality standards.
The massage gun can be purchased on Amazon in the US and select other countries.
*We are a review site that receives a small commission from sales of certain items, but the price is the same for you. Purchasing items by clicking on links in this article allows us to run this website. We are independently owned and all opinions expressed here are our own. See our affiliate disclosure page for more details.
Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!