Rest and recovery is absolutely vital for triathletes, particularly for those with heavy training loads. In answer to that need, new tools have been popping up for decades to try and help athletes recover quicker and more effectively.
Dozens of pro athletes are regularly pictured using them and new products are coming to market all the time. One of which is the Hydragun, which we reviewed recently.
Here, we’ve partnered with Hydragun to explain how to use a massage gun to help with your recovery.
How do massage guns work?
While many studies have been conducted, as yet there is no clear consensus among sports scientists about the impact sports massage has on athletes. More (larger) studies are understandably needed to determine a clear understanding of its effects.
However, some studies, such as this one in the BMJ, have made conclusions that sports massage is ‘associated with small but statistically significant improvements in flexibility and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)’. Such an impact could be beneficial to triathletes with high training loads and packed schedules.
The impact they can have on the perception of muscle soreness and fatigue is also widely accepted among fans of sports massages, and that’s why massage guns have become increasingly popular.
They’re purported to help alleviate muscle pain and improve flexibility. Part of this is said to be down to increasing blood flow. The theory is that the massage (or the accelerated bursts of pressure to your body tissue, in the case of massage guns) will increase circulation in the area, bringing fresh, nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood back and pushing metabolic waste (such as lactic acid) away.
With massage guns being so portable and more cost effective than regular sports massages (Hydragun’s device weighs 1,033g and costs £269), their popularity is understandable.
When to use a massage gun
It can also be used in the hours and days post-exercise to help reduce DOMS, increase flexibility and improve circulation.
How to use a massage gun
Massage guns are typically easy to use, even with just one hand. The Hydragun is operated via one button. Simply hold it down to turn it on or off and press it to toggle through the different speed settings.
Before using your massage gun you need to pick what attachment to use. Hydragun ships its device with seven options. The larger ball attachment is ideal for larger muscle groups (such as the glutes, quads, calves, lats and traps) and should be used when you don’t want a massage that’s too deep.
Meanwhile, the fork attachment is designed for deeper penetration on medium muscle groups (such as forearms, calves and shoulders). The curved attachment is made for curved muscle groups (like forearms, biceps and shoulders) and aims to release tension and promote blood circulation.
The bullet attachment allows for precise and deep penetration, while steel-headed options are designed to help provide a harder massage and glide over clothing more easily.
Once you’ve picked the appropriate attachment, it’s time to begin by targeting the main muscle groups affected by triathlon training and racing.
Personal trainer and doctor of physical therapy Josh Orendorf recommends starting slow. That means starting on a low setting, as a higher pressure doesn’t always equal a better massage.
“Make sure you’re not pressing too hard or staying in one spot for too long,” advises Orendorf. Instead, it’s best to keep the massage gun moving and staying on each muscle group for no more than a couple of minutes.
Essentially, you need to let the massage gun float over your muscles, rather than apply the pressure yourself.
How to use a massage gun before and after swimming
AG Injury & Rehabilitation Lead Therapist Arun Gray explains how a massage gun can help with your swim training…
Swimming is a sport that requires the use of the whole body. Depending on the stroke, large groups of muscles contract throughout participation of the sport. Muscles in the upper body, especially the shoulders and upper back are the primary drives of most strokes, however the kicking aspect of swimming requires the legs, glutes and lower back to function to propel the athlete through the water.
Muscles in the core (abdominals and lower back) also help to maintain a neutral position as a swimmer glides through the water, so it really is a full body workout.
Massage guns help to both stimulate the muscles and increase blood flow to an area. During a warm up this is beneficial as an increased blood flow allows more oxygen to be transported to the muscles, increasing their function and reducing fatigue.
In terms of recovery, again the improved blood flow produced by massage guns can assist in the body’s recovery by helping to flush out toxins and relieving muscle tightness and soreness post-exercise. This means athletes could potentially train again more effectively, sooner.
The smaller attachments of massage guns can be effective in targeting the smaller muscles around the shoulders and upper back/neck which can become tight, especially during strokes like front crawl.
How to use a massage gun before and after cycling
AG Injury & Rehabilitation Lead Therapist Arun Gray explains how a massage gun can help with your bike training…
The primary muscle groups recruited during cycling are those of the legs – the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Due to the repetitive nature of peddling while cycling, especially over long distances, cyclists can sometimes suffer from aches and pains around their knees, along with tightness in their hips.
In the same way a massage would benefit a cyclist prior to a ride, massage guns assist with blood flow and relieving muscle tension. The repetitive vibrations stimulate the nervous system too, which in turn allows the muscles to be contracted when required, in this case to propel the pedals of the bike.
Due to the large muscle groups that are primarily used during cycling, larger attachments may be more useful when using a massage gun. This allows a large surface area to be massaged (i.e. the quadriceps, which are the muscles of the thigh). The smaller attachments can then be used to target more specific, smaller areas such as around the knee, achilles and into the hip.
How to use a massage gun before and after running
AG Injury & Rehabilitation Lead Therapist Arun Gray explains how a massage gun can help with your run training…
Running is also a great full body workout. The lower legs take the majority of the force from the ground so the calves (gastrocnemius and soleus) can become extremely tight in runners. Weakness or tightness in these muscles, along with a number of other factors, can lead to injuries such as shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome), so it’s important to both strengthen them and allow them to recover after exercise.
The knees also absorb a lot of the force and help runners to control their stride so conditions like runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) can also be common. The muscles in the hips and upper body play a role in keeping the torso upright and balanced, which of course takes hundreds of small muscle contractions at every step a runner takes – which quickly adds up over 5/10km runs!
A massage gun can be used to stimulate muscles that may be fatigued or tight from previous runs, as well as ‘waking them up’ ready to run again. They are a great tool to be used alongside gentle warm up exercises such as leg swings, calf raises, squats and other dynamic movements that prepare your body to absorb the forces produced over a run.
The fact running uses so many muscle groups is benefitted by the various attachments that come with massage guns. The larger attachments are great for longer/larger muscles like the hamstrings and quadriceps whereas the smaller, more targeted attachments can be really helpful on smaller more difficult areas to reach such as the tibias anterior (along the front of the leg) or the soleus (the runners muscle – the bottom half of the quad).
Gear in focus: Hydragun Massage Gun
Hydragun claims its product is the quietest massage gun around and, after reviewing it against some of its competition recently, we can certainly understand why they’d make such a statement.
While we haven’t tried every massage gun in the market, our sound tests had the Hydragun registering between 30 and 50 decibels across the six different settings.
Speaking of which, those settings give you plenty of choice when it comes to how intense you want your massage to be, with the max setting coming in at 3,2000rpm.
Build quality was high, it felt easy to use, battery life is a very respectable six hours and an RRP of £269 is seriously competitive in today’s market. Find out more here.