This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2020, CNET’s gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.

Lots of people have been using the forced downtime that came with the coronavirus pandemic to focus on their fitness. From investing in home exercise equipment to online classes and fitness subscriptions, there is so much that athletes can do at home to stay in tip-top shape. One area that may be lacking though: muscle recovery. 

True workout recovery is achieved through a careful blend of physical manipulation and nutrition, but it’s still fun to take advantage of high-tech recovery tools meant to minimize muscle soreness (including the hard-to-resist CBD-infused activewear). One category of these tools has science on its side and makes the perfect holiday gift for fitness enthusiasts: the percussion massage gun.

Massage guns, which are essentially backed by the same extensive scientific research that supports massage as the optimal tool for a sore muscle in the midst of workout recovery, use the force of percussive therapy in order to manipulate your body’s soft tissue. Everyone from professional athletes and recreational gym-goers to people with chronic pain love these powerful massagers for many reasons. 

Percussive therapy is said to help muscles recover faster while reducing muscle pain, muscle fatigue and lactic acid build-up. A percussion gun allows you to focus on a certain muscle group for immediate pain relief. They can also improve your range of motion and flexibility, encourage blood flow, help with muscle stiffness and more. Percussive therapy may even help with stress and sleep. Also, not that you should invest in one for this reason alone, but the slow-mo videos of massage guns punching muscles look insanely Insta-worthy. Just tell your gift recipient to be careful with using one if they have any injuries beyond a muscle ache from a tough workout. 

If you have a fit friend who always complains about being sore, a massage gun will help shush them and save money by foregoing monthly massages.

TimTam

The TimTam All New Power Massager Deep Tissue Massage Gun gave me a start when I turned it on. It offers just two power settings, both so robust that I had to hold the massager gun with two hands to control it. When people say that percussive massagers sound and feel like power drills, this is the kind of massage gun they’re talking about.

Personally, I couldn’t handle the sheer power that this massager delivers. It hurt to use even on muscles that weren’t sore, and I didn’t even try on muscles that were tender. Then again, I have a relatively low pain tolerance. Someone much more brawny and tough than myself may enjoy the high power output of the TimTam All New Power Massager.

The TimTam Power Massager is the best massage gun overall for people who are looking for more percussion, less vibration. While this handheld massage gun does utilize both, the percussive motion is extremely intense and definitely hits deeper layers of soft tissue.

Ekrin Athletics

Ekrin Athletics is a relative newcomer on the scene, but make no mistake: This brand, founded by two former collegiate athletes, is raising standards and lowering prices for percussive therapy.

The Ekrin Athletics B37 massage gun packs all the leading industry standards, including an ultra-quiet motor (even quieter than the Hypervolt, in my opinion), multiple speed and pressure settings that deliver up to 56 pounds of force, an eight-hour battery life, an ergonomic design and a convenient carrying case with several massage head attachments. 

At a list price of $23, the value is unbeatable — it’s a low price for the value you get, as the Ekrin massage gun compares to the well-known and highly desired brands in the percussive therapy arena. And, it’s backed by a lifetime warranty, so there’s really no reason not to at least try the Ekrin Athletics B37 massage gun. 

Hyperice

The Hypervolt Plus, the second generation of the powerful percussion massager from Hyperice, rivals the Theragun in functionality, effectiveness and design, but is the best massage gun if you’re also looking for the quietest. This massage gun is mighty and forceful, yet almost silent — I could actually enjoy a lengthy session with the Hypervolt Plus without feeling like my eardrums were shaking, which is the case with many massage guns, especially when used on the neck and shoulders. 

Hyperice’s QuietGlide technology and 90-watt high-torque motor together deliver everything you could possibly want in a massage gun: A relaxing, pain-relieving experience. The Hypervolt Plus comes with five head attachments for working out muscle knots wherever you may experience them. The fork attachment is particularly effective for use between the shoulder blades and on the neck. 

The Hypervolt Plus has five speed/power settings, which makes it ideal for those who experience varying levels of muscle soreness or pain. The lowest percussion massage setting felt great when I used it on very sore muscles after leg day, while the highest setting works great on muscles that are tight but not tender.

Achedaway

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d pick the Achedaway Pro. Quiet and easy to handle, this massage tool features five power and speed settings ranging from 1,700 to 2,800 rpm, which according to the website are suited to wake up muscles, release fascia, eliminate lactic acid, provide deep tissue massage and facilitate muscle recovery.

Its list price of $539 is on the high end — actually, it’s up there with the top-level Theragun Pro G4 — but the Achedaway Pro currently on sale for $299. The Achedaway massager feels very sturdy in hand, doesn’t make the inside of your head rattle, and provides varying levels of massage that are suitable for sore muscles. 

The higher power settings felt great when I wasn’t sore, but didn’t hurt tender muscles, either — a perfect combo in my book. Like many other massagers, the Achedaway Pro comes with multiple head attachments for massaging different muscle groups. The rechargeable battery is removable for easy and portable charging. 

Previously, I reviewed the Achedaway Vibration and Percussion Massager (the predecessor to the Achedaway Pro) and I liked that one, too. There are only minor differences between the two (the amplitude and force are greater on the Pro), so the original Achedaway is still a good choice. 

TimTam

Unlike the All New Power Massager, this TimTam model features more power settings that don’t feel like repetitive punches to the muscles. Overall, the Power Massager Pro felt less powerful, yet more effective, than the All New model — the Power Massager Pro has five settings and is far quieter. 

It also comes with some unique attachments, including an auto-heating tip and a vibration attachment that increases the intensity of the vibration mechanism to add another element of massage alongside the percussion element. When using the auto-heating tip, the LED screen displays a temperature sensor so you can assess the heat, which increases up to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another cool element of the Power Massager Pro is the rotating head that swivels up to 175 degrees, so you can reach more areas on your own. The battery on the Power Massager Pro lasts up to an hour with continuous use.

Wahl

There are a lot of budget-friendly massage guns on the market, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. I tested out a few budget options, including the HoMedics heated massage gun, Vivreal handheld massager and Renpho deep tissue massage gun, and landed on the Wahl Deep Tissue model as the best (but still not as good as a three-figure device). 

It comes with four head attachments, including a four-pronged one that works magic on the lower back and hamstrings. The long handle is ergonomically designed so that you can hit hard-to-reach spots. This massage gun is the only one that allowed me to massage my entire back on my own: The others, even the most expensive products, all required a helping hand.

The one drawback to the Wahl massager is that it has a cord — I know, blasphemy — but the versatility and effectiveness truly outweigh that bit of outdatedness. Also, I don’t really see myself using a massage gun anywhere other than my home, so unless you plan to use your massager all over the world, the 9-foot cord shouldn’t be a huge issue.

Read more.

David Carnoy/CNET

Therabody’s Theraguns are considered the gold standard in percussive therapy, so its most luxurious, feature-rich model must be the best of the best, right? 

In all truth, I have to say yes. Having tested more than 20 massage guns, including three other Theraguns, the Theragun Pro Generation 4 is pretty dang impressive — especially compared to the previous line of Therabody massage guns. (The Theragun G3, a similar version, was previously on this list. You can read our full review to learn more.) 

The Theragun Pro G4 is, first and foremost, much quieter than its former iteration. Loudness has been a chief complaint of Theragun buyers since the company’s early days, and the brand finally made a move to remedy that. 

I’m not saying the Pro G4 is silent — it’s still louder than the near-silent Hypervolt Plus — but it doesn’t rattle my brain like the G3 did, thanks to Theragun’s new QuietForce Technology. If you’re an athlete or serious exerciser who can deal with what sounds like a muted turkey carver (and you’re willing to pay top dollar for percussive therapy at your fingertips), the Theragun Pro G4 is a great choice for you. 

With up to 60 pounds of force, a rotating arm and ergonomic handle, a deep reach of 16mm into your muscle tissue, and speeds up to 2,400 repetitions per minute, the Theragun Pro is built for those who need legitimate percussive therapy multiple times per week. In short, it’s the real deal, but it’s probably not worth it for the average exerciser. 

David Carnoy/CNET

If you really want a taste of Theragun but can’t afford a full-fledged model, the Theragun Mini makes for a pretty rad deal — and it’s super portable, a bonus for people taking their massage gun anywhere outside their home. As CNET editor David Carnoy wrote in his review of the Theragun Mini, this compact percussive massage device is “surprisingly powerful.” 

Like the other new Theragun models, the Mini is equipped with Quiet Force technology that allows the device to run just as powerfully but much more quietly than the previous generation of Theraguns. Theragun Mini has three speed settings, ranging from 1,750 rpm to 2,400 rpm, and the battery lasts for 150 minutes of continuous use. 

The major downside to the Theragun Mini is that it only comes with one attachment, the standard ball head, so you have to be OK with that. You could purchase other Theragun attachments a la carte, because the mini is compatible with all the same attachments that come with other models. 

The Theragun Mini plus the full range of attachments will run you $329, at which point, you could just buy the Theragun Prime, which comes with four different attachments. 

Also tested

Sportneer/Amazon

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the $120 percussive massage gun from Sportneer worked just as well as the more expensive models on this list, especially since it’s more compact in size than most of the others. 

This ultra-portable massager delivers percussive therapy at five different levels, from just 15 watts to a powerful 160 watts, and 1,200 rpm to 3,200 rpm. Depending on what power setting you use, the battery life on this massage gun can last from 1.5 to 5.5 hours. I used the Sportneer device on both achy and pain-free muscles, and both experiences were comparable to that of the Hypervolt Plus and the Achedaway devices — but especially satisfying because of the price point of this product. 

The Sportneer massage gun comes with six head attachments, two of which have metal tips and can be used to massage yourself with CBD oil, a topical analgesic or essential oils. This percussive massager is also relatively quiet: The website claims the massage gun reaches a maximum of 55 decibels, which is softer than the volume at which most people listen to music.

Therabody

The Theragun Prime is another new Theragun included in the company’s rebrand and launch of four new massage guns. Its prior equivalent was the Theragun Liv, which used to be in this list of best massage guns, and is also reviewed in-depth here.

Like the Theragun Pro G4, the Theragun Prime’s main impressive feature is that it’s much quieter than its now-defunct counterpart. In fact, the Prime rivals the famously quiet Hypervolt Plus in terms of volume level — that’s a massive improvement from the Liv.

The improvements don’t stop there, though: Where the Theragun Liv only had two preprogrammed speeds and came with two closed-cell foam attachments, the new Theragun Prime has five built-in speeds (from 1,750 rpm to 2,400 rpm) and comes with five closed-cell foam attachments. 

At $299, the Theragun Prime is still pricey, but doesn’t induce sticker shock quite like the Pro G4. It’s also on sale for $249 To me, the improvements make the Theragun Prime seem well worth the price. The competition to the Prime, to me, is the original Hypervolt: These two massage guns have many similar features and hover around the same price range. The choice is yours for the making!

ExoGun

Released in November 2019, this massager from ExoGun offers the same experience as the Hypervolt and Theragun: a luxury feel and effective massage. While I’m not sure that the ExoGun DreamPro is worth the $600 list price, for the current sale price of $110, it’s a steal. 

The DreamPro offers six power and speed settings (the most out of any device on this list), ranging from 1,200 to 3,200 repetitions per minute and 20 to 53Hz in vibration speed. As for sound level, this massager clocks in at 70 decibels, which might be a little loud for some. I enjoyed the three middle settings on the DreamPro the most, as the lower end felt too gentle and the higher end felt too powerful. 

What I really like about the DreamPro is its 30-day risk free trial, something that none of the other companies on this list offer. So if you’re unsure about whether a massage gun will meet your needs, the ExoGun DreamPro might be a good place to start despite its steep price tag.

Nordic Track/Walmart

Percussion therapy and vibration therapy are often used interchangeably, but the two mechanisms do differ. Percussive therapy involves a punching or thumping motion, while vibration therapy involves, well, vibration. The majority of massage guns combine the two mechanisms, resulting in a therapy that reaches deeper layers of tissue (percussion) in addition to the superficial layers (vibration).

When I tried out the Nordictrack Percussion Recovery Gun, I felt that it lacked the percussion part of the equation. The massage felt very superficial, as if it wasn’t penetrating much deeper than my skin. I had a few friends try out the Nordictrack device to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and they came to the same consensus: This massage gun probably won’t do the trick for people who workout often and experience intense muscle soreness and knots. 

It might, however, work well for people who have very sensitive skin, muscles or joints, or those who need a device with lower power due to an injury or illness, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.

What to look for in a percussive massage gun

Speed and power: These two elements are definitely the most important. Everyone’s pain tolerance and massage preferences differ, but anyone can benefit from a massager with at least two settings: one being less intense so you can still use the gun on very sore muscles where you are experiencing muscle tension or pain.

Type of motion: As discussed in the Nordictrack description, percussion and vibration are very different. When shopping for a massage gun, consider which mechanism is more important to you. 

Portability: If you’re going to be traveling with your massage gun, you’ll want one that can easily fit into a bag or suitcase, or one that has its own carrying case. Though most are indeed handheld massagers, some units are rather bulky, such as the TimTam models.

Attachments and accessories: Where on your body will you use the massage gun? If you’ll only use it on just your large muscles, such as your back and legs, you probably don’t need many attachments or accessories. But if you intend to use it on specific areas and trigger points, such as the arch of your foot or your neck, you’d benefit from smaller attachments intended for those specific areas.

Battery life: Pretty self-explanatory — the longer the battery life, the better, as with all electronics.

Cost: Of course, you’ll want to look for a therapeutic massager device within your budget. The most expensive massage guns usually offer more adjustable speed, power and motion settings, but less expensive models can certainly get the job done. 

Other great ways to recover from tough workouts

If you’re not exactly into the idea of punching your muscles — which can be painful if you’re really sore and tender — you should know that massage guns aren’t your only option for post-workout recovery.

Cryotherapy: Ever wonder what it’s like to submerge your body in subzero temperatures? With the growing popularity of whole-body cryotherapy, you can try it out pretty much anywhere.

Far-infrared therapy: Tom Brady uses fancy infrared-infused pajamas and bed sheets to keep himself in tip-top shape. It’s supposed to induce the same benefits as heat therapy, but without actually making you sweaty. Find out if it works

Compression therapy: What’s been around for ages as a medical therapy has made its way into the fitness world as a recovery mechanism. You might feel silly wearing big inflatable boots, but there’s some pretty convincing science behind compression therapy for muscle recovery

Using a foam roller: You can always stick to the basics. Science says using a foam roller is great for tight muscles and joint mobilization, which may help relieve some soreness — or at least make it easier to move around when you’re already really sore. Hyperice, the company that makes the quiet Hypervolt massage gun, also makes a vibrating foam roller, so you can get the effects of percussive therapy and foam rolling at the same time. 

Recovered and ready to hit the gym again? Beat boredom on your next treadmill run and find out if Orangetheory Fitness is worth the hype

More health and fitness recommendations 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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