You've probably seen massage guns in the hands of famous climbers or other athletes in the past year. Percussive therapy and massage guns are being touted as a magic trick for recovery - but how do they work and are they actually any good?
Massage guns for climbing training recovery are making their way into the mainstream in many popular sports. Touted as the best thing for sports and training recovery and easier to use than traditional massage and other tools. They're right behind CBD products in terms of how aggressively they are being promoted on social media.
Are they really worth the money and do they actually work or are they just an easy product to market. They certainly look cool in the hands of professional sports models and the sciency explanations behind them sound right. Read on to find out the studies, the theory and practice, and which ones we'd recommend if you choose to buy.
Too Long - Didn't Read? Our top picks for best massage guns for climbing recovery
- Top Of The Line - Hypervolt Plus with Bluetooth
- Best For The Money - Hypervolt Cordless
- Cheap Massage Tools - Cane Massager / Massage Ball
How Do Massage Guns For Climbers Work? What Is Percussive Therapy?
The tool itself is known by many names - sometimes a massage gun, deep tissue massage gun, hand held muscle massager, or percussive/vibration therapy tool. Theragun and Hyperice are probably the most well known brands. They are essentially all the same thing.
What the gun does is vibrate against the tissue under the skin. Percussive meaning impact. It works in a similar way to a sports massage or deep tissue massage does. The movement massages the tissue, increasing blood flow to the area.
Recovering From "Pump" & Climbing Training
When we work out intensely lactate or lactic acid builds up in the muscles used. For climbers this is often our forearms. The uncomfortable burning sensation of lactic acid buildup and stiffened forearms are known as "pump". The muscles tighten up and constrict veins and capillaries - which in turn makes it harder for blood to flow around.
This can be relieved by doing things that increase blood flow, moving the lactic acid away from the area and allowing fresh blood in. In the short term this helps recovery between sets or during training days.
Longer term, massage helps to relieve muscle tension where muscles are habitually over-contracted. This can lead to things like climbers elbow or a hunched upper back from over-use of the trapezius muscle.
It also aids in recovery again as less tensed muscles have increased blood-flow for transporting the building blocks needed for protein synthesis - used for growing and recovering the muscles used in climbing.
The same effects can be had from cheaper self massage tools as cheap as a tennis ball, foam roller, a hard massage "scraper" tool, or something like the Rolflex.
Advantages Of Massage Guns For Climbing Training Recovery
The biggest advantage of using this over another tool is that it's easy to get an intense massage very quickly. You pick it up and get going instantly without the effort of using different tools or needing another person. The biggest drawbacks are that they cost a fair bit and the older, cheaper models can be a little loud.
What they can really help with are a couple of common elbow issues. Climbers can get both golfer's elbow and tennis elbow - essentially pain on the inner and outer of the elbows. Using massage guns has been reported by individuals as helping with both of these complaints.
Massage Gun Studies & Science
This type of therapy is fairly new and there aren't many studies or science to back it up. While sports massage has been around and claims to be helpful it's really still an unknown as serious scientific work hasn't been done. Here are some studies done on percussive/vibration therapy (each word is a link to a study).
One particular study of 44 healthy, young men showed an increase in hand grip endurance after manual massage (not with a gun) vs passive movement (just normal stretching) between testing.
Especially with newer sports science like massage tools, athletic or Kinesio taping, CBD supplements, and the vast range of supplements there is still much actual research to be done. We can't say these guns work better than traditional massage therapy or even at all.
Anecdotally many people have said they work but the placebo effect is a very real thing. It's up to you to do the research and to decide whether the cost is worth something that isn't completely proven.
How To Use Massage Guns For Climbing Recovery
Mainly climbers will use massage guns on their forearms, on the inner and out part of the elbows, and around the shoulders and middle back. It's pretty easy to reach most of these areas with the tool and easier to use on the forearms than things like foam rollers.
Simply hold the gun against the area, turn it on, and move it around. It's not meant to be painful but definitely feels a little odd and maybe uncomfortable. Each brand has their own instructions and video guides which are worth looking at.
Best Massage Gun For Climbers
Hypervolt Plus Bluetooth Massager
The Hypervolt Plus with Bluetooth is a top of the line vibration massager that works with the Hyperice app. You can use one of the premade programs, made your own, or just use the device manually.
It comes with three speed settings, all of which are surprisingly quiet. Also includes five different heads and instructions on how best to use them. Only weighs 3lb and is completely wireless. Charge last up to three hours with lithion ion battery.
Great Mid Range Percussive Therapy Gun For Climbers
Very similar to above but without Bluetooth, one less attachment and very slightly less powerful. Still comes with three speed settings and is wireless with a lithium ion battery that will last three hours of use. Great manual tool that's still incredibly quiet.
Budget Massage Gun For Climbing
Trigger Point Performance Impact Massage Gun
Massage Gun Alternatives
Pro-Tec Athletics Spiky Ball Massage Ball
A good old massage ball with pointy bits can do wonders on your forearms between burns on the project. You can take it anywhere, it's less than $10, just don't let the crag dog see it.
Addaday Knot Bad Gen 3 Cane Massager
This weird stick thing is actually an incredible massage tool. Use the rounded points to drag along your arm or use the knobs to push along pressure points.
Also really good for getting into your shoulder or upper back - usually hard to reach points with other tools.
Best Massage Gun Attachment For Climbers
Larger attachments are for larger muscle areas and getting a lot done quickly. Smaller attachments with a thinner point are for targeting specific areas. As massage guns for climbers are often used for elbow pain the smaller attachments can be better for targeting specific areas of pain.
Are Massage Guns Worth It For Climbers?
If you regularly pay, or would pay for, sports massage or spent a lot of time and effort on massage tools already - probably yes. If you just want to try some massage tools to see if the work a bit, get a tennis ball, massage ball tool or scraper and see how that goes.