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Theragun: How to use it for pain, sleep, stress and workout recovery

Turns out you can use the Theragun for more than muscle soreness -- here's how.

Angela Lang/CNET

If you've ever wanted to recover from workouts like a pro, then you should know about the Theragun. The power-drill-like massage gun device is a favorite of celebrities, pro athletes and fitness trainers that swear by it. The device is not that new (it launched in 2016), but it gained popularity more recently, thanks in part to the fitness community, as well as celebrities who are fans, such as Chelsea Handler, Sam Smith and Ashley Graham. (Not to mention the recent rise in the popularity of recovery techniques, methods and studios in the wellness space.)  

The basic concept behind how the Theragun works is through the use of percussive therapy. The vibration and force produced by the device is said to have a variety of benefits including pain relief, increased range of motion, reduced muscle stiffness and soreness, and a faster recovery time from workouts. 

But if you've ever had the chance to try a Theragun or other similar percussive therapy device, chances are you felt a bit confused about how exactly to use it at first. The key to getting the most out of your therapy device is by using it properly -- here's how.

Read more: How to recover from a tough workout

How to use a Theragun for workout recovery

The Theragun aids in helping move lactic acid out of the muscles that you fatigued during exercise, which makes it ideal for workout recovery. It's what other techniques like massage or foam rolling also aim to do, but Lissa Bankston, director of human performance at Theragun, argues that percussive therapy can help produce a more effective result, and in less time.


The Theragun G3 model is the quietest of all models and sells for $399.


Theragun can also be a solution for those who are too sensitive to deep tissue massages, since the device can produce a similar effect without the deep pressure that can be uncomfortable or painful for some people. 

And while the Theragun is not inexpensive by any means (models start at $249 and up) it could save you money if you use it instead of (or to occasionally replace) regular massage therapy sessions, which typically run $100 and up per session.

So how and when should you use a Theragun to help you recover from a workout?

"When it comes to recovery, I do think it's best to do it right after and to use it frequently. I recommend using it for at least two minutes on the muscles you think will be sore. And then other muscles you can spot treat for 30 seconds to one minute," Bankston said.

To treat a muscle, Theragun advises you to move the device slowly over sore muscles (or muscles you think will be sore later) for up to two minutes on each area. The Theragun app also recommends using stretching in tandem with the Theragun therapy for a "pro-level recovery regimen." 

You don't have to apply much pressure to get results -- the Theragun does the work for you, which is why Theragun recommends "floating" the device over the areas you'd like to treat. 

"We recommend floating it on the body simply because it does have half an inch of penetration so you don't have to add excessive force. If you were to compare it to a deep tissue massage you would think you need to apply more force to get that outcome, but the reason why a massage therapist is applying pressure is to get deep into the tissue, and we're already doing that with our amplitude," Bankston said.

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If you're looking for more intensity, Bankston recommends changing the device attachments (which have varying surface areas -- the smaller the area the more intense) which are designed to help you target areas that need more focus than the standard round attachment that comes on the device. 

How to use a Theragun for general tension, stress and sleep

According to Theragun, the device can be helpful for reducing general tension, stress and even help you sleep better by "downregulating the nervous system." Theragun recommends using the device for two minutes on each muscle group (arms, glutes, legs) before bed to help you feel relaxed and calm.


Theragun's app provides suggestions on how to use the device to help you sleep better.

Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

For general tension, you can use the device on tense or tight muscles for two minutes to help you release stress. If you have a painful knot in a certain area, Theragun recommends working around the area with the dampener attachment, instead of directly on the knot. 

You can then try using the standard attachment quickly on the knot (no more than three seconds). You don't want to do this too frequently though. Give the area a chance to rest for 24 hours or so and then you can repeat.

Read more: 5 reasons to buy a Theragun

How to use the Theragun to prep your muscles for a workout 

Even though the Theragun is most known for being used after a workout, you can actually use it before or during exercise to enhance your workout performance. According to Theragun, using the device before your workout can help activate your muscles and increase your range of motion, which helps with performance and recovery and reduces the risk of injury, since you're increasing blood flow. 

Before your workout, Theragun recommends using the device on the muscles you want to work for 30 seconds to help activate the muscle. The Theragun app also provides a specific protocol for pre-workout, with a diagram and step-by-step instructions.

You can also use the Theragun during a workout to help speed up recovery, activate muscles that are "asleep," and increase circulation before you do the next rep. An example would be taking breaks between sets of squats to use the Theragun on the glutes for 15 to 30 seconds to keep those muscles active when you do your next set of squats. 

What not to do with a Theragun

Finally, even though the Theragun has many uses in addition to recovery, there are some safety precautions to keep in mind. First, you should exercise caution when using any massage gun on muscle sprains, strains, inflammation-related injuries (like tendinitis) or broken bones. It's best to consult your doctor before using a Theragun or similar device if you have any injuries or chronic health conditions.

Theragun also recommends checking with a doctor if you are pregnant (although Bankston said generally it is safe as long as you don't use it near the front or rear of your torso). Other definite don'ts? Bankston said it's not safe or a good idea to use it on the head or genitalia.

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. 

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.