Can you remember a time when home workouts were as popular as they are today?
Your gym is likely closed, and most group exercise options are out.
Recovery is affected too. You can use a Theragun Elite 4th Generation as an alternative to a deep tissue massage, something you can’t get in most countries right now.
But is it worth $399?
Join the Elite?
Therabody makes the Theragun Elite 4th Generation. It is one of just a handful of respected names in an area awash with cheap imitation models. Hypervolt, TimTam and Hyperice are the other major manufacturers.
However, all the fundamentals of massage guns are the same.
A motor pushes a shaped attachment back and forth. You press it to your tired muscles to increase blood flow in that area and speed-up recovery.
A 2005 study published by the Journal of Athletic Training showed massage offers a marked improvement to DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness. If you can stop your legs or arms howling as you start exercise, you can work out comfortably more often.
And a massage gun feels great as you use it, a benefit some protein-saturated gym heads forget to mention.
The Theragun Elite has some particular highlights that elevate it above the no-brand massage guns you might find on Amazon.
First, its triangular grip is practical. Use the Theragun Elite on your quadriceps two hours after exercise while vegetating in front of the TV and you can hold it in a more natural position than a standard single-grip massager.
This is how you should use a massager, preferably 2-6 hours after exercise, not with a fresh sheet of sweat dripping off your forehead.
You will still struggle to work the muscle knots out of your back with a Theragun Elite, though. Reaching around to your shoulder blades is a stretch. Try to get a willing partner involved, or your may be better off with a dedicated back massager or the Theragun Pro, which has a rotating head for greater flexibility.
However, no tech expertise is required here. Press the Theragun Elite 4th Generation’s power button, then use the D-pad style controls around it to select the revolutions per minute, from 1750rpm to 2400rpm.
You can also hook up to the Therabody app, over Bluetooth. This offers a bunch of rudimentary recovery plans, and is a clear attempt to add value to a piece of tech that can only be so refined. But it does have two useful elements.
It frees-up power settings. You can set motor to any speed between 1750rpm and 2400rpm, rather than just the five presets available on the gun itself. Most won’t need this level of granular control, but it does let you find a sweet spot.
The app also displays a graphic showing how much pressure you apply, and whether it is enough.
This is effectively a tutorial, and a handy one. When you first pick up a massage gun, you’ll have no idea of how much pressure you should, or can, apply.
The ideal pressure is probably greater than you think. And even way beyond the point at which the Theragun Elite 4th Generation becomes uncomfortable, the app’s pressure dial barely reaches a quarter of its maximum.
This is a reminder massage guns are relatives of power tools. Search online and you’ll find people who have made their own by modifying a jigsaw, a prospect that may raise eyebrows. Should power tools and ligaments mix?
That said, the Theragun Series 4 Pro does have power tool-like force. You can cause some cheap massage guns’ motors to stall by pressing reasonably hard. Good luck doing so with one of these.
The muscle bound may beg to differ, and Therabody says the Theragun Elite’s stall force is 40lb. But it is hard to fathom a use for such high pressure.
You want to massage your muscles, not bruise them, and improper use could cause harm.
Theragun Elite’s attachments
This factor is why the quality of the Theragun Elite’s attachments is so important. There are five, in shapes common to just about all rivals.
You get an all-purpose rounded attachment, a similarly-shaped one with smaller surface area, a cone, a flattened dome and a wedge.
They are intended for different parts of the body. Shoulder blades demand different treatment to your quads.
A simple picture of them does not let you appreciate a factor just as important as shape: density. No two attachments have the same firmness, and the all-purpose rounded is an unusually soft foam, which makes it unusually forgiving.
Use a harder attachment on a less fleshy part of your body at the wrong speed and it’s liable to start bouncing off your muscle rather than hammering into it. This is not a pleasant sensation.
The Theragun 4 Elite also has significantly longer travel than most massage guns, 16mm. This is a good indication of how deep a massage you’ll get without applying so much pressure the thing becomes uncomfortable to hold for more than 20 seconds.
Travel, motor stall force and the quality of the attachments largely determine the quality of experience you’ll get from a massage gun. The Theragun Elite nails all three.
However, there are signs this a young area of tech.
The screen on back has an OLED panel, but the lettering of the interface is slightly crude. It makes the Theragun 4 Elite look cheaper than it should.
This is a tiny criticism, of course, but does raise the question of whether the Elite is the best model in Therabody’s line up for most people.
The Theragun Prime is around $100 cheaper, has the same QX65 motor, the same 16mm head travel, but a simpler rear display.
Its stall force is rated at 30lb rather than 40lb, suggesting the motor may be mounted differently, and it comes with one fewer head. You lose the wedge.
However, this may be a more sensible buy for many of you. Here’s a look at how the four 4th generation Therabody massagers compare:
Reduced noise is the most important generational improvement in Therabody’s fourth-gen massagers. Powerful motors usually mean plenty of noise, and the first Thergun massagers were arguably too noisy to use in the gym without embarassment, or while watching TV at a normal volume.
The Theragun Elite 4th Generation is not the quiestest massage gun around. But it is, finally, “quiet”. At its lowest 1750rpm setting, it causes around 48dB of noise, or 53dB at 2400rpm. An Oral-B toothbrush, tested alongside, clocks at 47dB. It is not loud.
These measurements were taken with a sound recorder at 30cm distance.
The Theragun Elite is not cheap, and certain parts that add to the price, like the OLED screen and Bluetooth-connect app, do not seem essential. They do not really make this a better massage gun.
Carefully-design attachments and a powerful but fairly quiet motor matter much more. However, you don’t get the same attention to detail in these areas from a low-cost alterative. And they make it far more enjoyable to use as it batters your legs and arms.
Does the Theragun Elite “work”? Absolutely. A massager is a great addition to a home gym or running/cycling routine if you want to work out most days and don’t want to have to work through the complaints of muscles that haven’t quite recovered from the day before.
Still, it’s no replacement for staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, which are also important factors in muscle recovery.