So you want to try a Theragun or Hyperice Hypervolt, but aren’t too sure you want to spend upwards of £300? Me either.
Still, I was desperate to get my hands on these percussive massage/torture(!) devices out in real life so I picked up a budget massage gun here in the UK (*ad) for the tidy sum of £69.99. I’ve been using it for 11 months now.
Are the branded alternatives worth almost TRIPLE the price?
I’ve pulled together this review to help you decide if you can get by with a budget massage gun (like mine) here in the UK, or if you should dig a little deeper for the original.
Let’s take a look.
At a glance…
- Budget massage guns work very well
- They are either a vibration or percussive massage device
- Vibration style is less invasive and much quieter
- Percussive style is stronger and louder in use
- I have a cheap Welteayo vibration-style gun (*ad) which I’ve reviewed below
- Consider if you would use the device – when I’m not playing contact sports I don’t tend to need the gun as much
Are cheap massage guns any good?
Unfortunately for the big brands and innovators out there, the cheap alternatives (or rip-offs!) have copied the products quite well which means we as consumers can pick up a similar item for a fraction of the cost.
I do feel sorry for these companies that have built these niches, but by holding their prices so resolutely high (for context the Theragun ranges from £275 through to £550 depending on spec; The Hypervolt is £299) they have left themselves open to competitors who will compete on price.
We see similar plagiarism across the fitness industry – Rogue has Titan copying their designs for example.
How could Hyperice or Therabody have protected themselves? Well they could have driven their own products down in price – the Amazon Kindle approach of bending over backwards for the consumer. The downside is this cannibalises their margins themselves and can be self destructive.
Alternatively they could have used intellectual property protection or similar as we have seen successfully executed with the likes of Louis Simmons @ Westside Barbell where he has innovated the gym equipment market with products such as the reverse hyper. I am not sure on what they have done in this regard by Hyperice or Theragun but IP protection can be a hard, expensive slog.
My review of the Welteayo Massage Gun
The gun has largely lived up to my expectations which is great. It has helped me particularly with calf and quad lactic acid build up following games of football. A massage in the evening and then the next day has me ready to lift weights again that night.
For my uses I tend to use my Welteayo gun in the lower to mid speed range and apply moderate to light pressure. Much more of either speed or force and it can become quite uncomfortable on my muscles which are already tender. As such I am glad I went for the less intense and severe vibration style gun!
Build quality is surprisingly solid for a ‘cheap knock off’ device – albeit let us not lose sight of the fact this was still around £70 which is a fairly sizeable outlay. It feels solid and reassuringly heavy in the hand.
One downside I have with mine is that the operating panel pops off the gun. I stick it back on when in use and the gun still functions, but obviously this is not desirable.
Swapping the heads out is really simple – the plastic heads are quite cheap feeling on their own but they just push in (or pull out) of the guns socket using moderate hand force. No screwing or fancy chucks needed. It’s quite an elegant system to be honest and I was quite impressed with it.
Charging the battery is really simple with the included mains charger plugging in to the base of the gun handle. Personally I think they should have put the charge socket somewhere else so I could stand the gun on its handle when charging instead of lying it down. It’s not a deal breaker. Notably the Theragun has a wireless charging stand which is a really nice touch and does differentiate from these cheaper massage guns – especially if you are working on clients or in a studio where you regularly use the device throughout the day and keeping it topped up & accessible is your priority.
Battery life seems to go on forever for a home user so no complaints from me on that.
In use the gun has a really nice fluid motion – it almost glides in and out. The accompanying noise is quiet enough to use while watching TV or listening to music and the pitch is quite soothing as it’s a fairly low, whirring tone.
The design – while virtually identical to the Hyperice Hypervolt – can make it difficult to self administer to the back and neck. I usually need to recruit the other half to help out with this. The more ergonomic design of the Theragun allows you to push & pull on it from multiple angles where the Hypervolt is a simple 90 degree handle only. This is the biggest downside to this particular cheap gun, and it would be the same with the Hypervolt too. If there was an otherwise identical gun with a Theragun-style handle set up I would consider that as a significant improvement.
So overall I am pleased that I have the Welteayo massage gun and it is a great device to have to hand when feeling the need to discharge some lactic acid or try and work some knots out of your muscles.
Why I picked the Welteayo Massage Gun
So what did I actually spend my own hard-earned cash on? I went for a (deep breath) “Massage Gun, WELTEAYO Handheld Deep Tissue Muscle Relief Massager, 20 Speeds Portable Personal Massage Gun for Exercising Pain Relief with 5 Heads, Quiet Glide”.
Yep – a bit of a mouthful. Why did I pick this cheap imitator versus the dozens of alternatives?
- Price – at £69.99 this was one of the cheaper massage guns available in the UK when I was buying. There seemed to be plenty which were more expensive which didn’t look much different so I just stuck to the cheap one
- Reviews – with 4.5 stars from 770 reviews on Amazon it seemed to be well thought of by some buyers at least. Scanning the reviews didn’t reveal any shockers either
- Noise level – very quiet with a claimed noise level of sub-38db (compared to the Theraguns which some claim is 80db+!)
- Stroke distance – at 14mm this is the same as the premium Hypervolt option
- Battery – rechargeable battery, I’m not too concerned about battery life as it stays in my house but it has proved to be excellent with 5-6 hours of use between charges
- Attachments – it came with 4 heads (I see the current version has 5 now though) which when ordering felt like a big deal. In reality I am spending 90% of my time with the default ball which I find most useful. The pointed bullet style attachment is great for really specific, deep knots. I’ve used the flat attachment intermittently but it has a tendency to start ‘slapping’. The others I don’t use. I would not prioritise number of heads if I was buying again.
- Simple to use – on and off switch then a simple plus or minus to adjust the speed. That is it. Idiot proof – as evidenced by the he fact I can use it…
- Carry case – the gun stays in my house, but I like the carry case for tucking it away neatly.
- PRIME delivery – At the time I was ordering I was quite keen to get my hands on it, so PRIME delivery it is…
Again you can check this gun out on Amazon here (*ad) – or go direct to their site if you prefer.
Theragun vs Hypervolt: Two different styles of massage
Only when looking in to buying my own massage device did I realise that the Hypervolt and Theragun were actually pretty different.
What are vibration massage guns about?
The Hypervolt is a vibration massage gun. This means it operates at a comparatively higher speed (or frequency) but the depth or throw of the device (basically how far it shoots out) is shallower than the percussive style instruments.
A vibration style massage will relax and stimulate blood flow to your targeted muscle. It will also reduce soreness by removing the build up of lactic acid from the area.
Speed wise the Hyperice Hypervolt operates at 30 – 53hz, this equates to around 1800 – 3200 jabs per minute! The stroke depth is around 12mm for the standard Hypervolt (across their full range you can go from 10mm – 14mm).
Vibration style devices are generally quieter and less severe in use. They can even be relaxing!
What are percussive massage guns about?
The Theragun is a percussive massage device. A percussive device is a slower but deeper massage as the massage head shoots out further compared to the vibration guns.
Take the Therabody Theragun Elite as an example – speed wise it ranges from 1750 – 2400 percussions per minute. The top end is clearly lower than the vibration style Hypervolt. But it has a deeper stroke length at 16mm (so 33% longer throw vs the Hypervolt)
The deeper stroke means the massage head is working the deeper muscle fibres resulting in a deeper massage. This deeper massage could open up further range of motion improvements as you can work deeper in to the muscle itself.
The trade off is it is a more brutal experience all round as the devices are harsher on the body and usually heavier and noisier. The stronger force is not very relaxing in use and closer to a workout!
Percussive vs Vibration: Which type of massage gun is best?
As ever it depends on your intended use.
If you are an amateur user looking to assist with general recovery (or simply experiment) then you may benefit more from a vibration / Hypervolt style gun that fits easily in to your existing routines and is simple & enjoyable to use.
Conversely if you are looking for more serious deeper massages, are a professional (or experienced) user and are happy with the invasive nature of a percussive device in both noise and recovery demands then the percussive / Theragun style device is a better bet.
Ultimately I chose a vibration gun for the following reasons:
- Lactic acid distribution – jumping from weights to sports to cycling was building up lactic acid in my legs. The vibration style gun is designed for exactly this situation
- Quieter – can use when relaxing in front of the TV or when working (from home!) without disturbing the rest of the household.
- Less invasive – as it is so light and quiet I find myself using it more often as I can do it while watching TV or socialising with the family. There are no ‘bad vibes’ about pulling it out of the cupboard and starting a massage – in fact on the lower settings it is quite relaxing. The Theragun seems to carry an element of fear / build up to using it as it is so much more aggressive. Reading online on various forums it seems users who have both saved the Theragun for the few occasions a heavy hitter was needed for the tightest of knots – but 9/10 times they reached for the Hypervolt / vibration style device.
- Easier to use – I am no masseuse, so I could be a danger to myself and others with either of these! The comparatively less severe device felt like a nice entry level bit of kit for an amateur like me which would minimise damage when trying to self-massage. Compare it to passing a driving test and jumping from a tiny hatchback in to a 5.0 Mustang! The Theragun with the longer strike distance can bounce around in inexperienced hands.
- No need for extended recovery time – I am looking for a device to sooth my aches and pains from other activities and get me back in to the gym or sports room as soon as possible. A percussive gun is more aggressive and requires a period of rest afterwards similar to a proper sports massage. Users who have both styles of gun report a period of soreness after using the Theragun due to the deeper penetration in to the muscle belly.
- Availability – there are a multitude of cheap vibration style massage guns available
The downside of the Hypervolt style gun is the design itself – it looks quite minimalist and cool, but in use the Theragun’s multi-grip design is better for self-administering treatment to your upper back and neck area.
This is more noticeable when working your muscles a bit harder as you really need to push and pull on the gun to get the maximum torque in to the muscle belly. The multi-grip Theragun style allows you to push, pull, twist and grab from almost any angle. The more simplistic Hypervolt is a bit more fiddly.
Is this enough to warrant going for the Theragun style over the Hypervolt design? For me it is not as I have laid out above. If you are exclusively looking to work your traps and neck you may want to consider this more carefully however.
What does a massage gun do?
OK so that is all well and good. But what does a massage gun actually DO?
The best way I can describe it is as a much more focused, controllable foam rolling equivalent.
I struggle to foam roll effectively as I end up flopping all over the place trying to work my muscles on the roller. I look a mess, it takes up a ton of room and it’s difficult to get the angle and pressures consistently right.
Using a hand held gun you can swap up angles and pressures with a flick of the wrist. Much easier to control and direct, but obviously costs a bit more than a simple foam roller.
Do massage guns even work?
Evidence for massage treatment helping with sports injuries is surprisingly light – in fact many evidence-based outlets will advise that there is NO supporting, measurable evidence for massages being useful.
My personal, SUBJECTIVE experience is somewhat different. Having had regular (6 weekly) sports massages by a professional for around a year (pre-COVID) and also having used a massage gun extensively (post-COVID) I find it does help me recover between sessions and dissipates lactic acid and muscle tightness effectively. I have even experimented with using the massage gun intra-workout (between sets during a session) to target my glutes and hamstrings when hitting heavy squats and found it helped me reduce rest time slightly – possibly placebo though…
So massage guns do – subjectively & utilising hand wavey ‘feels’ – work.
So is a massage gun worth it, then?
If you’ve found yourself feeling a bit tight or generally beaten up then a massage gun could help you.
Personally I found myself getting really tight calves and legs when I was mixing weight training with other sports. Something about the start and stop nature of contact sports seems to trigger muscle tightness for me, and I don’t tend to give my body much of a break as I’m straight in to the weight room the next day which isn’t helping things.
Adding to this I was commuting by bicycle 4 days a week. My legs needed a break!
BUT is it worth the cost? When I was playing sports and commuting by bicycle I was getting value for money from the cheap gun. When I am only weight training (so no contact sports or commuting) it doesn’t get nearly as much use.
Even when using it regularly, I would struggle to justify a premium gun (like a Theragun) when I am getting a virtually identical experience for a fraction of the cost.
Is a cheap massage gun worth it? For me when I was jumping between activities and never making time for stretching or foam rolling I would say it was worth it. If you are in a similar place I would say it is worth trying out.
That said, recently the gun has spent a lot of time in the cupboard as most activities have been stopped (CV19 related). At the moment I am simply doing weightlifting and other home-gym related activities and I am managing to keep my body fresh through proper warm ups and various cardio & active recovery regimes with no contact sports. If this sounds like your planned training regime, maybe you don’t need to spend the money at all.
If you are a foam rolling fan, or think you would benefit from a foam roller, then absolutely try a massage gun out. It’s a much easier way to accomplish a similar thing.