Finding effective ways to ease out muscles before and after working out is essential if you want to prepare your muscles for exercise and speed up the recovery process. Whether that’s using foam rolling or using a massage gun, they are vital to your training program. Foam rolling and self-massage both work wonders to promote blood flow to the muscle tissue and to ease out knots and tension. But which is the most effective tool to alleviate muscle soreness and aid recovery?
What are foam rollers and massage guns?
Foam rollers are no longer just basic, smooth tubes. They come in a wide assortment of models with varying thicknesses, different sized and shaped knobbles, and different levels of firmness. Some even vibrate. They’ve been at thefoundation of both the professional and amateur athlete’s sports kit as they’re easy to use (once you get the hang of them) and they are relatively inexpensive.
Massage guns have only recently become the ‘must-have’ addition to the sports-massage scene but have proved to be a much-relied on piece of equipment for professional sports masseurs, physiotherapists and athletes alike. Theyuse percussion massage therapy to ease muscles and areas of tightness and pain with more in-depth, targeted action and control than a foam roller.
How do they work?
Before we go on to describe how they work, you need to know a little about fascia. Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue mainly made of collagen that encompasses all the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints in the body. You may have seen it on a chicken breast – it’s the thin, white layer. There are many reasons why fascia becomes tight or inflamed, from poor posture to injury and even lack of movement. Tight fascia affects your ability to move, limiting your mobility.Often the tightness you feel in your muscles is caused by tight, inflexible fascia and both foam rolling and massage guns can help to ‘loosen’ the fascia tissue.
With a foam roller, you simply position yourself on the roller and roll the muscle you are working on to and fro across the tube. Some rollers feature raised knobs of foam to create trigger points that work into the muscles and fascia to help loosen knots and ease tension. Foam rolling can often feel very uncomfortable, particularly on some areas of the body such as the top of the thighwhere the IT band runs down the leg. (It’s often advised to avoid this area as it can cause further inflammation and irritation). However, any discomfort you feel will recede as the muscles and fascia start to relax. The rolling action encourages self-myofascial release (SMR). Effective rolling will require rolling for at least 90 seconds for each muscle group and the technique can be hard to master.
Massage guns also work to provide SMR. However, the technique is much more advanced, as percussion therapy is used to release the fascia and muscle tissue. Percussion therapy is a pounding motion that works into the tissues thousands of times a minute. The repeated vibration stimulates blood flow and helps the muscle relax. It also warms up the muscle and improves its flexibility, whichsupports a better workout, faster recovery and makes you much less prone to injury. The best massage guns deliver relatively pain-free therapy sessions that take less than 15 minutes to complete.
Foam rolling before a workout has been shown to improve the range of motion in joints. The resultant increase in blood flow helps to increase flexibility, improve the recovery process after exercise and even minimise the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, as we’ve indicated earlier, rolling can be painful, especially if you’re new to foam rolling or roll the wrong areas.
Massage guns provide all the same benefits as a foam roller, but the results are felt much more quickly. Plus, as many guns provide a range of interchangeable heads, it’s possible to provide more targeted relief.
When should they be used?
The best time to use a foam roller is immediately after a workout as part of your cool-down routine. Using it at this time will reduce the effects of DOMS and enable you to recover more quickly. It can also prevent the fascia from binding together. You can also foam roll before exercise to increase the blood flow to the muscles.
Massage guns can also be used both pre and post-workout. Many athletes choose percussive therapy to prepare their muscles for exercise and reduce their chance of injury. They’ll also repeat the SMR after exercise to increase blood flow, cut down recovery time and ease out any potential knots in the muscles and fascia before they become a problem.
Foam rollers are a great option for anyone who is on a tight budget but, as with most things, you’ll get what you pay for. The least expensive will usually be very basic – probably just a small, smooth roller. As the price increases, the roller may have added features such as more protrusions. Vibrating, remote-controlled rollers are also available, but these can be very costly.
Although massage guns are typically more expensive than foam rollers, you can purchase models that cost less than some of the most expensive foam rollers. Depending on the type of massage gun you buy, you can expect it to come with a variety of interchangeable heads and operate at speeds of up to 3000 hits per minute. For example, the REBELTMPRO is the only massage gun with 7 distinct extensions so you can safely use it on different parts of the body and it comes with Duo-GripTM slip-resistant handles and 15 adjustable intensity levels. Generally, the more you spend, the more versatile and technical the gun will be.
In short, both tools can improve flexibility, reduce the chance of injury prior to working out and help with recovery afterwards.
However, foam rollers can’t offer the targeted SMR therapy that massage guns can, and you may find it difficult to target sore areas on the upper body, especially if the roller is large and bulky. Plus, their size and shape mean they’re not easy to carry around. However, if you’re on a strict budget and you just want general massage relief, a foam roller may be the best option for you.
A massage gun will allow you to delivera more targeted massage. It’s much easier to work on specific areas and the head attachment will be able to penetrate more deeply to massage trigger points and smooth out knots and fascia. They’re an excellent option for anyone who is recovering from an injury. And, if you train hard multiple times per week, they’re invaluable for aiding recovery, especially if you can’t get to a massage therapist regularly.
So, we would say, if you’re serious about your performance and boosting your recovery, adding a massage gun to your pre-and post-workout routines is the best option.