Foam Roller vs. Massage Gun: Which Is More Effective?
As massage guns muscle their way into our recovery protocols, are foam rollers obsolete? We find out which tool offers the superior fix
By 2027, we'll be spending almost half a billion pounds a year on massage guns. Still, despite percussive therapy making a big noise in the market, roller sales are expected to surge by 86% over the next half-decade.
To us, that sounds like people are still unsure which one is the better tool for recovery. That's why we've examined the benefits of both massage guns and foam rollers to finally end the debate. Like both of these tools, we hope that makes you go aah.
Using a massage gun for muscle soreness
Massage guns are a popular way to reduce pain and muscle soreness.
Massage guns (like the Theragun and the Hyperice Hypervolt) are favorites of pro athletes and elite trainers, but they actually have a lot of versatile functions. You can use a massage gun to help you release everyday stress and tension (like in your shoulders and upper back) and it can even help you sleep better.
Massage guns are also a favorite of fitness fiends, since they have some impressive benefits for fitness and recovery. They use a technique called percussive therapy to help move lactic acid (which is what makes you feel sore) out of the body faster.
You can think of percussive therapy as a super-charged massage -- the percussive force is fast and intense, which helps you feel less pain. Massage guns can feel weird at first, but once you get used to them, it feels like a massage. Below are a few key points when it comes to the benefits and drawbacks of a massage gun versus a foam roller.
What it can do:
- Deeper, intense massage due to the high force of the gun
- Target small, hard to reach areas (guns often come with various attachments to help you reach certain areas)
- Provide almost instant relief from tension, aches or soreness
What it can't do:
- Most guns don't have a gentle setting, and can feel intense if you're sensitive to massage
- Can't cover a large area of your body like a foam roller can
- People who work out seriously or play sports a lot
- People who need deep relief from tension and pain
- If you want targeted relief
Using a foam roller for muscle soreness
A foam roller helps move lactic acid out of the body, which can help reduce soreness.
Foam rollers were once those weird things that people forgot about in the corner of the gym, but now they're definitely having a moment. Foam rollers, like massage guns, also help move lactic acid out of the muscles and help you recover. The main purpose of foam rolling is to support myofascial release.
Foam rollers come in a variety of densities, textures and sizes. I personally have a long roller that is even big enough for me to lay on at home. It's a medium density and I use it to roll out my upper back, quads, hamstrings and to do shoulder massage exercises. I use it almost every day to "roll out the kinks," even if I don't work out since it feels like a massage. I have a small, travel-sized roller as well that I bring everywhere with me since it's great for targeting neck tension.
What it can do:
- Roll out or massage larger areas of your body like both of your legs at the same time
- More gentle on tight places or knots
- Cheaper and easy to do anywhere
- Support flexibility, pain relief and overall recovery
What it can't do:
- Give you a deep or intense massage like a massage gun (not as much force)
- Hard to use on small areas of the body (like the traps -- I like the massage gun on my traps since that area is virtually impossible to reach with a roller)
- Everyday use
- Tighter budgets
- Relief from everyday muscle soreness and tension
- People who workout moderately and want some relief or support with flexibility
One study showed that post-workout pounding could accelerate recovery by stimulating blood flow for longer – but evidence for this new tech is scarce.
Rolling during warm-ups can produce short-term improvements in performance, while a post-workout roll can reduce pain and cuts muscle recovery time.
The latest connected guns deliver relatively pain-free, fully-coached therapy sessions in 15 minutes. Knots don’t stand a chance.
Effective rolling takes at least 90 seconds per muscle group. The technique can be hard to master, and the process is usually uncomfortable or painful.
At £550, it’s the go-to device for the Fittest Man in History, Mat Fraser, with a bundle of attachments and warranty.
Lululemon Double Roller
Enjoy (well, wince through) two rollers for just £50. Use the softer edges for your arms and legs; the inner roll on your back.
Massage gun motors subject our ears to anything between a quiet buzz and the rumble of a Tube train. But most are as loud as the hum of of microwave.
Sessions with non-vibrating foam rollers can be completed in monk-like meditative silence – and one benefit pre-workout is activating your mind-muscle connection.
You’ll find cut-price guns from Amazon, but the cheapest from reliable brands cost more than even the most advanced foam roller. Necessity or luxury?
The booster massage gun has the same quality as theragun but the price is equivalent to most advanced foam roller
Basic rollers start from as little as a tenner. Connected, vibrating rollers with in-app coaching tech, such as a JaxJox FoamRoller Connect, can cost $300.
So Which Is Better: Foam Roller or Massage Gun?
There's no clear winner. But if you're undecided between the foam roller and the massage gun, the first thing to consider is your price range. "The foam roller is the much cheaper option," says Seguia. Like, much much cheaper. A quality foam roller will only cost you $10 to $20 bucks, while a massage gun will usually cost you closer to $250. (That said, there has been a recent influx of more affordable massage guns on the market.)
"If you're willing to drop the dough on the massage gun, go for it," he says. Though he adds, "I'm not convinced there's that significant a difference between the net benefits of a gun, compared to a roller." (And, it's worth noting, if you want a tool for targeted massage, you can buy this editor-approved recovery tool for just $6.)
Also, consider which device you'll actually use consistently. For either to be effective, it needs to be used at least three times a week, for 5 to 10 minutes (total, for your whole body) at a time, says Wickham. Neither does any good for your body collecting dust.
The bottom line: "Foam rollers and massage guns are a great piece of the puzzle, but they're just one piece," says Wickham. Rolling or massage-gunning alone won’t squash post-workout recovery time or drastically improve mobility, but these tools combined with the right movement, adequate sleep, proper nutrition, just might. (Related: Don't Believe These Widespread Mobility Myths)
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