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Once upon a time, when I was a wee fitness newb, I used to smash a hard workout and just hope for the best afterward. Cooldown? Didn’t know her.
Several years later, if I’m skipping recovery, it’s probably because there’s an emergency of some sort (or it’s Friday and I’m gonna be late to happy hour…).
I’m so glad I learned about the importance of workout recovery, and more importantly, what’s beneficial and what’s pointless. Because with the right gear, which I’ll discuss in this guide to the best workout recovery tools—you might start to enjoy your cooldowns and rest days, too.
Why You Should Trust Us
I don’t claim to be an expert at many things, but I do know a thing or two about the dreaded delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and post-workout recovery products. I’ve tested dozens upon dozens of massage guns, foam rollers, muscle rubs, and other products under this umbrella; and, I’ve interviewed many experts in this space, from physical therapists to the former CEO of NormaTec Recovery.
Best Muscle Recovery Tools of 2023
- Best Massage Gun: Theragun Prime
- Best Compression Boots: Hyperice NormaTec 2.0 Recovery Boots
- Best Foam Roller: TriggerPoint Grid 13” Foam Roller
- Best Vibrating Foam Roller: Theragun WAVE
- Best Foot Roller: Power Plate DualSphere
- Best Electric Muscle Stimulator: Compex 2.0
- Best Muscle Rub: Tiger Balm
- Best Recovery Tool for Runners: Dimple Ball
Best Massage Gun: Theragun Prime
Good for: People who want a deep-tissue massage whenever they need it.
Best Massage Gun
The Theragun Prime is Therabody's most basic massage gun, but don't let that fool you: It still provides intense percussive power, reaching an amplitude of 16 millimeters into the body's soft tissue. Equipped with three speed settings and four interchangeable massage head attachments, the Theragun Prime is a solid-gold choice for the everyday athlete.
My Favorite Things:
- Deep-tissue treatment: reaches 16 mm into soft tissue
- Customizable speed ranges via Therabody app
- Ergonomic triangular handle
- Not the quietest massage gun option
- Doesn’t come with a hardshell case
- Pricey ($300), but is a good value
I’ve tested many Theragun models over the last several years, starting with the brand’s second-generation models that sounded like power drills. Back then, I wouldn’t recommend Theragun because the power wasn’t worth the noise.
Now, though, Therabody has managed to keep the power but minimize the noise, and the Theragun Prime exemplifies craftsmanship and innovation. This massage gun is hands-down the best value when looking at percussive massage devices.
The Prime offers deep-tissue treatment with an impressive 16-millimeter amplitude and 30-pound stall force; it sports a powerful brushless motor with a 2-hour battery life; it features Theragun’s recognizable triangular ergonomic handle; it comes with four dense massage head attachments; and it boasts customizable speed ranges and recovery protocols you can control via the Therabody app.
If you don’t want to use the app, the Theragun Prime has five built-in speeds of 1,750, 1,900, 2,100, 2,200, and 2,400 percussions per minute (PPM).
I won’t call the Prime a budget-friendly massage gun, but if you’re looking for the best combination of features and price, the Prime is the massage gun for you. Therabody does offer financing through Affirm to soften the $300 price tag.
Related: How to Use a Massage Gun the Right Way
Best Compression Boots: Hyperice NormaTec 2.0 Recovery Boots
Good for: People who prefer hands-off recovery and want to enhance blood circulation.
Best Compression Boots
The high tech, low stress solution for quick, comprehensive leg recovery. Whether your focus is running, climbing, cross-training, or power lifting, wearing NormaTec’s electronically stimulated leg compression boots after an intense workout can help rejuvenate the muscle tissue and dramatically reduce tightness and soreness—meaning less downtime and greater productivity.The NormaTec Pulse Leg Recovery System includes a lightweight, portable control unit that allows you to adjust the intensity levels, sending up to 110 mmHg of compression into the integrated tubing of the nylon leg boots. The process mirrors natural occurring waveform flows in the body, and works painlessly while you rest. A 12 volt power supply and all other necessary components are included in your order.NormaTec Pulse System Specifications:Control Unit:Lightweight (3.6LB) and compact (9" H x 5" W x 4" D) for handheld use Easy-to use digital interface Custom compression levels from 30 to 110 mmHg Universal electrical compatibility, external 12V 5A power supply Rechargeable internal battery for up to 2 hours consecutive useCompression BootsFull-length leg coverage with overlapping segments for balanced compression of entire leg Made from durable nylon Convenient zipper for quick removal and easy cleaning Compression tubing already fully integrated into boots
My Favorite Things:
- 7 levels of compression
- Short, standard, and long boot sizes available
- Carrying case neatly packs away all components
- Big, bulky, and hard to travel with
- Compression measurement (in mmHg) not specified online
- Expensive ($700-900 depending on where you buy)
NormaTec compression boots became popular in 2019 when they began appearing in professional and college sports locker rooms and trendy recovery lounges in New York City and Los Angeles.
What began as a medical device company manufacturing pneumatic compression boots to help combat lymphedema, a type of chronic swelling, turned into a fitness craze. When I interviewed the then-CEO of NormaTec, Gilad Jacobs, back in 2019, I learned that the name is actually a tribute to his grandmother Norma. (So sweet!)
Over time, NormaTec began expanding business from the healthcare industry to the sports industry, and today, this computerized massage machine is a popular direct-to-consumer device.
These galactic-looking boots may look odd or complex, they’re actually pretty simple: Simply wiggle into the boots, zip them up, attach the air hose, and set the timer and intensity level. Then, sit back and watch as the four air chambers alternate compressing and decompressing for an air-powered massage.
The boots feature seven intensity levels along with “Zone Boost Technology,” which provides extra time and pressure in a particular zone of the legs. You can adjust this through the wired control unit.
Compression is measured in mmHg, or millimeters of mercury, so I attempted to find specs on this for the NormaTec boots. (For example, compression socks or stockings may specify they provide 20-30 mmHg of compression.)
However, I couldn’t find anything, and I’m disappointed yet not surprised, because NormaTec was acquired by Hyperice, which regularly fails to provide specs like this. (You can learn more about this in my Theragun vs. Hypervolt in-depth comparison.)
If I’m going based solely on feel, I can say the compression on the NormaTec Boots is good and it feels strong at the higher settings. Starting at level five, it really begins to squeeze. I enjoy the higher settings, but people who have more sensitive skin or muscles may not.
The boots are made of an ultra-durable ripstop material, so it’ll resist damage or fraying unless something crazy happens, like your dog gets ahold of them and goes to town.
It’s hard to rate NormaTec boots or any compression boots on ergonomics because, by nature, they’re awkward. All things considered, though, NormaTec 2.0 Legs are easy to use and are comfortable once you get into them. The standard boot size is long enough to fit people with a 34-in inseam, or people 5-foot-3-inches to 6-foot-3-inches.
It’s a little unclear how and where to purchase the short, long, or extra-wide boot options. In the Q&A section for the product listing on Amazon, Hyperice answered a question saying that customers can purchase short and long boots,
On the Hyperice website, it looks like you can buy short, standard, and long boots, but I do not see this option on Amazon. There’s also an extra-wide boot option, but Hyperice answered a question on Amazon saying that you’ll have to call for those. The control unit weighs 3.4 pounds and feels like a giant battery in your hand, which it pretty much is.
I wouldn’t exactly say the NormaTec legs are easy to travel with, because they’re big and somewhat heavy to carry around, but all things considered, they do fit nicely into a case with a rubberized handle.
Best Foam Roller: TriggerPoint Grid 13” Foam Roller
Good for: People who want a good ol’-fashioned workout recovery tool on the cheap.
Best Foam Roller
TriggerPoint’s Grid STK literally adds a new dimension to the handheld foam roller, with an innovative 3-D design that better simulates the experience of an actual therapeutic massage. The Grid STK includes a pair of easy-grip handles (one on each end of the roller) to allow for more precise, targeted treatment of specific trouble spots—large or small-- anywhere on the body.Consistent foam rolling, or self myofascial release (SMR), before or after a workout can help relax overworked muscles, improve circulation, reduce joint pain, and get athletes back in the gym faster. As a portable, water-resistant roller that fits in any gym bag, the Grid STK is a versatile mobility tool that can immediately benefit any athlete.For the same product with added firmness, see the Grid STK X.Specifications:Length: 21" Diameter: 2.5" Weight: 1LB 3-D surface design 2 easy grip handles Can be used seated or standing
My Favorite Things:
- Texture digs into soft tissue, but not to the point of pain
- 500 lb weight capacity
- High-density foam and rigid plastic core will resist compression
- 5” diameter is too thick for rolling feet
- Not super travel-friendly
This is as good as foam rollers get in my opinion. I think the Trigger Point Grid foam roller provides the perfect amount of pressure: It doesn’t have a smooth surface but it’s not painful like the Rumble Roller, which has knobby thumb-like bumps.
I suppose it depends on what you want, but I like foam rolling sessions to feel good and productive—I don’t want to be wincing in pain the whole time.
On sore muscles, the Grid is perfect; on recovered/not sore muscles, I sometimes feel like I have to dig in quite hard, but I’d prefer that over a roller where I feel like I can’t apply force or simply lie on it.
At 13 inches long, this foam roller is more than adequate for full-body rolling and the rigid, hollow plastic core is a good defense against permanent compression. The 5.5-inch diameter is perfect for rolling all muscle groups, except the arches of your feet (it’s a little too big for that).
It’s lightweight and easy to move around, but this isn’t a mini foam roller, so don’t expect it to be uber-easy to travel with. It will take up a good amount of space in any bag or suitcase.
All foam rollers will compress some over time, but Trigger Point historically makes foam rollers that last for what seems like forever. I’ve had the same Grid foam roller for over five years. The outer layer is made of EVA foam, which is what the midsole of most running shoes is constructed of, so you can trust that it will resist getting smushed due to your body weight. It also has a 500-pound weight capacity, and few users will come close to meeting that.
RELATED: How to Choose Running Shoes
For $35, this is one of the best recovery tools you can buy. Trigger Point is a big name in the space for a reason: They make good stuff. This particular roller has been on Amazon since 2009 and is to date a best seller, so that should say enough.
Best Vibrating Foam Roller: Theragun WAVE
Good for: People who love to blend the traditional with the new wave (see what I did there?).
Best Vibrating Foam Roller
Anyone looking to take foam rolling to the next level will appreciate the Theragun WAVE, a vibrating foam roller intended to enhance recovery. The WAVE’ s high-density foam is covered in a waved texture adding varied angle pressure to muscles and improving traction. Choose from five vibration modes to accelerate your warm-up or recovery by releasing tension found in muscles. The WAVE is Bluetooth-enabled and connects to the Theragun app, which provides a library of recovery workouts. Through the app you can control vibration modes (which you can do on the device itself as well), save workouts, and search for recovery routines based on the body part you intend to target. It's truly a great resource for new and seasoned athletes. Measuring 12 inches in length and 5.1 inches in diameter, the WAVE is intended to support full-body relief. The rechargeable battery is said to last 3 hours of continuous use, so no need to worry about it losing juice when using it on the go. While the WAVE is relatively quiet to the user, reviewers have noted that the vibrations can be heard through the floor, meaning it may not be ideal for apartment dwellers.
My Favorite Things:
- 5 vibration settings/speed levels
- Comes with a bag for traveling
- 12 inches long; great for full-body rolling
- No real texture to the surface
- Doesn’t dig into soft tissue
- Honestly not sure if vibrating foam rollers work better than regular foam rollers
Honestly: meh. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Theragun WAVE, but I wasn’t overly impressed with any other vibrating foam roller options, either. Of what’s available, I think the WAVE provides the best bang for your buck.
It’s got five vibration settings/speed levels, but it’s important to remember that this is a vibrating foam roller, not a percussive therapy device. Despite the fact that it’s a Therabody product, it does not work like a Theragun and you shouldn’t expect it to. The “innovative wave texture” doesn’t do anything in my opinion. It just feels like a smooth-surfaced foam roller.
I’m not totally sure the vibration adds anything on top of the benefits a regular foam roller brings, especially because the WAVE has a flat surface rather than a bumpy surface that can dig into the muscles. Also, I’m pretty sure you can hear this thing through the floor if you live in an apartment, which is not ideal. That’s not a flaw to just the WAVE, though, as this would be the case with any vibrating roller.
It’s made of high-density polyurethane foam, so it should last and avoid permanent compression like some cheaper foam rollers. The outer material is ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, and is hypoallergenic according to Therabody, which is a nice bonus for those worried about skin irritation.
I mean, all in all, it’s a foam roller. It’s well-constructed and 12 inches in length, so it works for full-body rolling.
It comes with a nice canvas pouch to hold the roller and the charging cable. It weighs a little over 3 pounds and has a battery life of 3 hours, both of which make this a decently travel-friendly option.
I’m torn on novelties like vibrating foam rollers because they are cost-prohibitive for so many people and I personally think a regular foam roller that doesn’t cost over $100 works just fine. In comparison to other vibrating rollers on the market, the Theragun WAVE provides more value by having more speed settings and coming with travel-friendly accessories.
Best Foot Roller: Power Plate DualSphere
Good for: People who need to dig deep into specific pain points.
Best Foot Roller
If you need targeted muscle relief for your feet--hello, runners--you need the Power Plate DualSphere. This contoured, vibrating muscle masher is shaped so that it digs deeply into fascia and muscle tissue, enabling it to break up adhesions and release trigger points.After a session with the Power Plate DualSphere, your muscles will be ready to take on your next tough workout.Thanks to the "peanut" shape, as so many customers lovingly stated on Amazon, the DualSphere can simultaneously massage the arch and the outside of your foot; the muscles on either side of your spine, and your medial and lateral calf muscles.Weighing less than 2 pounds, the Power Plate DualSphere is easily portable. It's small enough to toss into a backpack or carry-on luggage.
My Favorite Things:
- Contoured shape digs into muscles from multiple angles
- Textured surface prevents it from rolling around
- Four vibration speed settings
- Amazing for feet, calves, and neck
- First speed setting is hardly noticeable
- Doesn’t come with a carrying case
- This is a vibration massager, not a percussion massager
This is my top pick for “best foot roller,” because it works wonders on the arches, but it’s a great tool for more than just your feet.
The DualSphere provides a good blend of manual power and vibration. Due to the contoured shape you don’t actually even need the vibration to get a good massage. The “peanut” shape digs into muscle tissue from different angles. The vibration is an added bonus if you want it, and there are four speeds to choose from.
I enjoyed using the DualSphere on my feet, calves, glutes, hamstrings, lower/mid/upper back, traps, and neck. It’s amazing for sore feet—it’s been an absolute lifesaver for me in the midst of triathlon training, when I’m running about 25 miles per week and biking 60 to 70 miles per week.
It also works phenomenally well along the spine, including the neck, so it’s much more than just a foot roller and will relieve muscle soreness throughout the whole body.
I will say the DualSphere is a little hard to maneuver when using it on the upper back. I found myself wiggling a lot to keep it in place between the shoulder blades, but that’s the only time I had trouble. Otherwise, the contour is amazing and I love that it massages muscles from multiple angles. Especially for the feet—it hits the arch and the outside of your foot at the same time, which is awesome.
The three-hour battery life is on par with other similar massage rollers.
The DualSphere seems durable: It has a really hard core and no actual foam, so it’ll resist compression unlike a true foam roller. The textured outer is made of a rubber compound.
One of my favorite things about the DualSphere? It’s pretty small and packable. The dimensions are 8.82 inches long by 6.18 inches high by 3.98 inches wide, and it weighs under 2 pounds. You can easily toss it into a backpack, gym bag, carry-on, or whatever. I do wish it came with a drawstring bag to keep the charger and device together, but that’s me being nitpicky.
Best Electric Muscle Stimulator (EMS Device): Compex Sport Elite 2.0
Good for: People who want supreme versatility in an e-stim device.
Best EMS Device
Second only to the Compex Wireless Muscle Stimulator in terms of advanced features, the Sport Elite electrode device includes four active training programs and five additional programs to help you maximize the benefits of a workout from warm-up to recovery.This dynamic tool is recommended for experienced, dedicated athletes looking to reach another level. From weightlifters and football players to sprinters and cyclists, any high-performance athlete can benefit from Compex's sophisticated but easy-to-use system. The complete Sport Elite kit comes with 12 gel electrodes, four lead wires, a battery charger, and the Muscle Stimulator control—pre-set with nine unique Compex programs. No matter your goals, this revolutionary technology lets athletes choose the type of electro-stimulation they want and to safely target the muscle groups that need it.Pre-Warmup Program: Low frequency with no contraction of the muscle. Intended to oxygenate muscles before a workout to help prevent cramping. Resistance Program: Works fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers similar to effects of light weight training. Endurance Program: Works slow-twitch muscle fibers to help promote blood flow. Strength Program: Works fast-twich fibers at max power without putting stress on the joints and tendons. Explosive Strength Program: Geared at producing short bursts of power without the stress and movement of traditional training. Potentiation Program: Intended to help muscles warmup without unneeded stress or fatigue. Active Recovery Program: Creates muscle twitch intended to help clear lactic acid and relax the tissue for post-workout recovery. Recovery Plus Program: Low frequency with no muscle contraction. Designed to safely stimulate fatigued muscles post-workout. Massage Program: Targeted electrotherapy to help develop the blood capillary network of the exposed muscles.Specifications:Stimulator Control w/ 9 Programs Battery Charger User Manual CD Electrode Placement Guidebook Carrying Case (4) Easy Snap Electrode Lead Wires 2"x4" Easy Snap Gel Electrodes (2 packs of 2)* 2"x2" Easy Snap Gel Electrodes (2 packs of 4)*
My Favorite Things:
- 10 different programs (EMS and TENS)
- Each program has 5 progression levels
- Comes with 12 sticky electrodes
- FDA-cleared device for chronic pain relief
- Cords are long and can get unwieldy
- Doesn’t arrive charged
- Hard to maximize use on your own (helpful to have a friend place the electrodes)
Electric muscle stimulation (EMS) is a type of physical therapy that sends electrical currents through your soft tissue, including skin, fascia, and muscle tissue. These currents are thought to block pain signals from the body to the brain, enhance blood circulation, and potentiate muscle fibers, which means to increase performance or strength.
The Compex Sport Elite 2.0 has 10 programs and five levels of progression, meaning it has something for everyone in every stage of the muscle recovery journey. You can use the lower settings when you’re really sore and bump it up when your muscles aren’t as tender.
This particular Compex device offers both EMS and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which are two different therapies. Between that, the 10 programs to choose from, and five progression levels, there’s a lot of versatility packed into one device.
Once you get everything set up, the Compex is easy to use. The controls on the device are simple and easy to read. However, setup is a bit of a hassle (but that’s true for every e-stim device). There are just lots of cables and getting the sticky electrodes on can be a pain, especially if you’re trying to use the device on your back.
It helps to have someone around to stick them on in the right place and attach the wires. It’s definitely doable on your own, but I did experience some frustration. Compared to PowerDot, I like the Compex better thanks largely to the longer wires. This makes it easier to adjust without pulling the cables off of the electrodes.
As far as EMS devices go, the build quality feels average. The controller is made of plastic, but it shouldn’t be a concern unless you’re throwing the device around. It has an LCD display. The wires are coated in rubber and the sticky electrode pads are thick, so they should last a long time before you have to reorder.
I like the electrode pads on Compex more than on any other e-stim device I’ve tried. They’re also much stickier than those that come with PowerDot units; I had no issue with them peeling up or slipping.
The Compex Sport Elite 2.0 comes with a soft drawstring bag to place control, cables, charger, electrodes, and guides inside. All in, it weighs just a couple of pounds and can easily fit in a backpack.
Best Muscle Rub: Tiger Balm
Good for: People who want near-instant relief from sore muscles.
Best Muscle Rub
Tiger Balm is widely used by athletes and casual gym goers alike for deep and superficial pain relief. It's a topical over-the-counter pain reliever with key ingredients including the analgesics methyl salicylate, camphor, and menthol. When applied, the balm feels warm but then provides a cooling sensation to soothe the muscles. Tiger Balm is available in 18 different product types ranging from gels and sprays to patches and creams. It can be used for a great variety of issues, including but not limited to: muscle and joint pain, arthritis, backaches, strains, sprains and bruises. Choose the product type that specifically meets your muscular needs.Buyers love the fast-acting relief provided by Tiger Balm. What’s more, many report relief lasting up to five hours. The biggest issue noted among reviews is the smell and residue on fingers after application of some products. Most people are referring to the odor of menthol when talking about the smell of Tiger Balm.
My Favorite Things:
- Provides quick relief
- Comes in a variety of options (cream, gel, spray, patches)
- Provides a cooling sensation
- Smell is quite strong
- Some people may experience skin irritation
- Some forms can melt during shipping
I loved Tiger Balm before even trying it thanks to their slogan: “Pain Happens. Suffering Is Optional.”
Marketing aside, this stuff is really bonkers—in a good way. There are so many topical analgesics to choose from, and it can be really daunting to pick one when so many have the same active ingredients.
The active ingredients in Tiger Balm include camphor and menthol. Camphor is a waxy, transparent terpene (an aromatic compound found in plants) that’s been used for centuries as an analgesic. Like menthol, which is another terpene, camphor produces a cooling sensation on the skin.
Tiger Balm’s formula also includes a few other plant oils, but camphor and menthol are the two active ingredients that produce the warm-then-cool tingling sensation associated with topical pain relief.
I prefer Tiger Balm over other muscle rubs because it seems to work faster and last longer. Also, I tend to get more use out of a small tin of Tiger Balm than a tube of IcyHot or Biofreeze—a little bit of Tiger Balm goes a very long way.
Thanks to the additional plant oils in the formula, Tiger Balm has a subtler smell than a topical pain reliever made with just menthol and, say, glycerin and water.
Best Recovery Tool for Runners: Dimple Ball
Good for: People who want something simple and portable, but still effective.
Best Recovery Tool for Runners
Including recovery and mobility exercises in your training routine is paramount to improving overall performance. The Dimple Ball is a portable and highly effective mobility tool offered at a very reasonable price. This ball is slightly larger than a lacrosse ball but equally as firm. With small indentations over the entire surface (hence the name), the Dimple Ball works by targeting and loosening up muscle knots, increasing circulation and decreasing overall muscle tension. The Dimple Ball is extremely portable making it easy to get your recovery in wherever you train. Or, use it as part of your warm-up to prepare to increase blood flow to the muscles and get the most optimal range of motion possible to perform exercises with proper form. It can be used on almost any body part, so it’s incredibly versatile.The Dimple Ball can be purchased in a small size, 3.5 inches in diameter, or a large size, which measures 3.8 inches in diameter. Can’t decide which is right for you? Purchase the Dimple Ball Kit and get them both. Featuring a bright neon green color, the Dimple Ball is highly visible so no need to rummage through your gym bag to find it. There are a few reviews that reported it left bruises and is slippery when sweaty (not much of a surprise there) but, overwhelmingly the Dimple Ball gets positive reviews.
My Favorite Things:
- Slightly bigger than a typical lacrosse ball
- Textured surface means it won’t roll away
- Bruising may occur with first uses
- Slippery on some surfaces
- Can pull body hair during use
Massage balls represent the birth of muscle mashing as it relates to functional fitness. If you walked into any CrossFit gym between 2010 and 2015—and probably still if you walk into one today—you’d find a bucket of lacrosse balls.
Lacrosse balls are a simple but effective tool. They’re inexpensive and portable, and they don’t require a battery or use of a motor. Due to their size and density, lacrosse balls can dig deeply into soft tissue.
The Dimple Ball is similar to a lacrosse ball, but it’s slightly larger and has a textured surface. I find the larger diameter to make rolling the upper back and glutes more comfortable, as it disperses the pressure across a larger surface area. The dimpled surface means it won’t roll away while you change positions or take a break.
Depending on the finish of your flooring or wall paint, the Dimple Ball may slide around beneath your body a bit more than you anticipate. Also, beware of loose head hair and body hair, as the rubbery texture may pull at it. I usually wear a tight tank top or t-shirt while rolling with the Dimple Ball, because it prevents hair-pulling and loose clothing can get bunched up beneath the ball.
I love this tool because the intensity of the massage is totally up to you: Whether you’re lying on the Dimple Ball or sandwiching it between your body and a wall, you control the depth of the massage.
Just keep in mind: If you’ve never performed muscle-mashing with a lacrosse ball or similar tool before, you may experience minor bruising as a result of increased pressure and blood flow to the treatment site. Take care not to re-roll over bruises before they’re fully healed.
Other Muscle Recovery Tools We Researched
In addition to all of the products we recommend as the best recovery tools, there are plenty of others we’ve tested and researched. Here are several that didn’t make the list, but deserve a shout-out.
Our team has collectively tested dozens of massage guns. This section briefly rounds up some massage guns we considered for inclusion in our guide to the best recovery tools.
Theragun makes the most powerful massage guns available directly to consumers, no doubt. You can’t argue with the specs, and that’s why Theragun consistently tops our lists related to workout recovery tools.
Read our full Theragun review of all four models to learn more.
Hypervolt is the most prevalent Theragun competitor, and Hypervolt massage guns are good—but not as good as Theraguns, which you can objectively see in our Theragun vs. Hypervolt in-depth comparison.
To learn more about Hypervolt models, read our full Hyperice Hypervolt review and Hypervolt Go review.
More Massage Guns
Our team has extensively tested nearly 50 massage guns, and we round up our favorites—plus more than 20 models that didn’t make the cut—in our best massage guns roundup. There, you’ll also find an in-depth massage gun buying guide.
Pneumatic compression suits have become more popular in recent years thanks largely to NormaTec’s partnerships with college and professional sports teams, which brought this type of therapy into the mainstream. What was once reserved for elite athletes and hospital patients (yup, pneumatic compression was originally used for blood clot prevention and lymphatic drainage) is now available to anyone.
Compex Ayre Wireless Recovery Boots
Compex makes great EMS devices, but I haven’t tested the brand’s compression boots, so I can’t say for sure how these work. I’d love to get my hands on them, because the specs look great: 3-hour battery life, compression up to 120 mmHg, compact carrying case, wireless control unit, and four compression chambers that can be filled independently or simultaneously.
Therabody RecoveryAir JetBoots
Therabody acquired RP Sports, a manufacturer of pneumatic compression devices, in November 2020. I’ve used the JetBoots and, while they work well, they’re lacking in one key department compared to the NormaTec boots: the JetBoots have four compression levels versus NormaTec’s seven.
Rapid Reboot Recovery System
I haven’t tried these compression boots, but Rapid Reboot is a pretty big brand name in pneumatic compression. My first impression: inclusive sizing! These are the only compression boots to my knowledge that come in more than three sizes. Rapid Reboot offers sizes XS, S, M, L, and XL. These boots feature 10 compression settings, four chambers, and a seamless interior.
There are quite literally hundreds of foam roller options out there, and many of them are identical aside from branding. Here are a few other notable foam rollers we researched and tested, but didn’t make the list.
Hyperice Vyper Go
Coop has a Hyperice Vyper Go and loves it. The contour is what sets this vibrating foam roller apart from others. It’s smaller than the Theragun WAVE, with a length of 10.6 inches, but you may find it digs into the muscles more thanks to the contour. The Vyper Go has three vibration settings and a 2-hour battery life.
Hyperice Vyper 3
This is Hyperice’s full-sized vibrating foam roller. It’s slightly larger than the Theragun WAVE at 13 inches in length, but it has fewer speed settings (three, just like the Vyper Go). It has a slight contour compared to the WAVE, which isn’t objectively better or worse.
This wouldn’t be a guide to workout recovery tools without including the Rumble Roller. This foam roller has been around since the beginning of the foam rolling movement. You’re likely to find one in any CrossFit gym you step foot into. The Rumble Roller features thumb-like bumps on the surface that dig into muscle tissue—and I mean really, really dig. That’s precisely why it’s not my top pick for foam rollers: Although it works, I believe it’s too painful for most people to use consistently.
Most consumer EMS devices are pretty similar, but here are two popular ones aside from the Compex we think are worth calling out.
Coop’s a big fan of the Marc Pro. In fact, it’s his favorite EMS device, but I’ve extensively used the Compex and have had great results—and the Compex Sport Elite 2.0 costs much less than both Marc Pro models. The original Marc Pro costs $700, while the Marc Pro Plus costs $1,400. The Compex Sport Elite 2.0 costs less than $500 and is often on sale for 20 to 40% off.
The PowerDot 2.0 comes with all the bells and whistles: Bluetooth connectivity, in-app control, and personalized recovery protocols. However, there’s one thing stopping the PowerDot 2.0 from being my favorite EMS device—the cords are hella short. I find myself getting frustrated when using the PowerDot because the electrodes and corresponding wires are difficult to adjust.
There are tons of muscle rubs and topical pain relievers available over-the-counter at any local drugstore. Most of them use a combination of the same ingredients as Tiger Balm, my favorite muscle rub, but here’s a quick look at why these didn’t make the top list.
IcyHot is a staple name in the muscle recovery space. The main ingredient in the IcyHot formula is menthol, versus the camphor in Tiger Balm. I like IcyHot and have used it plenty of times, but in my opinion, the “hot” part of IcyHot can actually be too intense and somewhat painful. Still, it’ll temporarily relieve muscle pain.
Biofreeze is another topical pain reliever that includes menthol as the main ingredient. It works well enough and feels similar to Tiger Balm in use. However, I found Biofreeze to have a stronger smell than Tiger Balm, which is why I didn’t choose it for the top picks list.
Penetrex is unique in that it’s a topical pain relief cream that doesn’t include menthol—thus it doesn’t produce the typical smell associated with these creams. The active ingredients are arnica, vitamin B6, glucosamine, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which is touted as a pain reliever for arthritis—although evidence is scarce. Penetrex is really expensive compared to Tiger Balm, at about $20 for 2 ounces, compared to Tiger Balm’s approximate $10 to 2 ounces. Prices change often, though, so keep an eye out for sales.
How We Picked and Tested
Every item that appears on the top list in this guide has been in my hands. Not only have I thoroughly analyzed specs and customer reviews of these products, but I have actually used them in my own home after and in between workouts to speed up recovery and relieve muscle tension.
And trust me—I need them. I wrote this article at the peak of a 12-week triathlon training program, so during my testing of these products, I was able to fully understand how they helped. Across product categories, I was looking for specific scenarios: trigger point relief, mobility improvements, decrease in soreness, performance enhancement, or simply temporary pain relief so I could get some sleep.
I incorporated these items into my routine over the course of several weeks and took detailed notes throughout the process so I could bring this guide to you.
Why You Should Add Muscle Recovery Tools to Your Home Gym
Workout recovery is just as important as working out itself. Every avid exerciser should have a dedicated muscle recovery routine, whether it consists of using specialized tools or not.
Although I tend to adopt a “less is more” attitude when it comes to workout recovery—I love a good lacrosse ball and stretching session—I do geek out over gear and I think it can help many people feel more motivated to consistently prioritize recovery.
I mean, a post-workout massage is generally more enjoyable than doing post-workout mobility drills, even if it’s by way of a percussive device.
Aside from the fact that dedicated recovery tools make the process feel less complex and intimidating, they also offer targeted relief. As good as stretching and walking are, these modalities can only do so much—they can’t loosen up a trigger point like a massage gun or electrically block pain signals like an EMS device.
Best Muscle Recovery Tools Buying Guide
Quite frankly, there are so many muscle recovery tools out there that the average person would tire of sorting through them all.
So, it’s helpful to start with a specific modality in mind—someone interested in “muscle mashing” (AKA myofascial release) needn’t concern themselves with muscle rubs or EMS devices.
Here, I break down how to search for the best muscle recovery tools in four different categories.
For Self-Myofascial Release
Self-myofascial fascial release is a type of soft-tissue therapy that intends to break up adhesions, or spots of tense tissue, in the fascia.
Fascia is a type of connective tissue “webbing” that exists all throughout the body and helps keep muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and organs in place. It can become tight and painful, resulting in a feeling of soreness, and manual manipulation can provide some relief.
Helpful SMR tools include:
- Foam rollers and vibrating foam rollers
- Massage guns
- Roller sticks
- Other rolling tools, like the Roll Recovery R8
- Massage balls (like the Dimple Ball we recommend above)
Tools with motors (like massage guns) or springs (like the Roll Recovery R8) produce more power, and thus penetrate tissues more deeply, than regular foam rollers, massage balls, and sticks. For more information on self-myofascial release, read our guide to foam rollers vs. massage guns.
Compression therapy is an age-old tactic for manipulating blood circulation as well as reducing fluid retention and inflammation in the limbs, although compression stockings used to dominate the market. These days, if you search “compression for muscle recovery” in Google, the web will spit back a slew of mechanical compression boots like the NormaTec boots I described above.
If you’re interested in adding compression boots (or entire compression suits) to your workout recovery routine, these basic specs should be part of your search:
- Multiple compression levels
- Segmented compression (meaning the boots have seams and the chambers fill with air in a pattern)
- At least a two-hour battery life on the control unit
- A carrying case
- Boots constructed of an easy-to-clean and durable material, like a thick nylon blend
Oh, and if you’re not quite ready to drop $500 to $1,000, compression socks and wraps can get you through in the meantime.
For Hot/Cold Therapy
Applying heat and/or coldness to your muscles is a great way to increase or constrict blood flow, respectively, both of which can enhance muscle recovery.
Using temperature as a muscle recovery tactic can be really inexpensive or very pricey. For example, muscle rubs that produce heating and cooling sensations on the skin don’t cost very much money and can be a fantastic way to distract you from muscle pain. Heating pads and wraps and cold showers don’t cost much, either.
However, things like whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) and fancy ice bath tubs (like The Cold Plunge, which we’re working on getting set up at our Springfield, Missouri, fitness testing center) cost more than the average exerciser is willing to spend.
It all comes down to budget, so the best way to approach this is to choose a product in your budget that works with your lifestyle. For instance, if you need something portable, a muscle rub or heating pad is a good option.
Disclaimer: Please don’t use heat on injuries such as muscle strains, sprains, bruises, or wounds. When heat is applied to the body, it increases blood circulation, which may cause more swelling around an existing injury. Contact your doctor about any therapies related to an injury.
For Electric Muscle Stimulation
Electric muscle stimulation, or e-stim, is a type of physical therapy that sends electrical currents through your body’s soft tissues (such as skin, fascia, and muscle tissue) to increase blood circulation, block pain signals, decrease muscle spasms, and increase muscle strength.
Consumer e-stim devices are passive, meaning you apply the electrodes and then sit or lie down while the machine works. If you’re interested in buying an e-stim device such as the Compex Sport Elite 2.0, our top pick, here are some specs to look for:
- Multiple programs, such as for recovery, pain relief, and performance enhancement
- Several progression levels to account for soreness level and pain tolerance
- Multiple current types, such as TENS, neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), and/or interferential current (IFC)
- Cords that don’t tangle
- Many included electrodes and an easy way to reorder them
- A carrying case or bag to hold all of the components
- A battery life of at least two hours
Commonly asked questions about muscle recovery are:
What is the best way to recover from a workout?
There are a lot of good ways to recover from workouts. Some of the best ways to incorporate workout recovery are: stretching, foam rolling, using a percussion massager, cold-plunging, making sure to eat a nutritious meal, hydrating plentily, and getting a good night’s sleep. It’s important to remember that workout recovery doesn’t have to be drawn out or complex. A routine as simple as a short walk to keep blood flowing and a post-workout protein shake can help tremendously.
What should you not do after a workout?
While there’s no one best way to recover from a workout, there are a few things you shouldn’t do after a workout. Don’t skip meals; don’t immediately become sedentary; and don’t forget to rehydrate.
What helps muscles recover faster?
Proper nutrition and hydration, plenty of sleep, and maintaining blood circulation are three keys to quick muscle recovery. After a workout, your body needs replenishment, primarily in the form of carbohydrates, protein, fluids, and electrolytes. During sleep, the body produces important hormones that assist in the muscle repair and muscle growth processes. Finally, maintaining blood circulation after a workout helps your body deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to depleted muscles.
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