Credit: Laine Ng

I’ve always been blessed with adaptable muscles. I tone fast with exercise, and bulk up without the need for much protein adjustments to my usual diet.

However, I can’t stick to one sport for fear of chronic muscle aches in areas specific to certain sports. I guess that is a blessing in disguise – and a convenient excuse – for me as a Jack of all trades who loves exploring new sports and outdoor endeavours. I was a MOE-trained Physical Education teacher and am now in the outdoor education industry. 

A case in point: I took up running during the circuit breaker period and that had me waking up in the middle of the night with intense pain in my calves. As such, more often than not, I have to stop myself from heading out for a therapeutic long slow run for fear of suffering severe muscle aches after. 

Trust me, I have tried various methods to be rid of those dreadful knots. Standing on lacrosse balls to ease out the tensed up arch of my foot, and half planking on foam rollers to roll out the tightness of my quads… But the truth is, I am so drained after a workout and these options require some effort on my part, which means I am prone to skipping them and end up suffering the same painful consequences again. 

Lacrosse ball, foam roller, or massage gun? 

Credit: Laine Ng

Then enters the percussive massage gun. Hydragun, the locally founded massage gun that I am currently using, is like a lacrosse ball, foam roller and masseur all rolled into one. Of course, some benefits of each recovery method is lost but, hey, you lose some you win some right?

Like the lacrosse ball, the massage gun is able to reach the deep knots embedded in the muscle and pound away at it. Hydragun also comes with various heads for different needs. For nagging knots, you may switch up from the round ball head to the sharper one, digging deep into the trigger points. Likewise, for bigger areas or those that require a gentler touch, there are heads of varying bluntness for you to work into as slowly and steadily as you wish. My Hydragun also oscillates at six different speeds. 

For lacrosse balls and foam rollers, however, I have to physically moderate the weight I exert on them. This means I am doing an isometric workout of sorts – think planking! – at the same time. With my handy massage gun, I simply aim at the desired spot, starting from the smallest gear and working the intensity up at the press of a button. No sweat at all! 

What’s more, not having to physically focus on balancing the ball on the sore spot and keeping it there while sliding like a maniac up and down the wall or clenching my core muscles as I plank through a foam roller session means I get to watch my Netflix while easing the pain and soreness. 

That said, while a massage gun is able to reach as deep a trigger point as a lacrosse ball, it is unable to cover as wide an area as the foam roller. Neither will you be able to reach certain areas especially your posterior chain without the help of someone, unlike a lacrosse ball or the foam roller. 

So, how does a massage gun compare to an actual massage?

Credit: Hydragun

My first impression of the product was: “No way this is going to work like a real massage!” Well, sure enough, it doesn’t. 

What Hydragun does here, is to provide repeated pressure upon areas of soreness anytime and anywhere. You could use it as a tool to warm up cold muscles prior to a long run, or as a relief from post-workout muscle stiffness. Some athletes even use it in between their gym sessions!

Having repeated pressure set upon your body’s muscle tissue is said to increase blood flow to trigger points, which sends more oxygen and nutrients to muscles and helps reduce muscle inflammation and tension (think pounding those knots to a pulp!). This in turn prevents the Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and allows one to return to training effectively and without any delay caused by excruciating pain. 

The pressure from the massaging also sends a signal to our brain to relax which allows us a larger range of motion and mobility prior to a workout, and reduces the likelihood of injury during performance.

While the machine may not provide the same soothing effect the human touch confers, it is at your beck and call. Use it anytime after your workout – without the need for a booking – and have the massage targeted at the desired sweet spot for however long feels good.

However, in this case, longer may not necessarily be better. According to Hydragun, the recommended duration per muscle group is 15 to 120 seconds, and a full-body massage session should take no more than 15 minutes. As a safety feature to prevent overuse, the device shuts off after 10 minutes, though you can easily reactivate it.

My experience with Hydragun

During my first trial of Hydragun, I used it immediately before and after a 21km long slow distance run, while doing my usual cool-down stretches and whenever the ache arose. Psychological effect or not, my calves didn’t act up as much as my shorter 10-15km runs. They’d usually cramp up in the middle of the night after long runs. 

Since then, I have used Hydragun religiously before and after each run. In fact, I leave it by my television and use it with each episode or whenever I feel achy. It gives me great comfort, knowing that help is at hand and I’m not 100 per cent reliant on a massage booking to fix my aches. I save time travelling to the massage parlour, too.

In terms of effectiveness, I like how Hydragun alleviates the deep aches in my calves without compromising on the acoustics. It is less noisy than my two-year-old fridge, and I can enjoy the massage while catching up on Netflix or reading a book – without the intense vibration of my ear drums.

With the massage gun in my routine, I could even hit the gym for a strength workout on my rest day, and resume running my usual 10km the day after!

Is it worth investing in a Hydragun, or even a massage gun? 

For anyone who trains regularly, I would definitely recommend a massage gun. It requires minimal user effort, and is relatively cost-effective. Plus, the gun is accessible anytime and anywhere – unlike your favourite masseur who has to beat a hasty retreat in view of the Covid situation.

Most of my sporty friends already own a massage gun, though some of them may be using cheaper and more basic options than the Hydragun. Going at $399, the Hydragun sits in the middle ground in terms of pricing. For comparison, my own knock-off version (which I happily paid for) cost $150, a basic version of TheraGun (widely considered the gold standard) costs $499, while the advanced TheraGun model comes at a heftier $899.

Prior to Hydragun, I have tried two other massage gun brands. Though more affordably priced, both felt like power drills, too raw and robust for my liking. Most of such options do not have as many speed settings, just two or three compared to six on Hydragun.

Credit: Hydragun

Those new to massage guns may not be able to appreciate this, but the lack of gradual and incremental intensities or suitable head attachments may pose a risk for users who already have microtrauma injuries. The lack of a variety of attachment heads may also mean you could hurt yourself by using an unsuitable head. For example, using a big and blunt attachment head on a small trigger point. This is not only ineffective, but may cause bruising if bones get in the way of an attachment head too big for the spot you’re targeting.

Having said that, I think the $399 price tag for Hydragun is entirely justifiable, for the experience it gave me. The relative quietness of the gun, and the customisability in terms of attachment heads and speeds made a world of difference to my usage of it, and as a result, the relief of my sore calves. After all, recovery and rest is as important as training hard. And you would want your recovery to be as painless and welcoming as possible.

Text: Laine Ng / Shape