By now, you’ve either seen climbers using massage hammers at the gym or crag, or you’re living under a rock. In any case, hammers that pulse and pound for the sake of recovery and fitness are firmly the new it doodad in athletes’ rehab stockpiles. Some of ‘em cost upwards of $600, which is the equivalent of at least a year’s worth of shoes, rope and chalk. So are these vibrating drill-shaped thingamajigs worth it?
Research backing the troves of claims regarding massage hammers’ systemic effects—like restoration of muscle fibers and getting you back on the field faster and changing your life and whatnot—is limited. One study published in 2014 showed that vibration therapy, which is the broad term that encompasses the use of massage hammers (sort of…), can reduce pain and is effective in decreasing markers of fatigue. Another study, published in 2018, showed the therapy may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
Research is thin. Even more so when you consider the fact that vibration therapy does not actually refer to the use of a massage hammer. In fact, it just means exactly what it sounds like, vibration of part or the whole body with the intentions of some therapeutic effect. So the existing research refers to vastly different methodologies and applications. But, in all fairness, the anecdotal evidence in favor of these pricey hammers is staggering.
I recently tested a hammer myself for the first time—the aptly named Muscle Hammer Classic. As would any hard working nine to fiver (ish) who occasionally climbs after work and always climbs on the weekends and always has some normal amount of aches and pains, I was stoked for the new toy. And tuth be told, with no exaggeration, it did not disappoint.
What was most surprising about the Muscle Hammer was its use for old injuries, like my ol’ pulley tear. On days when scar tissue was floating around in less than ideal spots, the Muscle Hammer conveniently broke that gunk up and helped move it around. It felt good, and was way easier than me massaging my finger myself.
I also occasionally used it to warm-up. On the days when I just woke up pumped, like not psyched, but pumped as in my forearms were inexplicably tight, the Muscle Hammer helped. And it also aided in alleviating tension, as purported, after hard workouts.
There’s no getting over the price thing. It’s $300, which is significantly less than other hammers out there. Still, a lot, though. In case you’re wondering what separates the cheap from the not so cheap, it’s primarily percussions per minute and depth of motion. Also, number of speed settings and massage tips, and battery life. The Muscle Hammer has five massage tip options, six speed settings ranging from 1,500 to 3,200 percussions per minute and a 12 millimeter penetrating range of motion. The battery life is reportedly three hours per charge. To be honest, I think it lasts longer, although I never put that theory to the test. Putting all that into perspective, the price is fair. Compared to other leading brands like Therabody (maker of the Theregun) and Hypereice (their equivalent is the Hypervolt), the stats are favorable.
One more thing to consider: I’ll never forget the first time I saw, or rather heard, a theragun. It was while walking around a retailer show for the outdoor industry. The buzzing noise from two aisles over was … well, a lot. Big, immediate turn off, for someone that already had a headache and finds loud things super not relaxing. Luckily, today’s massage guns are better than what they used to be. Muscle Hammer is no exception—the thing is quiet. So on the noise front, it gets full marks.
LIFE CHANGING? I think not. But, super useful tool? Yep. Would recommend to any climbers looking to take their recovery game up a notch.
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