If pummelling your muscles with a percussive device doesn’t sound relaxing, you haven’t tried the Roll Recovery R1 massage gun yet. A smaller version of these popular handheld tools, which are now ubiquitous in gyms, boutique studios, physical therapy offices, and (of course) social media, it puts the ability for an on-the-go massage right in your own hands.
“Massage guns relax your muscles and fascia—connective tissue that covers every structure in our body, including your muscles,” says Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy and the owner of Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, CA. “They differ from massage tools that strictly offer vibration, as the direct application of percussion over an area will reach much deeper levels, while still having effects on superficial layers as well.” By penetrating deeper, you get more widespread effects, including increased blood flow and increased joint range of motion, Jeffcoat adds.
This type of direct massage can provide pre- and post-workout benefits. And for those who aren’t exercise fiends, it can also offer relief from things like working or parenting all day. Handheld percussive massage treatment was shown to increase range of motion in a 2020 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, and was determined to be just as effective as manual massage and “possibly more effective” than foam rolling in a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The Roll Recovery R1 massage gun is just $129, which is signficantly cheaper than the two most popular guns, the Hyperice Hypervolt Go 2 and the Theragun Mini. Here’s what I thought of it after two weeks of testing.
The Roll Recovery R1 massage gun is small, light and powerful. And because it lasts nearly seven hours, you’ll also be able to better harness the 50 watts of power for longer than its direct competitors.
A big part of a massage gun’s appeal is its portability—it’s a lot easier to pack a handheld device in your gym bag compared to a bulky foam roller or compression boots. Which is why I started using the Roll Recovery R1 massage gun: It’s small and light enough to fit in the tote or carry-on, but still powerful enough to deliver noticeable effects before and after workouts. I like to use the R1 before a run to wake up my quads and glutes (especially if I’ve been sitting at my computer all morning). And using it after a hilly trail workout helped ease some of the stiffness that had built up in my calves.
Of the mini massage guns I’ve tried—including the Hyperice Hypervolt Go 2 and the Theragun Mini—the R1 was the smallest (measuring 5.6 x 3.6 x 1.85 inches compared to 6.7 x 7.3 x 2 inches and 6 in x 5.3 in x 2.25 inches respectively). That’s not a huge difference, but when you’re traveling, every inch counts, right? I had no problem fitting the R1 into my purse on a recent flight to Boston for the Falmouth Road Race—and at just 1.4 pounds (compared to 1.5 and 1.43 pounds for the other two devices), I also appreciated shaving off an ounce or two of extra weight.
A perfect exercise companion and oh, the power!
When it comes to exercise, “massage guns are a perfect tool for your warm-up routine,” says Jeffcoat, “An improved tolerance to stretch, improved dynamic balance, and increased joint range of motion translates to less resistance through movement, which is vital for reducing injury.”
Before workouts (or if you’re just looking to loosen up stiff muscles after sitting), she says, you should spend two to three minutes on small muscle groups, and four to five minutes on larger muscle groups—just slowly move the massage gun tip back and forth along the muscle, keeping it off of bony areas. On the flip side, Jeffcoat says, using massage guns post-exercise can help flush out lactic acid, a byproduct of exercise that contributes to soreness. Afterwards, you only need to spend about a minute on each muscle group.
The R1 comes with four speed settings: 1800 rpm, 2200 rpm, 2600 rpm, and 3200 rpm. (Those numbers indicate how many times the massager’s head hits your skin—so that’s a range of 1,800 to 3,200 per minute.) The Hypervolt and the Theragun only offer three settings, and I liked having an extra option on the higher end for really digging into my muscles post-race. (The Hypervolt also goes up to 3200 rpm, but its lowest setting is 2200, while the Theragun ranges from 1750 to 2400.)
Inside the machine is a high-torque motor that generates up to 50 watts of power, more than either of the other popular brands offers—and despite that extra force, it lasts over seven hours on one charge (more than double the juice in the other two devices, and ideal for using during a long day of post-race travel).
One of the more important specs for a massage gun is the amplitude, a measure of how deep a gun can penetrate into your muscles. The R1 only has an amplitude of 7 millimeters, compared to 10 for the Hypervolt and 12 for the Theragun. I still felt like it addressed all my problem areas, even after a particularly grueling trail run that did in my calves, but for those who prefer to really dig deep into their muscles, this gun might not be up to the task.
My main complaint about the R1 was the difficulty I had in reaching my shoulders and back. The shrunken proportions compared to a standard size massage gun made it tough to contort myself into a position where I could reach the muscles that hold most of my stress after a day sitting hunched over my computer. But it does come with four attachment heads you can swap out to focus on specific areas (i.e. a universal round head versus a flat head for denser muscle groups).
The Hyperice Hypervolt Go 2 and the Theragun Mini are the two main competitors of the Roll Recovery R1 massage gun but the RI is the smallest and lightest of the three, weighing just 1.4 pounds and measuring 5.6 x 3.6 x 1.85 inches compared to 6.7 x 7.3 x 2 inches and 6 in x 5.3 in x 2.25 inches respectively. In addition to nearly doubling the battery power, the R1 also offers four speed settings compared to the competitor’s three and is significantly less expensive at $129.
However, the R1 only has an amplitude of 7 millimeters, compared to 10 for the Hypervolt and 12 for the Theragun, which means it won’t penetrate muscles at the same rate as the other two.
While any massage gun, especially a mini one, has limitations (you’re not going to get the same benefits as you would from a professionally trained masseuse), the R1 is a great, everyday tool that offers more settings and more attachment options than its competitors while ringing up at a much lower price.
With its tiny size and long-lasting battery life, this compact, easy-to-use massage gun is also ideal for travel—whether you’re looking to prime your body for fitness or just want to work out the kinks after being stuck in a plane seat for hours.