The Men's Health Guide to Recovery Tech: The Best Tools to Buy in 2024

a man using a therabody massage gun
The Men's Health Guide to Recovery TechGeorgiy Datsenko - Getty Images

Repeat after us: recovery is part of the work. Whether you’re working out to get stacked, improve your fitness or compete in your favourite sport, recovery is where the magic really happens. During recovery your body adapts to the training stress, muscles repair and rebuild and you build the strength to cope with whatever comes next. So it pays to recover as hard as you work out.

The good news: eating well and prioritising good sleep is a simple ticket to better recovery. But if you want the extra edge, there’s a whole range of high-tech recovery gizmos to help boost your bouncebackability.

From massage guns to pneumatic compression boots, and vibrating foam rollers to ice baths, in this guide we’ll talk you through the options and recommend some of the best muscle recovery tools you can buy right now.

How We Test Products

All workout recovery tools featured in this guide have been either rigorously tested in our state-of-the-art Men's Health Lab testing facility or personally by our team of fitness experts and editors.

Percussive Therapy Devices

Massage guns look (and sound) a bit like power tools. They use pulsating heads of various shapes, sizes and firmness to deliver percussive therapy – a sort of DIY myofascial massage.

The guns target muscles and soft tissues with rapid and repetitive pressure, combined with vibration therapy, at different speeds, depths and amplitudes.

You simply aim the head at your muscles, choose your speed and let it pulsate back and forth to do the work.

The Benefits

This mechanical pummelling aims to help improve blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and enhance overall muscle recovery by promoting relaxation.

Massage guns are still a relatively new phenomenon but studies suggest benefits that include better range of motion, along with improved blood flow and hormonal responses that help reduce inflammation and pain associated with Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness (DOMS).

What to Look For

When you're choosing the best massage gun, you need to consider the depth, speed and amplitude of the percussion. These are key and cheap guns often miss this. Top-end massage guns commonly deliver amplitudes up to 16mm and even up to 26mm.

Then there’s noise control, portability and battery life. When fully charged, a decent massage gun should last for a few days to a week, based on around 15 minutes' use per day. The smartest guns also connect with apps to guide you on usage and pressure.

Read our full guide on the best massage guns to buy in 2024

Compression Tech

Compression technology – aka pneumatic compression devices primarily in the form of compression boots – was originally used to treat various medical conditions related to poor circulation and fluid retention. More recently it’s been adopted by sports and fitness types as a recovery tool, with brands like Normatec, Therabody and Hyerice leading the way. Oh, and it’s moved from legs to arms and upper body too.

Compression boots work a bit like blood pressure cuffs, putting chambers around your limbs that intermittently inflate and deflate to promote blood flow back to the heart, enhancing circulation and lymphatic drainage.

The Benefits

The research on the effectiveness of the intermittent pneumatic compression gear is still somewhat mixed. One 2018 study found that the daily use of recovery boots reduced muscle swelling and improved recovery time. Another study found intermittent compression increased blood flow to the limbs. Plus there’s evidence that it can help boost blood flow and reduce muscle soreness. Athletes also report reduced DOMS and discomfort.

But other research in ultra runners failed to find any significant performance benefits from sliding into a set of compression boots for recovery.

What to Look For

When you’re choosing a set of recovery boots, pay attention to things like the pressure range. Most max out at around 110mmHg, but some go up to 250mmHg. Also look for adjustable pressure settings, comfortable fit, battery life, and portability. Plus additional features like customisable programs or mobile app controls that deliver a more personalised recovery experience.

Read our full guide on the best compression boots to buy in 2024

Vibration Recovery Tech

While regular foam rollers and massage balls deliver static myofascial and muscle massage, vibrating recovery tools like pulsing foam rollers, massage balls and mats add oscillating pulses to the rolling motion in a bid to boost the effectiveness of the massage.

The Benefits

Studies suggest adding these vibrations promotes better blood flow than regular foam rolling. It’s also thought to help reduce muscle stiffness, improve flexibility and deliver a more targeted and efficient release of knots or tension. That all wraps up into faster muscle recovery and studies have shown that vibrating foam rollers can have a positive short term impact on pain perception.

What to Look For

There’s a lot of variation in vibrating devices from balls to mats but the key things to look for are the range of vibration frequencies – more options gives you more control, plus noise, battery life and portability. The bigger cylindrical foam rollers are good for the main muscle groups like quads and calves. Smaller round or peanut devices are better for getting into smaller spots, things like feet, shoulders and forearms.

Use these foam roller exercises to help speed up your recovery

Red Light Therapy

Red Light Therapy (RLT) works by exposing your muscles to low levels of non-toxic red or near-infrared light. The aim: to help improve the energy production of your cells by activating the mitochondria – your energy-producing powerhouses – while also boosting blood flow and reducing inflammation.

The Benefits

There’s research that suggests that RLT can increase blood flow and circulation. Boosting blood transit to and from the muscles helps improve recovery times by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress. It’s also been shown to speed recovery from tendon injuries and even improve aerobic performance.

What to Look For

RLT devices vary a lot from step-in saunas to portable pads that you place on different areas of the body. But the key thing to consider here is wavelength. They tend to use the range of 600 to 700 nanometers (nm) and near-infrared light in the range of 700 to 1,100 nm. Different wavelengths penetrate the skin to varying depths and have specific therapeutic benefits. So ensure the device emits light within the optimal therapeutic range for your use.

Ice Baths

It’s hard to open Instagram or Tiktok without seeing someone dunking themselves in cold water before extolling the physical and mental benefits of the ice bath. So what’s it all about and why are people so keen to take the cold plunge?

Ice baths are a form of cryotherapy that call for you to submerge yourself in chilly water, ideally up to your chest, for 10 to 15 minutes. When you sit in cold water, your blood vessels constrict; when you get out, they dilate (or open back up). This process helps flush away metabolic waste post-workout.

There's no need to freeze to get the full benefit – anywhere between 10 to 15 degrees Celsius works fine.

Now you could stick yourself in a wheelie bin or buy an old bath tub for next to nothing but there are now dozens of plunge tubs and ice baths costing anywhere from £200 up to £5,000.

The Benefits

The biggest reported benefits are for mental health. Cold plungers evangelise about the positive mental boost from a quick cold dip that boosts dopamine by up to 250%. Some studies also show ice baths help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and perceived fatigue. However, a 2012 review of 17 studies found that ice baths weren't more effective than active recovery in reducing muscle soreness.

Its overall impact on inflammation is also less clear. While cold water immersion may help fight soreness and fatigue in the 24-96 hours after exercise, reducing the inflammatory response might hinder the body's adaptation to exercise and stressors, potentially affecting strength and aerobic gains.

When it comes to injury prevention, there’s not much direct evidence linking cryotherapy to injury reduction. However, by decreasing DOMS and fatigue, you may experience better muscle performance, which could indirectly influence injury risk.

What to Look For

Size and capacity are obviously priorities. You need to fit in it. It needs to fit in your garden. Check if it’s portable or stationary and if it needs to be plumbed in. Some temperature controlled options might also need access to power. Cleaning and maintenance are also crucial. No one wants to get into algae-slime. So look for good drainage systems to facilitate water changes and cleaning and units with antimicrobial properties to inhibit the growth of bacteria and algae.

Read More Recovery Tech Reviews

  1. The best massage Guns to buy in 2024

  2. The best compression boots for post-workout bliss

  3. Therabody Theragun Pro Gen 5: What's new

  4. Lumi ice bath review, tried and tested by a MH editor

  5. Are massage guns or foam rollers better for recovery?

  6. Do massage guns work?

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