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🚨Go Buy a Massage Gun Immediately🚨
Plus, tapping into "Zone 2" training and an interesting twin workout experiment.
Welcome to the latest edition of PF Quick Hits, a (mostly) lighthearted look at recent fitness news and trends. Quick Hits is published…well, when we feel like it.
I suffered a major attack of the DOMS this week.
DOMS stands for “delayed onset muscle soreness,” and often kicks in one to two days after a strenuous workout, particularly if you haven’t worked out in a while or are trying a new activity.
In my case, I’d done barbell deadlifts for the first time in approximately…2,394 days. Give or take.
One day later, my hamstrings were barking, and I knew the solution: my trusty massage gun. After a couple of excruciatingly painful sessions administered by my lovely wife (which required some gentle persuasion), the muscle soreness disappeared.
I’ve found my massage gun to be a reliable way to speed recovery from muscle soreness, and new research confirms my experience. A new Well + Good article summarizes a comprehensive review of multiple studies on massage guns, and the benefits aren’t just limited to recovering from soreness:
Specifically, a single use of a massage gun resulted in increasing muscle strength (particularly in the upper body) and increasing explosive muscle strength (think fast, powerful movements like sprinting). With multiple and consistent uses of a massage gun, the study found that muscular pain can be reduced as well, especially for decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) 48 hours after challenging workouts.
Interestingly, the study further found that the use of a massage gun had no overt change on flexibility. But the majority of studies that found a decrease in pain also found an improvement in flexibility, so there may be some nebulous connection there!
This sounded too good to be true, so I went and checked out the study for myself. The authors have no conflicts of interest, which means this study wasn’t funded by Therabody (they make the TheraGun, perhaps the most well-known massage gun).
Speaking of TheraGun, you may be thinking to yourself, “gosh, a massage gun sounds great, but I can’t afford a TheraGun like Therabody athlete Cristiano Ronaldo.” It might take something close to Ronaldo’s salary to afford the standard TheraGun, which currently retails for $599 on Amazon (I refuse to link to this, I’m not doing product marketing here).
The good news, though? You can find plenty of bargain massage guns with solid reviews on Amazon for under $100, which means you don’t have to make Ronaldo money to reap the benefits of this new fitness technology.
What’s “Zone 2” training, and why should you try it?
I read a great Men’s Health article about “Zone 2” training this week in my Apple News+ feed, but unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall. Paywalls aside, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of digital ink being expended on Zone 2 training, so I thought I’d investigate. The increasing interest in Zone 2 training seems to parallel a decline in popularity of HIIT workouts, as you can see in this Google Search Trends data:
Since Men’s Health wants you to pay for their article, I found another men’s magazine that happily shares knowledge on “Zone 2” training for free (thanks, GQ). Turns out, “Zone 2” training is exactly what it sounds like:
The jargon-y term might make this type of training sound extremely complicated, and its loudest proponents tend to be the type of guy who enjoys tracking (and Tweeting about) the time spent in this sometimes-elusive state, with the most advanced watches, chest straps, and tracker-embedded underwear. But it’s actually just exercising at a relatively low intensity for a long period of time.
So yeah, just basically working out in heart rate zone #2. But determining that number might not be as easy as you think, according to GQ, with smartwatches and fitness trackers offering different definitions of each heart rate zone, and people’s actual maximum heart rates varying as much as 20 beats from various heart rate zone calculation methods. Most heart rate zone charts I see on the internet label zone 2 as 60 to 70 percent of your max heart rate, so we’ll go with that.
According to the GQ article, the most important benefit of training in this zone is not fat loss, but rather building a solid cardiovascular base for your body. My most important takeaway from the article? This sort of lower-intensity training should make up about 80 percent of your physical activity, with higher intensity workouts (like HIIT or more intense cardio) making up the other 20 percent.
While you can try to target your presumed zone 2 by checking your smartwatch while training, the easiest way may be a little bit more old fashioned: using the “talk” test. When you’re training in zone 2, you should be able to carry on a slightly-strained conversation.
Talking while training? Zone 2 sounds like it was made for fitness friends.
Twins conduct a not-so-scientific workout experiment
Think you need long, grueling workouts to get stronger and build muscle? Maybe all you need is 20 minutes.
Twin adventurers Ross and Hugo Turner wanted to find out if longer strength workouts would translate to bigger gains, so they decided to do their own research. Here’s how they described their experiment on their blog:
The twins monitored their bodies over a three-month fitness challenge to understand if training twice as much offered twice the results.
The twins hypothesized that a 40-minute gym session might deliver 10 - 20% uplift in performance over the 20-minute session.
Each gym session (taking place across Virgin Active gyms in London) was an endurance program designed for a 20-minute session, with each of the four exercises having 14 reps with four sets. Ross, who was doing the 40-minute session, doubled this 20-minute session, keeping the weights and intensity the same, to create an exact carbon copy of Hugo's session.
They were surprised to find that their hypothesis didn’t hold, and that despite the differences in training time, their results over a range of measures (max pull-ups, bench press, deadlift, etc.) were nearly identical after three months.
While there’s no real science involved here and the sample size for this study was two (identical) people, I actually love the results. I tend to keep my strength sessions to 20-30 minutes, and have seen no real differences in my body compared to when I did longer, more traditional sessions many years ago.
And even though the Ross twins weren’t bringing the science, there’s evidence out there that short muscle-building workouts can be just as effective, or even more effective, than longer ones.