The Best Theragun Alternative: PlayMakar Review

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Jul 05, 2020
The Best Theragun Alternative: PlayMakar Review

We’ve all heard the benefits of percussion massagers like Theragun. But is a Theragun really worth the $400 price tag?

Surely there’s an effective percussion massager out there that can get the job done without spending a fortune. The PlayMakar MVP tossed its hat in the ring and we put it to the test, along with some other muscle relief and recovery tools offered by PlayMakar.

Muscle recovery without breaking the bank
The Adult Man Image/Icon Image Source: PlayMakar

PlayMakar

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Bottom line: PlayMakar does an excellent job providing muscle-relief tools to the common athlete without costing a fortune. The PlayMakar MVP has more percussions-per-minute and is significantly quieter than any Theragun, though the stroke depth isn’t as much. For 60% of the price, the MVP is an excellent value. PlayMakar’s electric muscle stimulators have a similar story---an effective product that leaves some money in your pocket.

Ratings:

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The Adult Man Image/Icon  Quality of Materials The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Value for Money The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Craftsmanship The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Customer Service The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon

Pros:

  • The PlayMakar MVP can double the number of percussions-per-minute compared to any Theragun
  • The MVP is quiet so you don’t have to worry about bothering neighbors or folks in another room
  • Both the Sport and Pro EMS systems can be used either as a TENS unit for pain relief or as a stimulator for “passive exercise”

Cons:

  • The matte black coating on the MVP massager is prone to fingerprints and smudges

For athletes, anything that can give you an edge becomes a necessity.

For folks who put long hours into the gym, finding creative ways to squeeze every last ounce of growth out of all that effort is a must. 

I recently came across a new brand that’s aiming to bring the same equipment used in professional sports medicine to the everyday person. 

They’re called PlayMakar.

Their percussion massager and range of muscle stimulators are built to help give athletes the edge they crave. But what I really want to know is if they offer a true alternative to the Theragun: something powerful and effective, but at a fraction of the cost. 

Read my full review below and find out for yourself.  

What Is PlayMakar?

PlayMakar is all about boosting athletic performance.

The brand offers a handful of products designed to aid muscle recovery and treat pain. They have a percussion massager for deep-tissue stimulation, two types of electric muscle stimulators, and a miniature TENS unit for pain relief.  

We’ve talked about how effective deep-tissue massages can be for myofascial and lactic acid release (both of which reduce muscle recovery time). 

Percussion massagers have been growing in popularity over the years because of their use in professional sports medicine. But some models—like the Theragun—are out of the average Joe’s price range. 

And that’s where PlayMakar steps in. Their MVP percussion massager is about half the price of a Theragun. The brand brings that same philosophy to all their products (muscle stimulators, TENS units, etc.): pro level muscle recovery and pain relief at a fraction of the price. 

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Things to Consider Before Buying A Percussion Massager

Model using Playmakar MVP Massager on shoulder

Before taking the dive and buying a percussion massager, ask yourself what you’ll mainly be using it for. 

These handy tools are great for working out soreness in your arms, chest, legs, and neck. But it’s hard to work your back muscles unless you have a partner to help you. 

On the flip side, if you have a partner that needs (or just enjoys) back massages, a percussive device can be a massive help (I go into some detail on this note later in the review). 

Percussion massagers aren’t substitutes for physical therapy. Chiropractors and masseuses are trained to relieve pain, and they’re pretty good at it. If you’re really struggling with pain, always see a professional first. 

But for someone like myself who is relatively pain free and wants to relieve post-workout muscle soreness and power-slam stress knots, these things are incredible. 

PlayMakar MVP vs Theragun Prime

The biggest name in percussion massagers is Theragun.

I wanted to see how the PlayMakar MVP stacked up against the reigning champ.

The Theragun Prime is Therabody’s entry level massager. It comes in at $299, which is about 65% more expensive than the PlayMakar MVP.

But, sometimes it’s worth it to spend extra for a better product. So is the Prime better than the MVP?

There are a few ways of looking at it: percussions per minute (PPM), noise level, battery life, and ease of use. The most important of these is the percussions per minute—basically, how much power the motor has to pummel out the knots and stimulate your muscles. 

The Theragun Prime has five speeds, and the most powerful setting blasts out 2400 PPM. That’s a decent number and is enough to relax your muscles. 

The PlayMakar MVP has six settings, and the least powerful is 2400 PPM. The motor in the MVP can reach up to 5400 PPM. So the motor is twice as powerful at two-thirds the cost. 

As for sound, the PlayMakar MVP is much quieter with a 45-58 db range. Theragun has been registered between 70-75 db. The battery life is 120 minutes for both, and each is equally easy to use.

So which one is worth it? With more motor power, less noise, and a much lower cost, the MVP is the clear winner. 

PlayMakar MVP Percussion Massager

The MVP Massager is a worthy alternative to the Theragun Prime. With more percussions per minute and a longer battery life, the MVP is an excellent choice for athletes looking to gain an edge.

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Things to Consider Before Buying A Muscle Stimulator

Close up of PlayMakar wireless muscle stimulator in packaging

I also tried PlayMakar’s Pro and Sport muscle stimulators, and I’ll be including these for the folks interested in muscle recovery. 

The most important consideration to make before buying a muscle stimulator is whether you have any heart issues. Electric muscle stimulators can affect the beating of your heart if used on your chest, so it’s important that nobody use one to boost their pecs. But it’s especially important if you have a pacemaker.

For those that want to use an electric muscle stimulator (EMS) for fitness, the research says they can be effective, but there’s a big asterisk. If you don’t put in the work at the gym or on the field, an EMS won’t get you toned. 

EMS systems have faced a lot of criticism in the past, but that’s only because folks marketed them as fat-loss tools. They’re not. But they stimulate blood flow, which helps the muscle recovery process and can aid in toning the muscles. That said, the important part comes before—and that’s going at it and breaking down your muscles the old-fashioned way. 

PlayMakar Review

Close up of PlayMakar wireless muscle stimulator in packaging

PlayMakar is all about bringing the recovery tools used by professional athletes to the everyday folks. 

They’ve become popular in the crossfit community, where enthusiasts go to great lengths to boost their strength. 

If you’re a long-time reader of The Adult Man, you’ll know that I was at the peak of my physical fitness back in August 2019. I had a vein in my hip—it was incredible. 

You also know that, in my hubris, I ate three birthday cakes in a week and the wheels of my fitness journey fell off. 

I’ve been hitting the gym off and on since then, but I’ve let business get in the way of consistent workouts. But for the last month, I’ve been waking up at 4:30 and working a sweat before the sun rises. 

Needless to say, I’m sore. 

So PlayMakar’s recovery products arrived just in time. Here’s what I thought.

PlayMakar MVP Percussion Massager

top down look at PlayMakar MVP percussion massager

Percussion massagers are on the border of life-changing. The MVP is my first go at one of these machines, and I’ve been loving it. 

If I have a particularly sore muscle group, I’ll bust it out and pound away. Otherwise, I’ve been doing regular body-massages on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ve found that practice to be almost transformative—now I’m a huge fan of percussion massagers.

But the big question is whether the PlayMakar MVP is the right percussion massager for you. 

Model using PlayMakar MVP Percussion Massager on Calf

Well, I compared the MVP to Theragun’s closest alternative, the Theragun Prime, and found that the MVP not only could double the number of percussions per minute (PPM), but also was quieter and 60% less expensive. 

As far as looks go, the MVP is a nice matte black. It looks cool, but on the downside, any grease on your fingers immediately comes off as a smudge. If you don’t clean it fairly regularly, it can look like the windows of a children’s play place—covered in fingerprints. 

That minor gripe aside, I was impressed with how long the battery lasted. After the initial charge, the MVP can go for almost two hours, which is significantly longer than I’ve ever needed it for.

PlayMakar percussion massager working quadricep

Usually 20 minutes is the maximum I’ll do—to me that’s enough to loosen any tension and work out sore spots. But I like that I don’t have to plug it in and recharge after every use. 

PlayMakar MVP Percussion Massager packaging

In a normal week, I use this for two 20-minute sessions and a smaller 10-minute session. My wife also uses it for two 20-minute sessions. By the end of the week, without charging, there’s still about 15% battery life left. At that point I just plug it in for four hours and it’s good for another week.

As I said, I’m a huge fan of percussion massagers—they really offer an easy way to hit deep-tissue and relieve tension and soreness. 

The MVP is one of the more affordable models, and in my experience has more than enough power to get the job done.

PlayMakar Pro and Sport Muscle Stimulators

Athlete using wired electric muscle stimulator on leg

PlayMakar has two muscle stimulators: one wired, and one wireless. The wireless unit is the Pro and the wired unit is the Sport. 

Both deliver the same amount of power, though the wireless unit is much easier if you’d like to use electric muscle stimulation (EMS) while pumping iron. 

I’m new to EMS, and after doing some research, I was ready to dive in.

For both the Pro and Sport models, there are six programs that range from gentle recovery to full-blown muscle contraction. And the intensity range goes from 1-25. 

top down view of PlayMakar wireless electric muscle stimulator

Now, before I say this next bit, know that I’m the guy who’s disappointed at restaurants when I order spicy food. It’s rarely spicy enough. What I mean is: I enjoy intensity, and I’d rather have a product that needs to be tempered down rather than max out too early.

So I was curious whether PlayMakar would pack enough voltage in order to allow significant contractions in my muscles.

Boy, did they. 

PlayMakar Muscle Stimulator working on quadricep

I’ve tried these stimulators on most major muscle groups (not the chest—it’s too close to the heart which isn’t recommended). It gets so intense, and the muscle contractions can be downright painful. 

On the passive exercise level six, I can crank this up to about 15, which creates a strong squeeze. I tried it on my quads on level 20, and I was sore for two days afterward, without doing leg exercises. 

athlete using wired muscle stimulator on quadricep

Now, muscle stimulators aren’t a fat-loss cure or a simple solution to avoid hitting the gym, but they absolutely flex your muscles and increase blood flow, which is proven to increase gains and speed recovery.

PlayMakar Power Gel

Close up PlayMakar roll on theraputic menthol gel for sore muscles

In the spirit of helping athletes perform better, PlayMakar also offers menthol Power Gel. At 6% menthol, the Power Gel is stronger than most pain-relief balms, but a quick search shows a few brands that are at seven, and even eight percent.

There’s a balance, because sometimes the menthol effect can be too intense. I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to buy this Power Gel, but if you’re already picking up one of PlayMakar’s larger products, like the MVP or the Sport EMS, it could be worthwhile to toss it in the cart. 

If you’re training consistently, things start to get sore, and a little extra help is always welcome.

PlayMakar Mini Wireless TENS Unit

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This little device works similarly to the PlayMakar Pro and Sport—by sending electrical impulses to the muscle—but it’s much gentler. 

You can use either the Pro or Sport as a TENS unit if you’re experiencing pain, too. 

But this mini TENS unit is a solid choice for those with injuries, especially around the joints or back. 

My left shoulder is fairly stiff and can start feeling worn down and painful when I’m in my steady workout routine. I slapped this mini TENS unit in the space where my middle and rear deltoid meet and let it roll. 

It’s a mild buzzing effect (hardly noticeable compared to the insanely deep muscle contractions you can get from the Pro and Sport), and I can see how this would be an effective way to manage pain. 

Of all the products, I’ve used this the least—that’s not to say it’s not a good product. But I think it’s more suited for folks that are hitting their limitations in the gym or on the court because of recurring pain in a specific area. 

If that’s you, do some research on whether a gentle TENS unit can help. Consider the Pro or Sport anyway so you can have the gentle TENS therapy, but also crank it up and squeeze in some passive strength building. 

What do Other Reviewers Say About PlayMakar?

Reviews for all of PlayMakar’s products trend positive. Reading through them all (plus doing my own hands-on research), the general tone is this:

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There are certain products that might pack more power, or have a few different modes, but the value PlayMakar offers is excellent. It’s hard to find a quality percussion massager that can relieve soreness without sounding like a power-tool. And to find one under $200 is even harder. 

As for the EMS systems, the biggest complaint was the adhesive pads. True, these wear out over time (which is also the case with any other brand), and they degrade even faster if you’re hairy or sweat a lot while wearing them. 

But overall, PlayMakar’s two-year warranty and solid customer service repeatedly came up as a big plus for reviewers.

What I Like

  • The MVP really cranks the percussions-per-minute, which is great for tension relief and muscle recovery.

  • The Sport and Pro EMS systems can be used either as a TENS unit for pain relief, or as a stimulator for “passive exercise.”

  • For “passive exercise,” the Sport and EMS systems can reach an intensity that’s flat-out painful. You want deep muscle contractions? You can get them here.

What I Don’t Like

  • The MVP percussion massager has a matte black coating that makes it prone to fingerprints and smudges. It’s an aesthetic gripe, but I found the smudges difficult, but not impossible to remove.

Who is PlayMakar for?

PlayMakar is for athletes looking to boost their performance and recovery. You might be particularly interested if you’re into CrossFit, weight lifting, or a high-impact martial art like Jiu-Jitsu.

If regular training leaves you aching and sore, PlayMakar’s host of tools can speed up your recovery so you don’t have to battle stiffness and pain when your next round of training comes.

The Verdict

PlayMakar provides tools for the modern amateur athlete. These tools, like their percussion massager and electric muscle stimulator, aren’t their own breakthrough invention.

But they’ve brought the price down to a level that’s attainable for non-professionals. And they did so without sacrificing the effectiveness.

Sure, I assume that professional athletes have better massage guns and EMS systems (though I wouldn’t know—I’m not a professional athlete). The price of those products can run into the thousands.

For hundreds of thousands of high-school and college athletes, CrossFit enthusiasts, martial artists, pick-up basketball players, runners, and weight lifters, dropping thousands on muscle recovery tools isn’t the best use of our money.

PlayMakar’s range of tools provide muscle relief and stimulation at a fraction of the cost. The tools are simple, durable, and easy to use. Most importantly, they work to keep your body at its peak.

PlayMakar

PlayMakar makes professional level athletic recovery equipment available for everyone. Top performers and strivers everywhere should take note.

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FAQs

Does Theragun break up scar tissue?

Percussion massagers have been shown to aid in breaking up scar tissue. There are several percussion massagers available on the market. PlayMakar makes an affordable version, though the strokes aren’t as deep as the Theragun.

Does the PlayMakar MVP work for sciatica?

Yes, percussion massagers can help relieve pain from sciatica. The PlayMakar MVP is able to reach a high number of percussions per minute, which can be helpful when working out the areas where sciatica is troubling you.

Is a massage gun worth it?

Yes, absolutely. And not just for athletes. Massage guns can offer deep tissue impact that would otherwise require a visit to a masseuse. Plus, you’re in control of when, where, and how long you’d like to get that deep tissue treatment.