We’re over halfway through 2022, folks, and if you, too, have been sticking to your New Year’s resolution of becoming a “swole king,” you’re probably dealing with some sort of body soreness each and every day. While some aches and muscle pain are normal—and a pleasant reminder that you’ve been putting in hard work at the gym—serious second-day soreness (sometimes known as DOMS) can be a huge (and literal) pain in the ass.
Worst of all, being too sore and stiff can seriously impact performance, and might lead to skipped workouts or injury. And, since I’m cruising at what feels like the geriatric age of 25, I don’t recover as well as I did when I was on the wrestling team in high school and college. That’s why I’ve become a hoarder of all of the best massage guns and recovery gadgets on the market. Recently, though, I think I’ve found the dopest, most hands-off piece of recovery gear in the game: the Normatec 3 from Hyperice.
$799 at Hyperice
The Normatec 3 is the latest iteration of Hyperice’s air-compression recovery system, which uses “patented precision pulse technology” to help increase circulation and reduce swelling after and before athletic activity, according to the product description. In plainer English, it’s essentially hi-tech inflatable pants that put pressure on your muscles, which a) feels like a ghost is giving you a Swedish massage, and b) tells your body to increase blood flow to the area, which can help speed the delivery of nutrients to damaged muscles and relieve soreness.
We know, we know—this thing kind of looks ridiculous when you’re zipped in. There’s no getting around the fact that it felt a little silly to wear inflatable pants in the name of workout recovery, but as your stalwart guinea pig, I sat down on my incredibly sore ass (after-leg-day vibes) and opened the neat little box. It comes with the Normatec 3 control unit, two leg attachments, a connector hose, and a charger (with three overseas adapters in case you need to use it outside the States). While I went with the Normatec 3 for my legs, you can also snag hip and arm attachments to go full Michelin Man.
It comes in three sizes: short, standard, and tall. Standard fits folks from 5’4” to 6’3”, and at 5’8”, that size felt roomy, but not too big. (My 6’5” roommate was also able to squeeze in, but he doesn’t do as many squats as I do, so that’s probably why.) You also don’t need to take your pants off to use the Normatec 3, but I’d recommend some athleticwear or compression shorts for minimal bunching.
What I loved
The scene: three retired college wrestlers sitting on my couch, eagerly awaiting their turns to test the Normatec 3 while Lethal Weapon 3 blares in the background. As the one whose job it is to review the product, I went first, and let me tell you—this thing rocks. For its goofy outward appearance, it’s one of the most hands-off workout recovery items I’ve had the pleasure of using. Once you zip in, you simply plug your connected air hoses into the control unit, turn the sucker on, and blast off for a 30-minute cycle of compression massage—hands wide open for doomscrolling and slamming a post-workout
pint protein shake.
There are seven levels of intensity, and I found that levels five and six were perfect for me, while one of my roommates preferred level seven, and the other liked three and four. It’s a funny feeling at first, but once you get over the sensation that your legs are stuck in-between two bouncy houses, it starts to really feel good. Like, really good. Picture someone kneading out soreness from every conceivable angle, all at once, without any pain-inducing pressure points. Bliss.
You can also use the integrated ZoneBoost tech to target specific parts of your legs and feet that are particularly in need of a squeezin’. This is one of my favorite features, since while a session with the Normatec 3 slaps after leg day, my favorite time to use it is after a run, when all the little stabilizing muscles in my feet, shins, and calves are killing me. It also feels incredible even when you’re not sore, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t popped an edible just to run a cycle or two while watching TV.
What was tricky
One of my only qualms with the Normatec 3 is that you’re pretty much useless for half an hour while doing a cycle, and you need to have your legs propped up while you blast off. (Chaise lounges and L-shaped sofas are great for that, but I just kicked mine up on my coffee table and that seemed to work fine.) The only other thing is that it’s a little clunky to store once it’s out of the box—not because it’s big, but because the cords are a little stiff and awkward.
The Normatec 3 is an undeniably awesome addition to my workout recovery routine. It feels great while you’re using it, but the best part about it is that—in my experience—it actually works. After a high-pressure cycle, I’m able to stretch my legs way more effectively after a hard gym session than I would otherwise. While it’s not a magic cure-all, when combined with more targeted percussive treatments from my Hypervolt Go—along with plenty of water, sleep, and stretching—I noticed a dramatic decrease in soreness after a heavy day of back squats, RDLs, and accessory leg exercises.
I know it’s not the most affordable recovery tool in the game, but if you’ve been on the fence about picking one of these suckers up, do it. I wish I had one of these bad boys during wrestling season, so I wouldn’t have had to waddle around like a drunk penguin after that first grueling week back on the mat after a summer of beers and telling my coach that I’d definitely been hitting the weight room three times a week.
Now: Strap in, pump up, and blast off.
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