Therabody's newest massage device, RecoveryAir, puts the squeeze on - CNET

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The Therabody RecoveryAir compression therapy system starts at $699.

David Carnoy/CNET

Pneumatic compression therapy systems are hot these days. Once a high-end niche therapy product for serious athletes, space-age compression boots are going mainstream, as both Hyperice, which makes Hypervolt massage guns, and now Therabody, which makes Theragun massage guns, have acquired compression therapy companies and relaunched them with new branding and more affordable price tags.

On Tuesday Therabody started shipping its new RecoveryAir compression boots with a starting price of $699 for the base model. The RecoveryAir Pro, which offers full customization of recovery programs and includes a different base station, costs $1,299. Both base stations have rechargeable batteries so you can use the systems on the go and the legs do fold up nicely for easy transport in a bag (not included). 

The RecoveryAir is essentially a rebranded version of the RecoveryPump Lite, which costs $1,200. So Therabody has managed to shave a good deal off the list price for the device as it attempts to reach a broader audience. Hyperice did the same when it acquired NormaTec, lowering its price to $899 (it cost about $1,300 in late 2019). 

As CNET contributor Amanda Capritto explains, "The idea behind compression therapy is that by increasing blood flow to specific parts of the body -- encouraging your body to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to those areas -- you can speed up recovery, relieve pain and improve athletic performance." In essence, compression boots help squeeze "metabolic wastes such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid out of your legs, flushing your system of toxins," Capritto adds. 

Read more: What's NormaTec? The compression therapy elite athletes love

With some compression therapy systems, you can add recovery arm compression sleeves and even compression shorts that work on moving blood through your hips and core. Those extra options will be coming to the RecoveryAir system, but for now you can only purchase the leg compression boots from Therabody. In the interim you could buy a RecoveryArm sleeve and RecoveryCore compression shorts that are compatible with the system.

A couple years ago I tried an earlier version of the NormaTec compression boots when they were a lot more expensive and was pretty impressed. From what I remember from that experience, the RecoveryAir seems on par with the NormaTec.

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The base unit has a built-in rechargeable battery for mobile use and you can precisely adjust pressure levels. 

David Carnoy/CNET

What's good about the RecoveryAir is that it has what Therabody calls "true negative gradient pressure." What that means is pressure sequentially travels up the limb from the foot toward the heart in four internal overlapping chambers (you first feel the boots ballooning over your feet), each with slightly lower pressure than the last. "The spiraling overlap of each chamber has a true negative gradient, which safely maximizes circulation versus other designs that interrupt air flow and create potentially harmful peaks and valleys of pressure," Thereabody says.

Read more: Workout recovery: Why it's so important

You can set the pressure to your liking (you don't want your circulation cut off) and the boots monitor the amount of pressure according to the size of your limb. I used the medium sized boots, which seem to fit the widest range of legs well -- if you've got very long legs, you'd go with the large size. 

Therabody also says its compression boots have a seamless construction that makes them easier to clean (yes, your legs may sweat a bit during a session) and faster cycle frequency. "By detecting a full inflation based on precise pressure," the company says, "RecoveryAir's high performance compressor reaches the optimal point for a full and rapid pressure release up to three times faster than competitor products."

Read more: Best massage guns of 2021

A companion app for iOS and Android allows you to tweak some settings. There are some presets to choose from with the entry-level RecoveryAir while the RecoveryAir Pro, as noted, offers true customization. That app is still under the RecoveryPump brand but will eventually become the RecoveryAir app. 

What you get (cables not shown).

Therabody

I've only had minimal experience with these types of compression therapy systems, so I can't say whether the RecoveryAir is truly better than competitors like NormaTec, but it does work well and is a pleasure to use while sitting around watching TV or reading. With a massage gun you're required to do some work, unless you have someone using the massage gun on you, but this is a totally passive experience. Kick back, hit a button and the boots do their thing. That's nice. 

As with the massage-gun industry, as compression therapy grows more popular, we're seeing plenty of generic products hit the market, some costing as little as $100. Like with massage guns, we should start to see even more price erosion in the compression therapy arena with a few premium brands and a plethora of knockoffs that cost less and work reasonably well. 

Read more: Best budget massage guns for 2021

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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