Who wouldn’t appreciate a sports massage after every tough workout? For most of us, that’s just not a realistic possibility, but the new Normatec 3 Legs compression boots from Hyperice offer the massage experience without a visit to the masseur — at least for your legs.
Originally used in medical settings to reduce the risk of blood clots and venous pooling in long-term hospital patients, compression boots have become popular for sports recovery, where they are used to promote blood flow by squeezing the affected muscles. This not only feels great after a tough workout but can also provide exercise recovery benefits,
According to Carson Lux, a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy, amateur athletes will get the best recovery benefits using compression boots following more intense workouts. “Harder workouts, such as high-intensity training or distance running, deposit more metabolic waste products in the muscle tissues of your legs,” he explains. “This is when compression boots are most effective in flushing these metabolic by-products out of your system to speed up recovery.” Lux recommends using them for about 30 minutes at a time up to three to four times per week.
Daily treatments using a pneumatic compression device reduced recovery time from muscle soreness, according to research published in 2018 in the International Journal of Exercise Science, and offered the same benefits as post-exercise massage (specifically lowering overall muscle fatigue) in a 2016 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
I’m gearing up for the Berlin Marathon in September, so I incorporated the Normatec 3 boots into my routine for two weeks to see how they affected my training.
What we liked about them
Sleek design and easy-to-use interface
These boots can look intimidating at first, but they couldn’t be easier to use. You just slip your legs in and zip them up, hook up the hoses and let the magic happen via the main control unit (you can also use the Hyperice app as a remote control). All the hardware weighs in at just 3.2 pounds, which is the lightest of any compression boot I’ve used (for comparison, Therabody’s RecoveryAir JetBoots, $899, weigh just over 12 pounds, while Rapid ReBoot’s system, $645, weighs around 11 pounds). And these offer an 11% reduction in weight from Normatec’s previous iteration (which also cost $1,200).
The boots take about a minute to fill up completely, and you can clearly feel the air pressure (which ranges from 30 mmHg at level 1 to 100 mmHg at level 7) working its way up your legs through the five different air chambers or zones from your feet to your upper quads. It feels like someone’s rhythmically squeezing each area before the boots rapidly deflate in reverse — most other boots, including the two mentioned above, have four chambers. It’s like taking a sweaty sports bra off after a workout — the release feels amazing.
There are only six buttons on the main unit: one for attachment selection (the boots are for your legs, but you can also buy arm and hip sleeves); one for pressure level; one called ZoneBoost, which adds an extra 60 seconds of massage time and 10 mmHg of pressure to one of the boot’s five available zones to relieve any particularly sore areas; one to adjust the amount of time, in 15-minute increments up to one hour; plus start/stop and on/off buttons. I didn’t notice a big difference when using ZoneBoost, but since I like really deep sports massages, I was still comfortable with the compression all the way up at level 7 (people who are more sensitive to pressure may prefer the lower/middle levels).
Good customization and personalization
Obviously, you can choose whatever settings you prefer on the main unit. You can also control those in the Bluetooth-connected Hyperice App. But the app was mostly designed to take the guesswork out of how to use these boots (and other pieces of Hyperice tech like the Hypervolt 2 or Hyperice X). In it, you can find predesigned routines of varying lengths designed to boost post-workout recovery, improve your sleep, activate your legs before working out and so on.
For example, one Saturday I opted for the 45-minute “post-run recovery” routine after a 14-mile-long run because it was designed to boost zone 3, which hits the upper calves and lower quads (most preprogrammed routines start at level 2 or 3, which you can adjust for more or less intensity; just know that when you adjust the pressure, the device will automatically pause and you have to manually resume your session). The following Monday, I did a 15-minute routine to activate my legs before a speed workout because I knew they’d be tired from the long run, and I did feel like I was better able to nail my efforts during my workout than if I had done my typical roll-out-of-bed-and-run routine.
What we didn’t like about them
The cumbersome cords
One of the best recent developments in compression boots is portability — and as long as the Normatec 3’s main control unit is charged, you can bring these boots anywhere, such as the gym or a specific event. Hyperice increased the battery life 50% in this iteration, so even at the most intense settings, you’ll get three hours of battery life.
The problem is, even without the hassle of plugging them in a wall socket, the hoses on the Normatec 3 are extremely unwieldy. I wanted to use my computer while sitting in the boots for longer sessions, and I couldn’t find a good way to get the hoses out of my way while balancing my laptop on top of the boots.
I’ve previously used the Therabody boots, which have no hoses or connecting cords; you charge each one individually and the control unit is built right into the boot. While the technology is very similar between both boots, I personally preferred traveling with the Therabody boots (despite their added weight) due to the lack of any external pieces.
For those looking to recover as hard as they train, compression boots can be a game changer in helping you bounce back from tough workouts. The Normatec 3 Legs system is still an investment, for sure, but they’re now priced more competitively against similar products and have significant improvements over the much more expensive previous iteration (and they’re significantly cheaper than having a massage therapist on speed dial). As long as you’re OK with the bulky hoses, these lightweight compression boots can give you an edge when prepping for and recovering from intense workouts.