Let me ask you something…
Do you take your recovery seriously?
I'll be honest…
For a long time, I didn't really make recovery a priority in my training. I was young, healthy, and I was hitting PRs frequently.
Why fix what's not broken, right?
I mean, sure, I was rolling around on lacrosse balls, doing some self-myofascial release, and getting some manual work done when needed… but I wasn't all that “serious” about it.
Any of this sound familiar?
It wasn't until I had a couple injury setbacks that I truly realized the importance of recovery in my training… recovery that extended beyond just the lacrosse balls of the world. I invested in new ways of not only recovering from the demands of training, but also taking measures to prevent long-term issues before they started.
The NormaTec Recovery System is the latest addition to my recovery/prehab collection, and I must say, it's living up to the hype.
You've probably seen the NormaTec online, on TV, maybe in your local PT's office… it's seemingly used by every professional athlete on the planet. I'm talking the who's who at the highest level. It's also used by the everyday guy or gal like you and me… with great success, no doubt.
In this article, I'm going in-depth on the benefits of compression recovery. We'll take a close look at the science behind it, and we'll get up close and personal with the NormaTec PULSE 2.0 system itself. I think by the end of it, you'll have a better understanding of why it dominates the compression system market.
Let's dig in.
- NormaTec PULSE 2.0 Overview
- The Science Behind Compression
- NormaTec PULSE Technology
- NormaTec PULSE 2.0 Build Quality
- Cleaning the Attachments
- The NormaTec Mobile App
- My Experience with the NormaTec PULSE 2.0
- Who's Using the NormaTec
- Price & Competition
- Pros and Cons
- Full Rating
The NormaTec PULSE 2.0 is the latest recovery system from NormaTec. Originally started as a company aiming to enhance blood flow in patients with circulation-related issues, NormaTec has been creating pneumatic compression devices since 1998. With over 20 years of experience, 11 of which have been principally geared toward athletic recovery, NormaTec has pioneered the charge.
By using high-quality materials, patented compression technology, and a very easy-to-use and portable device, NormaTec has become the go-to name in compression recovery. Whether you're looking to target legs/ankles, upper extremities, or your hips, Normatec has you covered.
I've been using this device with the leg attachments now for over three months. I use it extensively throughout the week, and I've experimented with the unit at various intensities and duration using each of the two compression patterns (patented PULSE and sequential). Further, I've experimented with the PULSE 2.0 directly before training, immediately following training, and also the day(s) between training sessions. With a comprehensive understanding of the unit itself, coupled with my own anecdotal experiences, I can confidently say this has been a game-changing tool for me.
And I'm confident it can be the same for you.
The idea behind pneumatic compression is that it can assist in muscle recovery, inflammation reduction, and fatigue/soreness management. When you perform physical activity, you're stressing the muscles in a way that disrupts the fibers. This temporarily leads to inflammation in the muscles as well as the creation of metabolic waste (lactate, bicarbonate, etc…). With the swelling/inflammation in conjunction with the small tears in muscle fibers, you can experience soreness, fatigue, and decreased muscle strength.
The way compression may help is that it temporarily provides increased blood circulation to a targeted area. This acceleration of the blood flow leads to an increase in oxygen to the muscles, it helps move the blood towards the heart, and it assists in flushing the body of metabolic waste. Our lymphatic and vascular systems naturally help our bodies accomplish this, but pneumatic compression can do so more efficiently.
There are numerous studies demonstrating the benefits of compression. Here are just a few:
- Compression can lessen pain sensitivity
- Pulse compression can decrease DOMS
- Pneumatic compression can passively clear metabolites
- Compression can lead to increased range of motion
There are two notable ways in which pneumatic compression can be executed, both of which require individual compression zones, and both of which are possible with the NormaTec PULSE 2.0:
1.) Peristaltic Compression – In this form, pressure is placed on the most distal zone (furthest from the heart). When that zone is deflated, the next zone will inflate. This process continues through the final, most proximal zone, at which point it will return to the beginning for another cycle (if desired). As you will read below, NormaTec has patented a PULSE technology that doesn't fit the traditional definition of ‘peristaltic.' They contend, and I agree, that it greatly improves on the ‘peristaltic' sequence that other companies employ.
2.) Sequential Compression – In this form, the most distal zone is inflated and held. Then the next zone is inflated and held until you reach the end where all zones are inflated and held. This differs from peristaltic compression in that sequential compression does not deflate until the very end.
What separates the NormaTec from some other competitive products is how the device executes its compression sequences (i.e. PULSE and sequential).
The Normatec PULSE differs from others in three primary ways:
1.) Pulsing – As the name implies, the Normatec PULSE 2.0 uses a pulsing compression that is dynamic as compared to a static compression employed by others. NormaTec states that this more effectively mimics the natural muscle pump, which increases fluid/waste movement.
2.) Gradients – Perhaps an even bigger advantage is NormaTec's use of hold pressures in the PULSE setting. Instead of inflating a zone only after the prior zone has deflated, the NormaTec system holds prior zones during the active pulsing stage of the current zone. The idea here is that by holding the prior zone(s), the system is preventing fluids from being forced in the wrong direction (i.e. away from the heart). Venous blood flow only goes in one direction (toward the heart).
3.) Distal Release – In the same vein (no pun intended) as the gradient section, NormaTec uses a unique hold pattern. It will hold the two zones before the active zone that is pulsing. For example, if zone 4 is pulsing, zone 1 is deflated and zones 2 and 3 are inflated and held. If zone 2 is pulsing, zone 1 is inflated and held. The reasoning is that at some point, the prevention of backflow isn't necessary and you may be disrupting the body's normal circulation through extended static pressure. By doing this, the system is giving prior zones rest, but without the significant gaps between compression cycles that a traditional peristaltic setting offers.
In addition to the three differentiators, the NormaTec system also offers these features:
1.) Zone Boost – This will add an extra 60 seconds of massage time as well as a 10 mmHg increase in pressure to the selected zone.
2.) Mobile App – The NormaTec PULSE 2.0 offers a great mobile app that makes real-time adjustments a breeze. More on this below.
3.) Intensity Adjustments – Not unique to NormaTec, but the intensity can be adjusted on a scale from 1 (30 mmHg) – 7 (100 mmHg). You can tack on an extra 10 mmHg if using the zone boost for a maximum pressure of 110 mmHg.
4.) Time Adjustments – The PULSE 2.0 offers session times between 10 minutes and 2 hours and 55 minutes in 5-minute increments. You can also place the unit into continuous mode to go beyond that limit. I don't personally use it for more than 45 minutes, and NormaTec does state that a typical session is between 15-60 minutes.
5.) Rest Time Adjustments – By default, the system uses a 30-second rest time between cycles. You can adjust this to be between 15-90 seconds in 15-second increments.
6.) Zone Adjustments – If you want to exclude a zone, you can disable them from top to bottom, one at a time. You can't exclude a zone that is in between zones given the nature of the compression cycle.
7.) Internal Battery – You can use the system either plugged into a traditional outlet or on its own through the use of the internal battery. Fully charged, it can power the unit for approximately 2 hours, and it takes approximately 6 hours to fully recharge.
8.) Calibration Phase – Before executing the first cycle, the unit will go through a calibration phase where it partially inflates to ensure an accurate fit on the user.
The NormaTec PULSE 2.0 is built very well, using high-quality materials. In this section, we will have a look at each of the core components to see the overall quality of the system.
The Control Unit
One of the best features of the 2.0 version of the Normatec PULSE is the size of the control unit. Not only is it 27% smaller than it's predecessor, but it's also significantly smaller than competing products. For me, this is a big deal since I'm using the unit in a lot of different places. It's easy to carry around, it doesn't take up much space, and it's generally just easier to set-up. The entire unit weighs only 3.4 lbs.
The body of the unit is constructed with a heavy-duty plastic that feels high-quality. It has a power button and an ac adapter port in the back of the unit and the single hose connector in the front center.
The top of the unit is the main display, which is covered in “chemically enhanced” glass. I'm not entirely sure what exactly that entails, but I do know it's very legible and feels like a very nice display. In my opinion, it looks considerably better than other models I've seen from competing companies.
Hoses and Connections
The NormaTec PULSE offers very impressive hoses and connections. Unlike many of the other competitive offerings, the NormaTec zone hoses are fully encapsulated within a single covering. The five zone hoses are neatly organized in a pyramid-like arrangement. Those individual hoses are further covered by a second layer of flexible rubber membrane. I love this for two reasons: 1.) It looks like a single hose for a nice, clean aesthetic, and; 2.) It provides additional protection to the individual hoses.
If you look at some of the other offerings on the market, the hoses are often flat, with the zone tubes exposed. If you're moving the unit around, traveling with it, etc… this increases the risk of any of those tubes being damaged. The NormaTec unit, on the other hand, has less risk of this occurring.
The connection pieces themselves are built similarly to the control unit, using quality and durable plastic. The single button clasp is easy to use, making setup quick and easy. Each zone hose is firmly surrounded by this plastic, leaving no cause for concern of any of them coming loose, moving about, etc…
Another aspect of hose/connection design that I love is that the NormaTec unit has less surface area and less dual-hose length. By that I mean NormaTec has smartly utilized a dividing piece to split the hoses close to the boots themselves. Similar to a switch track on railroads, the piece diverts the air from the console into the respective boots. If you look at several of the other market offerings, you will have two separate hoses coming out of the control unit, meaning it's easy for them to get tangled. With the NormaTec, you have a single hose running for 57″ until it diverts into the individual attachments. There is virtually no way for the hoses to get tangled and it's just much more comfortable because it's less hose to get in the way.
The NormaTec boots are made with a durable and flexible nylon material that conforms nicely to the body. You can quickly tell the craftsmanship is high given the reinforced seams, zipper quality, and thickness of the material. As mentioned, the boots have five zones, each of which overlaps each other to provide completely gapless compression. The zipper is very heavy-duty and it runs from the top of the thigh all the way to down to the toes. It doesn't extend 100% of the way as to eliminate the need to have to reattach the zipper at any time. The outer shell has a nice looking geometric pattern, and it just feels very well done.
Extending from the top of the boots is the hose connection. On one hand, I see why NormaTec decided to place the connections here since it's easy to operate. I do, however, wonder if it would be nicer to have the connections near the feet so it's not as bulky up top. As it's currently designed, the two hose ends and the air diverter rests on/near the stomach/groin or just off to the side. Not a big deal, really, but if they flipped the connections, it would probably be even more comfortable than it is (which is still comfortable).
At the foot, there is an opening near the toes. Not only does this make it more breathable, but it also gives the toes freedom from the compression. Because the foot is a zone, this cutout allows the compression to focus where it needs to: the feet, not the toes.
Lastly, the boots themselves come in three sizes: Standard (5'3″ to 6'3″), Tall (> 6'3″), and Short (< 5'3″).
In addition to the leg attachments, the NormaTec PULSE 2.0 also offers a hip attachment and individual arm attachments for a full-body experience.
One thing you'll notice pretty quickly when using the NormaTec, or any similar device for that matter, is that you'll tend to sweat inside the attachments. As such, you'll want to clean them on occasion. The best way to do that is simply to wipe them down with a cleaning wipe or a rag with a gentle cleanser. Do NOT submerge these in water and certainly don't toss them in your washing machine. I feel like the bottom of a McDonald's coffee cup even typing that… “Caution: Contents Hot.”
You don't say!
To dry the attachments you can either let them air dry or wipe them with a dry towel. They air dry quickly.
One of the greatest features of the NormaTec PULSE 2.0 is the ability to fully control the unit via their mobile app. Any adjustment you make in the app happens in real-time and is reflected as such on the main control unit. This is awesome for several reasons, but my favorite is just so I can put the control unit anywhere that is comfortable. It's very convenient and it's very easy to operate.
When you first install and login to the app, you'll be asked to pair the device just as if you were pairing headphones, etc… You do that by pressing the Bluetooth button on the main control unit and entering a 3-digit code from the control unit into the app.
Once your device is paired, you will have full control. The interface of the app looks identical to the main control unit, which makes this incredibly user-friendly. I find it more user-friendly than the main control unit since there are a few functions that are easier to get to in the app.
For instance, if you want to exclude a certain zone(s), in the app you navigate to ‘Advanced Settings' and just tap the ‘+' or ‘-‘ buttons to increase or decrease the zones. If you were to carry out the same operation on the main control unit, you would need to set the device to level 1 and hold the ‘-‘ button for five seconds. Once the top zone starts blinking, you use the ‘+' and ‘-‘ keys to increase or decrease the active zones. Not that it's hard, but efficiency matters! Similarly, if you want to engage the sequential pattern instead of the PULSE pattern, in the app you just go to ‘Advanced Settings' and do so. On the main unit, you would need to set the device to level 7 and hold the ‘+' for five seconds. Again, not difficult, but the app makes it easier.
In addition to those functions, you can activate zone boost, adjust time, adjust pressure, adjust rest periods, etc… you can do anything that the main control unit can do, but you can do so more quickly and more easily for the most part.
Another awesome feature of the app is that it shows your stats and it integrates with other training apps. On a weekly and monthly basis, you can see when your last session occurred and how long it lasted, your total time with the NormaTec, your average session pressure level, your average session time, and the number of sessions you've had on the NormaTec. Additionally, you can share your sessions and upload your recovery data into apps like Stava and TrainingPeaks. I don't personally use those apps since I'm not an endurance athlete, but if you are, the integration is a neat feature.
The last notable feature of the app is that you can save settings as favorites to select from in future sessions. If you've found a specific time/pressure/zone boost, etc… sequence that you love, just save it and use it whenever want. You can create several of these in case you have multiple favorites for different applications.
All in all, the mobile app is a fantastic idea from NormaTec and it's something that separates them from the pack.
As mentioned earlier, the PULSE 2.0 has been a game-changer in my recovery. Here are a few key takeaways from me:
1.) It works – Not only has it gotten me to take recovery more seriously in general, but the thing seriously works. I have found that it absolutely assists in recovery and getting back to normal, faster. After a heavy lower-body lifting session, throwing on the NormaTec for 30-40 minutes and using it another time or two before my next session has made a big difference. I'll also throw it on after some active recovery, on a random Sunday afternoon, etc… just to get the blood flowing.
2.) It's quieter than I imagined – I use the NormaTec most frequently in the evenings… often while laying in bed next to my wife watching TV or reading a book. I was very pleasantly surprised when I ran the unit the first time. I was expecting it to sound like one of those air mattress pumps… you know, the ones that your neighbors down the street can hear. That's not the case with the NormaTec. Of course, it still makes noise – it's pumping and releasing air after all – but it's much quieter than I imagined.
3.) I wish it had a quick air release – After using the NormaTec and removing the hoses, there will be some air remaining in the boots/attachments. To remove the air, you have to squeeze the attachments, fold them and squeeze some more, etc… until it's all gone. One thing that I think would be cool, going back to the air mattress example, is to have a reverse air pump. On my air mattress, the pump can both inflate and deflate. It would be convenient if the NormaTec offered something similar. At the end of the day, it takes 10-15 seconds to remove the air from each boot, so it's not a deal-breaker, but it would be nice.
4.) I wish you could set your zone boosts in advance and let it run – The way the zone boost works currently is that you hit the button for whatever zone you want boosted while that zone is active. You can only have one zone boost selected, however. If you want, let's say, to have zones 4 and 5 boosted, you have to boost zone 4 while active and then boost zone 5 while it's active. You then have to repeat this each time the cycle goes around. What would be great is if I could let the system know I want zones 4 and 5 boosted at the beginning, and then that persists throughout the entire session.
The list of NormaTec users is long and it includes the who's who of the athletic population. They claim that they're “trusted by 97% of pro teams,” and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. One look at their Instagram page and you'll see the most star-studded athletes using it.
LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Steph Curry, Drew Brees, Rickey Fowler, Todd Gurley, etc… just to name a few.
Entire team organizations are giving each of the players NormaTec units to travel with. You're seeing it even at the collegiate level. Clemson University, as an example, gives each of their football players a NormaTec to carry with them to and from practice, into their dorms, etc…
It's not just for professional athletes, though. NormaTec can be used by virtually anyone. From the desk jockey, to the weekend warrior, to the CrossFit enthusiast, to the powerlifter, and everyone in between. There are CrossFit boxes that have full-blown NormaTec recovery rooms. Physical therapists, sports doctors, etc… have been using the system with great success. I first learned of NormaTec at Carolina Sports Clinic in Charlotte, NC. My sports doctor, Bradley Weist, who is also the lead chiro for the Carolina Panthers, is a big proponent of the NormaTec PULSE.
In general, this device is a great tool for virtually any population.
Disclaimer: do not use the NormaTec if you know or suspect that you may have certain conditions such as pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, vascular disease, etc… consult your doctor if you have any concerns before using the device.
The NormaTec PULSE 2.0 is an investment, in my opinion. Starting at $1,295 for the leg system that I'm reviewing here, and moving up to $2,295 for the full-body system, it's priced higher than some of the other systems on the market. That said it does offer some real advantages:
- Pulsing compression is something unique to NormaTec.
- The PULSE 2.0 offers a well-designed, patented PULSE pattern that improves on the traditional peristaltic compression of competitors.
- The NormaTec unit has five compression zones, where most others only have four.
- The mobile app that comes with the PULSE 2.0 is revolutionary and unique to NormaTec.
- The NormaTec control unit is significantly smaller than the competition.
- The PULSE 2.0 includes an internal battery that allows for up to 2 hours of unplugged use.
So while it's true that some of the competitors like Rapid Reboot, Air Relax, etc… are priced well below, if any combination of the above holds value for you, the NormaTec PULSE 2.0 very well may be the best option.
Having experienced the NormaTec now for several months, I'm extremely happy with the product. I find a lot of value in its unique offerings, and I think there's a reason why you're seeing so many high-profile folks using it.
- NormaTec is the pioneer of sports performance-related compression technology in this form, and you can tell with their innovation and build quality.
- The unit itself is smartly designed to reduce footprint and provide a comfortable experience.
- The internal battery is a massive benefit, allowing you to use the unit for ~2 hours unplugged.
- The NormaTec mobile app is a genius solution that works very well in real-time.
- It's much quieter than you would think for a mechanical air pump.
- By using a single hose from the unit, NormaTec eliminated concerns with twisted cords, and it looks nicer too.
- The materials are noticeably top-notch.
- IT WORKS! There is no doubt that I've realized the benefits that compression offers. When you consider the unique capabilities of the NormaTec PULSE 2.0 specifically, it's just icing on the cake.
- It's not necessarily inexpensive. Starting at $1,295, it's an investment to be sure.
- I feel the zone boost feature could be improved to allow the user to set preferences at the beginning.
- Small con, but the residual air after sessions must be manually removed. If NormaTec could devise a reverse air pump, that would be yet another awesome feature in an already feature-rich product.
At the end of the day, NormaTec has hit a clear home run with the PULSE 2.0. It's an incredible compression product with qualities that you just can't find with other competitors.
If you're serious about recovery and you have the budget to support it, I would highly recommend NormaTec for several reasons. They are the king of the compression world, as evidenced by their following, pro accounts, etc… and I don't see it changing any time soon.
If you have any questions about the NormaTec PULSE 2.0, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own this NormaTec unit and you want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback.
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