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Sore muscles are a normal part of exercise, but you might need to call in some help when the pain becomes too much. That is where a foam roller comes in. It is an extraordinary piece of equipment that is suited to muscle recovery for all types of disciplines, including powerlifting, boxing, CrossFit, and calisthenics recovery sessions.
These soft cylindrical rollers are cost-effective and a good way to release tension in your sore muscles yourself from right at home.
In this guide, we’ll review and compare some of the best foam rollers on the market. We’ll dissect the beneficial factors we found while using them and which areas could use some improvement. This way, you can make an educated buyer’s decision when choosing your favorite foam roller.
A foam roller (or body roller) is a cylindrical tube either made entirely of foam or has foam wrapped around a bar or hollow plastic core. It is used by placing it on the floor and rolling it under you using your body weight as pressure.
This exercise roller can be used for many reasons, but it is mainly used to perform myofascial release therapy on yourself before or after workouts. This isn’t your usual relaxing Swedish or deep tissue massage you’re used to and can be a bit uncomfortable and painful at first.
During a myofascial release massage, your stiff myofascial tissues are stretched and massaged to release any knots you may have in the muscle. In this case, a foam roller adds pressure to the sore muscles for a few minutes and helps release any tension held in the stiff muscles.
Using a foam roller for legs, back, arms, shoulders, and neck is very common. These are the areas that store the most tension whether you’re working out or under stress. While this release therapy won’t offer long-term relief, it can provide some benefits over the course of a few sessions.
Foam rolling enthusiasts should start to see results within two to 12 weeks.
Best Foam Roller Buying Guide
Before you purchase your first foam roller, there are a few things to keep in mind. This buyer’s guide will help you decide which foam roller from our list is best suited for you.
Before buying a foam roller, it is essential to know what you want to achieve through its use. A firmer roller with a bumpy surface texture is better for sore or tight muscles after a workout.
A softer roller with a low to medium density provides more cushioning during deep massages. It is also a great prop to use for core-focused exercises like pilates, calisthenics ab work, or yoga.
The premise remains the same whether you use a 12-inch or a 36-inch foam roller. However, how much surface area of muscle you want to target will determine how big you want your foam roller to be.
A smaller roller will be more suited for a more targeted muscle massage. However, if you need to cover a larger surface area like your back, a longer roller would be ideal for massaging the whole area.
Foam rollers come in all shapes, densities, sizes, and forms. While each traditional foam roller performs the same task, there is still a purpose for each variation of foam roll on the market.
These designs are not accidental. It will help to know what the softer foam or bumpy foam rollers can do for you. To tailor your purchase to what you need, here’s everything you need to know about the different rollers.
Foam rollers come in different densities ranging from soft, low density rollers to more rigid, high-density foam rollers.
High-density foam rollers are hard and sometimes have added bumps. These rollers are best suited to work out serious knots and kinks, providing deep tissue muscle massages.
A medium density foam roller is slightly softer and is best suited for those week-old tense muscles. These could also come in handy for flexibility exercises as they also provide some height with slight cushioning.
Low density rollers are the softest rollers on the market and are best suited to help release trigger points after an intense workout in the most gentle way. Sometimes these rollers will also have textured patterns to intensify the massage.
Smooth surface foam rollers are good for beginners who only want to stretch their muscles pre and post-workouts as it gives even pressure throughout. However, compared to a textured foam roller with foam bumps, it doesn’t give a deep enough massage for sore muscles.
The different densities in the bumps act as a masseuse’s hands and hug and loosen any tense knots you might have. Oftentimes, the smaller bumps or grids function like fingertips and get in the hard-to-reach areas, while the bigger flat surfaces act as a rolling palm across your taut muscles.
Vibrating foam rollers have the same capabilities as a standard foam roller but with the added benefit of massaging electric pulses. These vibrations are great for reducing pain and tension in muscles. According to this study by North Carolina University, it also aids in the increase of range of motion in muscles.
Foam rollers come in many forms and sizes and any home gym would benefit from having a foam roller or two in it. However, there are so many on the market that it can be difficult to weigh up and compare which brands sell the best rollers.
If you want the best quality foam roller for you, you’d have to do thorough research into which brands offer the best products, what type of foam roller you’d need, and for what purpose you’ll use it.
It’s no use buying a low density foam roller when you need the toughness of a firm roller for your lower back or hip pain. Similarly, you could only make your injuries worse by buying a textured foam roller when you’re unsure of what you’re doing as a beginner.
We’re here to help you cut the Gordian (muscle) knot by doing all of the hard work for you. So without further ado, here are our top 6 foam rollers.
- Type: Grid
- Material: EVA Foam
- Price: $$
Trigger Point’s GRID is a foam roller with a hollow core and soft foam exterior that makes it lightweight and easy to carry with you. We liked that the foam roller also comes in different colors and patterns, which can help to liven up your home gym.
The grid pattern in the foam is a mix of big and smaller bunched areas, which we found helps the roller add different amounts of pressure. The grid combination mimics the feeling of a veteran masseuse, adding pressure to targeted trigger points.
- Very lightweight at 1.32 lbs
- Dimensions 13” x 5.5”
- Multi-density design
- Purchase includes free instructional video
- Made with EVA foam with a hollow core for added stability
- Can hold up to 500 pounds
While the purchase of the foam roller allows you free access to an instructional video, we found that the process isn’t quite as straightforward. Before you can view the free video, you have to sign up to the site.
We felt this was unnecessary as we could easily find instructional videos on Trigger Point’s Youtube channel. Keep this in mind if you go for this option.
- Type: High-density
- Material: Polypropylene
- Price: $
Compared to other high-density foam rollers, this roller is the most affordable foam roller on the market. It comes in different lengths ranging from 12-inches to 36-inches, which alongside its low price, means you can buy a few different sizes and use it for various areas of your body.
While the product advertises itself as being made of Polypropylene, we found the material to be closer to styrofoam. When we tested the roller, this proved a bit of a problem as it felt like it wouldn’t hold heavier weights.
- Dimensions 36” x 6”
- Easy to clean
- The lightweight design made it easy to transport
- It comes in four sizes
We like that the roller has rounded edges and a textured finish. While the finish wasn’t enough to deeply massage our muscles, it has made it easier for us to use. The added texture acted as a non-slip bonus feature when used on smooth surfaces.
Upon use, we found that we could feel the seam while rolling, which could affect the user experience. However, the rounded edges made up for it as it also helped for a smoother use without being jabbed in the side by foam corners.
- Type: Stick foam roller
- Material: Foam and plastic
- Price: $$
We liked that this stick foam roller acts similar to a rolling pin. The orange plastic grips on the side help with easy grip while the center foam part rolls over the muscles. This helps for a more controlled muscle massage, allowing us to add and decrease as much pressure as needed.
However, this excitement was short-lived because it became a two-person job as soon as it came to massaging any muscles on the back of our arms or our back. Compared to the longer 22-inch roller, the 18-inch just didn’t have sufficient space for a full back massage.
- Incredibly lightweight at 0.2 lbs
- Dimension 18” x 1.62”
- Non-slip grip with a moving soft foam center
- Easy to carry and takes up little space
- Latex-free material
The Tiger Tail is best suited for active trainers who might need to massage their taut muscles on the go. It is a great tool to keep nearby while you travel as it’s lightweight and takes up hardly any space.
- Type: Low Density
- Material: Bamboo foam
- Price: $$
The Brazyn Morph foam roller featured on Shark Tank as the ideal accessory for an on-the-go trainer. Its biggest draw is its collapsible design, which can easily fit and fold away in your gym bag, in your car, or under your desk. Simply pull the sides to puff it up, and you’re good to roll.
The surface is smooth with inverted bumps to give you a softer massage that doesn’t dig into your muscles. This textured roller is quite versatile and a good option for trainers of all sports.
However, once the collapsed sections push out, we found the gaps between segments to be too hard for a head, spine, or neck massage.
- Dimension 14.5” x 5.5”
- Can withhold weights of up to 350 llbs
- More eco-friendly because it’s bamboo and recycled aluminum
- Purchase includes carry-on bag and booklet
Upon use, we noticed that the roller rolls unevenly and we had to reposition it a few times. For the best results, we recommend this specific roller for smaller sections like your arms, neck, and legs instead of your back.
- Type: High Density
- Material: EPP Foam
- Price: $
We love that the Rogue foam roller gives us a choice and comes in 18 and 36-inch lengths in firm or ultra-firm densities. Its durable expanded polypropylene foam (EPP) material holds its shape over time. However, it can break over continuous use under heavy weights.
The Rogue Foam Roller is another low-cost foam roller that keeps things as simple as possible. The roller comes in two lengths and two densities, so you can customize it exactly like you need and want.
- Dimensions 18” or 36” x 6”
- Made of a durable EPP material
- It comes in two lengths and densities
While we loved its use, upon further testing, we concluded that this foam roller was better suited for more experienced users. Without the proper knowledge, overuse of the high density roller could cause bruising as it gives intense and targeted massages.
- Type: Vibrating foam roller
- Material: Foam
- Price: $$
While a foam roller may not give you the same targeted results as a massage gun, this vibrating roller is the next best thing. We analyzed the Nextrino vibrating roller to compare it to a standard foam roller to see which is the best foam roller for back.
The Nextrino has a textured exterior like many high density foam rollers. However, we appreciated that the three vibration settings added another layer to our trigger-pointed deep massages upon use. The vibrations alongside the pointed texture allowed for a massage with the perfect intensity to soothe our sore muscles.
- Can hold up to 300 pounds
- Dimensions 13” x 5.5”
- Made from high density EVA foam
- Removable carry handle
Compared to other vibrating foam rollers, Nextrino holds up well, but we found that the vibration intensity can be a bit too much, even at the lowest setting.
The charging port is placed conveniently at the top of the roller and plugs directly into a wall socket. We found that it takes between four to six hours to fully charge and gives about two hours of battery life, which isn’t too bad considering we only used it between 15 to 20 minutes a day.
We did, however, notice that there is no way to replace the battery once the battery expires and the warranty only lasts for one year. This could be a problem in the future for everyday users.
Foam Rolling Benefits
You can use foam rolling to target larger muscle groups or smaller and specific muscle groups. While it can’t replace regular stretching and warm up, it can aid the process by extending the muscles and releasing knots.
A foam roller can aid in the relief of muscle tension and reduce inflammation. You can use the roller before or after your workouts to stretch the muscles and prevent tender muscles in the next 24 to 48 hours.
But, don’t overdo the rolling method and try to stop and add pressure for more than 60 seconds per muscle group, or you risk being counterintuitive and could cause more injuries.
The foam roller is a great device to aid muscle movement and flexibility. The small size helps to target a specific area on the body that might be painful due to knots and tight muscles.
Trainers may notice that stretching these trigger points is especially helpful for your legs and back. It also helps with your range of movement in compound exercises like suspension trainer squats and jump lunges.
The rolling motion of a foam roller increases blood flow within the affected larger muscle groups. This is important because increased blood flow is essential to muscle recovery. Blood carries oxygen and the needed nutrients to the muscles.
To reap the benefits of the foam roller on blood circulation, you need to roll your whole body with emphasis put on major muscle groups like your back, hamstrings, and quads.
Masseurs and myofascial release massages can rack up and become costly. Buying a foam roller doesn’t have to be expensive.
Some standard foam rollers on the market can be quite cheap without skimping on quality. This allows you to receive daily self myofascial release massages from the comfort of your home gym or anywhere really.
The traditional foam roller is cost-effective and a great way to improve your range of movement and stretch some muscles. They are also great props to add to your exercises for added support.
This easy-to-find device is mainly foam-based, so it is almost weightless. This makes it an effortless gym companion that can often slip into your gym bag with no worries of it weighing it down.
Of course, a foam roller isn’t a fix-all, and there are some faults too. If you’re inexperienced, it is best to start with a softer foam roll and move your way up to more high density rollers. You also risk hurting yourself more if you overdo the massaging with a textured roller.
After trying out these foam rollers for ourselves, we’ve found the good, the bad, and the not so good with all of them. You also shouldn’t have much of a problem finding the perfect foam roller with the tips and tricks that we’ve provided above.
Nadia is a USA-HomeGym.com Senior Editor with 15 years+ experience in the health, supplement and nutrition niches. Nadia became a health & fitness evangelist after rebuilding her gut health in 2008 using the Weston A. Price method. She developed a Facebook group that grew to more than 15,000 members sharing information on diet for allergy reduction, eczema & psoriasis cessation. Since 2011, Nadia has been an avid stair climber, achieving race times in the top 5% of her age group and maintaining average times of 3’40 – 3’55 minutes per 12 floors.