Best Foam Roller Reviews and Benefits: A Buyers Guide
The foam roller: it looks so innocent propped up in the corner, waiting for unsuspecting tight muscles to come along so it can unleash its wrath.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little bit, but the foam roller is both something that fitness enthusiasts swear by and cringe at, all at once.
There is no love/hate relationship like that with a foam roller; seriously, I don’t know how something can feel so good and hurt so bad at the same time, but it really does.
I first started using a foam roller when I was training for a half-marathon and needed relief for sore muscles, and now I hop on one every single day as a regular part of my morning routine, workout warmup, and evening stretch.
It is true that it feels painful and tedious when you first begin a foam rolling routine, but like anything else in fitness, it does get easier the more frequently you do it. And, it has tremendous benefits, even if you do not suffer from sore muscles.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
Before we dive into the benefits, let’s take a moment to establish what foam rolling is actually doing: self-myofascial release. In other words, it’s giving you a deep tissue massage and improving the mobility of your fascia.
What exactly is the fascia, you ask? To explain it simply, fascia is fibrous material that holds various systems of the body together. It is very densely woven, and it exists as a continuous structure that covers every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, in addition to all of the internal organs.
That’s a pretty big job, right?
So based on movement patterns, occupational side effects, inflammation, and stress, the fascia can get very tight and become a source of tension for the body - hence, the need for myofascial-release.
If you have ever experienced “knots” in your neck, back, or shoulders, then you have experienced what happens when fascia tightens, as it is a big spider-web like system that works best when it’s unstuck.
Foam rollers allow you to iron out your fascia without breaking the bank from hiring a massage therapist every day. So, other than ensuring the daily health of fascia, what else does foam rolling do for you?
- Speeds up recovery & prevents injury
It’s pretty cool how these benefits are simultaneous, but the truth is that they depend on each other to be true.
Consider this: the reason for tight muscles is generally because of a lactic acid build-up that the foam roller easily releases. And, the reason for many injuries is because of improper warm-up for tight muscles.
So while you foam roll and release tension, you’re actually speeding up your muscular recovery as well as preparing the body for the best workout possible. Pretty cool, huh?
- Boosts circulation
The foam roller wakes up tissue in ways you have not experienced before, thanks to the pressure of the affected area pushing against the roller. This sends a temporary surge of blood to the region being rolled, and increases the oxygen flow to that muscle group, too.
The more oxygenated a muscle is, the less tight it feels - so improved circulation also leads to more relaxed muscles. Better circulation is additionally attributed to lower blood pressure, so roll on!
- Improves posture and aid alignment
It’s easy to point out examples of poor posture, but the general belief for what causes it is a misconception. Most people believe that poor posture is a result of slumping over at a desk or not standing up straight, but actually, that’s just what poor posture looks like. It is actually caused from tight or weak muscles, which contribute to misalignment of the spine/pelvis.
When the body begins to compensate and choose the posture of least resistance, it often looks like someone who just won’t stand up straight. (Note: Not that we are superficial or anything, but we want to point out that people who stand up straight look taller, leaner, and better than those who have poor posture!)
Because foam rolling releases this tightness, it helps the misaligned structure move back into place and therefore corrects postural issues…
- Relieves lower back pain
...which are directly related to low back pain! A huge majority of people (80%) suffer from low back pain, and it is frequently misdiagnosed, just like posture problems. Lower back pain is often the result of tight or weak muscles, especially in the core and legs.
The low back tries to make up for these underperforming muscles, and that extra stress leads to inflammation and pain. When you foam roll and allow for the release of this tension, it relieves the associated pain in the low back.
- Increases range of motion and flexibility
Have you ever slept wrong and woken up to a stiff neck? If so, you know it’s nearly impossible to move the head from side to side, which is what fitness pros call a limited range of motion.
Tight, stiff muscles keep you from moving as well as you can, and they also limit your flexibility. When you break up the tightness in the fascia with your foam roller, you notice yourself moving more freely and easily.
Note: this is another reason it’s a great warm-up tool. As a yoga instructor but also an experienced weight lifter, I am always baffled that so many people don’t recognize how much stronger they can get with more flexibility and range of motion. Improving these two areas of your fitness will lead to optimal health and overall gains.
- Can be used to workout
The foam roller is no longer just a supplemental aid; it actually is quickly gaining popularity as a tool to use during workouts. Many trainers, seeing the versatility of foam rollers, are adding them into workouts as tools to help improve upper back/shoulder strength, core strength, and overall stability.
If you’ve ever tried to lay totally vertically on the length of a long foam roller, you know it opens up the chest as well as challenges the core to stay balanced. I’ve even seen fitness enthusiasts use the roller for plank variations and hip workouts. It’s really a thing, and it works, especially if you get bored quickly with the same old routines.
Not to mention it's a totally portable workout tool that you can carry with you anywhere and stow away easily - the perfect addition to any home gym!
- Improves the appearance of cellulite
As we talked about in our vibration machine article (another great piece of home gym equipment that combats cellulite), cellulite has become one of the most elusive, misunderstood, and dreaded conditions that affects women in particular; it often manifests on the thighs, buttocks, and upper arms, and it is dubbed the “cottage cheese” skin condition that is named after its dimply appearance.
In a nutshell, the subcutaneous tissues contain a web of connective tissue (fascia!) that store much of the body fat. Because there are many layers of tissue, the surface of the skin shows up with cellulite when the the fatty cells get enlarged. This is also due to the fact that inelastic fibers connect these layers. But when you foam roll, you break up the tissue that’s storing your body fat, and that can lead to a reduction in the appearance of dimply skin.
How to Choose the Best Foam Roller
All the above awesome benefits are best obtained by choosing a foam roller that is right for your needs. Because of their surge in popularity, foam rollers now come in all shapes, sizes, and prices, and they are made based on pretty specific needs.
In fact, I’m looking at three different foam rollers in my office right now, and I use them each for different reasons. Here are the things you should consider to help you choose the best foam roller for you and your unique needs!
SOFT VS FIRM
If you are brand new to the world of foam rolling, then you definitely want to choose the softest option available to allow for some movement between your body and the roller.
When you have your full body weight pressing against tight muscles, it can be very painful. Starting with a softer roller is best until you get used to foam rolling as a regular activity.
The firmness is typically determined by what kind of foam the roller is made from. Polyethylene foam is the least dense and allows for less pressure. The next level of firmness is also typically made from polyethylene foam, but it is open cell, which changes the texture and density.
The roller that provides the most pressure is made from closed cell polyethylene foam and manufactured under high heat, creating a thick, smooth surface that is best for the most advanced foam rollers. Sometimes, rollers are made from Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate (EVA) foam, which can be medium or highest firmness depending on the manufacturing, so check for that in the product description as well.
Finally, note that the softer the foam is, the more likely it is to warp over time; if you use a roller regularly, then you definitely want to make sure it’s durable.
In case a regular, smooth foam roller does not apply enough targeted pressure for you, you can buy a roller that has prongs on it to dig in and release more pressure points. While this may sound like a torture device to some, it’s a popular option for those who endure intense workouts and have been rolling regularly for an extended amount of time.
The pronged rollers are also great for users who engage in static holds on the roller, as they can dig in to specific myofascial release points and feel the most benefit from their rolling session. Other surfaces are slightly contoured but do not have prongs, for the same reason - extra release. The least invasive surface texture is plain smooth, as this surface allows for less pressure.
While a cylindrical shape is pretty typical for most foam rollers, some exist in varied shapes that were designed to target specific regions or to use primarily for work outs.
For example, a half-cylindrical shape is better if the roller is primarily used for exercise, whereas a skinny cylinder is more useful for small muscle groups like the calves and IT band. A completely different mold is the hourglass shaped Stealth Align foam roller that has a tapered waist, allowing you to use it on your back without compressing your spine.
Yes, you can even buy rollers in various lengths, which is especially great news if you want a roller that you can pack in your gym bag (or suitcase) and tote along with you. The most standard size options are 36”, 18”, and 12”, so be sure to look for that information in the product description.
Do you want to use a foam roller just for your calves (maybe you’re a runner!)? If so, a smaller option is going to be best suited for you. Do you need something that can double as lumbar support? Look for thick foam.
What about a roller that is going to help you in your workouts? You need to make sure you are clear on how you want to use your foam roller so you get one that is specifically suited for your needs.
Best Foam Roller Reviews
So, with all this newfound rolling knowledge, what are the best foam rollers available on the market right now? Let’s take a look.
This is a heavy-duty, extra-firm foam roller that is made for the most advanced rollers and not for the faint of heart. It is constructed with molded polypropylene foam technology that has a two pounds per cubic foot density, smooth surface, and won’t lose its shape after heavy use.
To add to its durability, this roller’s material repels liquids. Because of its high density foam and extra firmness, it is best suited for physical therapy, before or after exercise, yoga, and massage therapy. This particular roller is available in three sizes: 6x36, 6x18, and 6x12, with the small option being great for travel as well as for focus on core stabilization and balance. These rollers come with a one-year manufacturer warranty. Read all user reviews!
If the extra-firm, intense workout of the above foam roller seems a little bit much for you, this OPTP soft density roller may be exactly what you are looking for. Created with closed-cell, cross link foam technology and a slightly textured surface, this gentle roller is best suited for physical therapy, stretching, balance exercise, pilates, and yoga.
Despite being softer, it is still a very durable option and can withstand extended user in rehabilitation centers, fitness studios and home gyms alike. It measures 6”x36”. Read all user reviews!
This uniquely designed, patented foam roller boasts a superior, multi-density exterior constructed over a rigid, hollow core, crafted from quality materials that make it highly durable and keep it from breaking down.
As described in the product description, “the distinctive, multi-dimensional surfaces of the GRID replicate the feeling of a massage therapist’s hands – wide and flat like the palm, long and tubular like the fingers, and small and firm like the finger tips.”
I don’t know about you, but I would pay good money for a foam roller that feels like the hands of a massage therapist!
TriggerPoint GRID foam rollers are available in three sizes and two densities. Regular density models include the original 13-inch GRID, the 26-inch GRID 2.0, and the 4-inch travel-friendly GRID Mini, which is great for targeted use on smaller muscle groups.
A bonus accessory is found in the fact that when you purchase any GRID foam roller, you receive free access to an online instructional video library that show you the best foam rolling techniques available. This brand also comes with a one-year warranty. Read all user reviews!
This is one of the most uniquely designed foam rollers that I have used, and it really makes sense how the manufacturer created it for optimal performance and spine safety. Because the center channel is not the same width as the outer parts of the roller, it allows the spine to be controlled and not get compressed by one big wide cylinder, making it the best foam roller for back pain.
This design is still versatile in that it provides the ability to isolate muscle groups by rolling on just one side of the roller, and its center channel is supremely brilliant not only for the back, but for allowing you to control and target the calf muscles as well. It’s a bit shorter than other standard options, with its measurements coming in at L24 x W8 x H8. Read all reviews!
Deep tissue massage ahead: the contoured bumps sticking out from the rumble roller allow a deeper massage experience than any of the other rollers, as you not only get myo-fascial release but you also get trigger-point therapy, all in one.
Although it can be painful when you first begin using this roller, it is hands down the best foam roller for pain relief because of its ability to erode trigger points, help restore flexibility, and break up tight “knots” of fascia.
In case you are wondering whether this pressure could damage the spine or other bony protrusions, the RumbleRoller's bumps are firmer than muscle tissue, but much softer than bone, so they deflect out of the way if they contact your spine or other bony protrusions.
In an additional step to prove safety and consumer peace of mind, the two available versions of this roller (original density and extra-firm) have been tested by an independent laboratory in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 for lead and phthalates. These products are also latex-free.
In terms of size: you can buy the regular 6x31 size, or you can purchase this roller in the smaller 6x12 size. Read all user reviews!
A truly economical option full of great value, this set is all about the options for impressive versatility. It is crafted from EVA foam, which is the most environmentally friendly foam available since it does not contain chlorine and therefore has less of an environmental footprint.
As for the design, it features a multi-density "Honeycomb" pattern along with a hollow center that allows for another penetrating, deep tissue massage experience. Despite the center being hollow, it is definitely made from sturdy materials and will not break down or warp after repeated use.
The most unique component of this roller is the fact that the manufacturers understand that you may not want to have that experience every day, so in order to balance the firmness and intensity of the hollow roller, they combined it with a solid EVA roller, which is better suited for sensitive regions like the neck. Sounds like a win-win, right? And, hey, accessories are included. Not only do you receive two different types of rollers, but you also receive a free carrying case to make the roller set extra easy to transport.
Overall, a great portable foam roller set for travelers and those getting started who want to experience a variety for a very affordable price! Read all user reviews!
We hope you found this information extra helpful as you decide what kind of foam roller you are going to buy, as well as why you need to incorporate it into your daily habits.
If you have a favorite roller that we missed, drop us a comment and let us know! Or, share with us any secrets that you may have stumbled upon that make your foam rolling more effective and enjoyable. We love to hear from our readers! Enjoy!