Foam rollers are cylindrical devices used to help massage and loosen muscles after a tough workout.
They come in several different sizes, shapes, and textures, each of which can produce different effects on a body after (or as a part of) an exercise routine. They release some of the tension that muscles take on while working out, which helps to speed up muscle recovery time.
Foam rollers are usually used as either a massage after exercise, or as a facet of the exercise itself. To relieve tired muscles via self-massage, simply place the roller on the floor and roll your body along it, concentrating on tight muscles and allowing the roller to finesse your knots and trouble spots.
As a part of an exercise routine, foam rollers create instability much like an exercise ball, making you work to balance your body and train different muscles.
Healthcare professionals have long touted the benefits of foam rollers, but they are only just now entering the mainstream. What was once used mainly for athletes or people using physical therapy to recover from an injury can now be used by anyone who wants to improve their muscle tone and range of motion.
We have ranked the ten best foam rollers on the market, so you can see which one would benefit you most.
1. HiHiLL Foam Roller
The HiHiLL foam roller is portable and lightweight, but it is also one of the more durable foam rollers on the market. Its flexible, elastic nature makes it perfect for yoga, Pilates, ad CrossFit workouts, as well as weight training. It features a flat zone for normal massages, as well as imitation fingers to better massage your trigger points.
This foam roller is easy to carry, great for massages, and comes with a lifetime warranty, meaning that if something ever happens you can contact the manufacturer and get a replacement roller.
2. LaFit Foam Roller for Muscles Kit
LaFit’s Foam Roller for Muscles Kit is designed especially for women. As opposed to the other rollers on this list, this one is a part of a complete set, which includes the foam roller, a massage ball, and a resistance band. The foam roller is said to be extremely effective at massaging back muscles – a major trouble spot for female athletes and fitness buffs.
Don’t let its pretty colors fool you: this foam roller set is strong, durable, and gives you everything you need to get your muscles in great shape. The manufacturers are so certain that it will work for you that there is a 100% money-back guarantee.
3. High Density Foam Roller from D-Fit by Deawna
This high-density foam roller by D-Fit by Deawna is extremely durable. It is hollow inside, but it holds its shape during workouts, and has an outer covering that is resistant to divots, scratches, and rips. Perhaps more importantly, this roller is color-fast, meaning that it won’t leave scuff marks on your floor after use. It is also anti-slip, which greatly reduces the amount of possible workout injuries.
4. Tryiins Foam Rollers for Muscles
Tryiins Foam Rollers are another example of a 2-in-1 roller. The inner roller is made out of a unique PVC engineering-level plastic, and is great for massages, warm-ups, and cool-downs. The outer roller is made of strong, durable, EVA material, making it an ideal tool for workouts.
Both rollers are tough but lightweight, and are perfectly portable. The outer roller is especially great at targeting sore muscles and working out kinks in one’s back, making it an essential part of one’s fitness routine.
5. Ronten Foam Roller
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The Ronten Foam Roller is another 2-in-1 set that includes a hollow outer roller and a solid, dense inner roller. Both are great at loosening muscles and improving circulation, and both are made of high-quality EVA materials. These foam rollers offer three different density variations for three types of massages for your sore spots. Whether you are looking for a light warm-up/cool-down or a deep, healing tissue massage, this roller has you covered.
6. TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
The TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller is the most expensive roller on our list, most likely due to the fact that it is the “Trusted foam roller of physical and massage therapists, coaches, trainers and athletes.” It has a rigid, hollow core that means that it won’t collapse while you’re working with it, and it features a variety of different densities on its surface to help you achieve the massage and workout goals you are looking for.
7. AmazinFitness Foam Roller 2 in 1
The AmazinFitness 2-in-1 Foam Roller is perfect for yoga fanatics and CrossFit enthusiasts who are looking for relief after an intense visit to the yoga studio or gym. It promotes healthier muscles and a healthier lifestyle, and can help you to keep performing at your best. It also helps to prevent injuries like pulled or overworked muscles, and can help you to recover more quickly from injuries you may already have. The set also includes a mesh carrying bag, so you can take it with you when you travel.
8. GIK Foam Roller
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This GIK brand foam roller is sold as a 2-in-1 unit. On the outside, you get a massaging foam roller that is made to knead your muscles like fingers or your palms would. It is designed to help loosen tight muscles and bring relief after a strenuous workout.
The removable inner roller is smooth, making it easy to give your muscles a nice rubdown (or warm-up) before or after a workout. Both rollers can speed recovery after a sports, yoga, or any other type of workout. They can also improve circulation by releasing toxins from the bloodstream.
9. SYOURSELF Foam Roller for Muscle Massage
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This foam roller comes in an array of bright, playful colors, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less capable of getting the job done. SYOURSELF foam rollers have massaging, finger-like grooves on the outside that can help give a deep-tissue massage with minimal effort.
These foam rollers are ergonomically designed for your comfort, and are lightweight enough to easily carry with you wherever your workout may take you. They can hold up to 200kg (around 440lbs) of weight, and are easy to clean after a sweaty workout session.
10. Ananteke Foam Roller
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This Ananteke Trigger Point Foam Roller is perfect for smoothing out all of those trouble spots. You know best which muscles need to be loosened, and Ananteke’s foam roller can help get you there by letting you target specific areas without a lot of body contortions. Like the previous two rollers, this one also has imitation finger technology to make you feel as if a person is massaging your muscles. In addition, it has three different “grip pressure points” to help stimulate blood circulation and release tension.
Who should buy a foam roller?
A foam roller is a great tool for relieving muscular soreness, warming up and cooling down from workouts, and for treating musculoskeletal injuries.
Foam rollers are traditionally used by competitive athletes, but thanks to scientific research on the broader applications of foam roller assisted myofascial release techniques, have become commonplace at everywhere from gyms to yoga studios to physical therapy clinics. Due to its broad range of applications, most people who are physically active can benefit from a foam roller.
If you are a serious athlete, a foam roller is an invaluable tool for warming up and cooling down. It’s also great for soothing sore muscles in the days following following a tough workout. If you aren’t a hardcore athlete, but still like to stretch out and loosen up before or after your gym sessions, a foam roller is also a good tool to have on hand.
Even if you just have a sore back or stiff calf muscles, a foam roller can help increase range of motion. As a decent rule of thumb, if you ever stretch, use a gym membership, or go to a massage therapist or physical therapist, you’re likely to benefit from a foam roller.
How we ranked
When formulating our rankings of the best foam rollers on the market, we were looking for products that were built with an effective design and high-quality materials.
We sought out products that would both perform well and last for a long time. Fortunately, the scientific literature provides some pretty strong guidelines on the appropriate way to construct a foam roller for maximum efficacy.
Based on the style of foam rollers used in scientific research, we formulated our rankings using only foam rollers that consisted of a rigid plastic core surrounded by a relatively small amount of foam (no more than a few inches).
Cheaper, lower-quality foam rollers are just a solid tube of foam, but these foam rollers are often not rigid enough to provide the right level of pressure to perform myofascial release. Moreover, these all-foam foam rollers often exhibit collapse, where the air-filled foam cells get crushed over time, particularly by heavier users.
If you’ve ever seen a foam roller that looks like it has a dent in the middle, that’s because the foam has collapsed due to extended pressure being applied thanks to many hours of use.
In contrast, a plastic-core foam roller provides extra rigidity that increases efficacy and the lifespan of the foam roller. These solid-core foam rollers are also exactly the kind of foam roller that is used in scientific research.
We also considered the diameter and length of the foam roller. For most people, a foam roller between 12 and 24 inches is the right size. Too small and you can’t roll larger areas, like your upper back.
Small foam rollers are also a no-go for larger users, as they can fail to apply pressure to an entire muscle. While a 36 inch foam roller can be handy in a few niche applications, they’re too large and unwieldy for most users. As such, we targeted the 12 to 24 inch range for the foam rollers in our rankings.
Bumps, nodules, or other textures applied to the foam roller walk a fine line. On one hand, they can be great for squashing trigger points or sore spots in your muscle fibers, but on the other, textures that are too large can be painful, and can prevent pressure from being applied to the entire area of the muscle. We eliminated products from our rankings if their texturing features were too large and too prominent.
When it came to the other features of the foam roller, we awarded extra points to foam rollers that had additional perks like a smaller travel-sized all-foam foam roller or a resistance band incorporated as well.
After taking into account the build quality, longevity, and efficacy of the remaining foam rollers, we were left with our final rankings. These are the top foam rollers on the market according to our criteria.
Foam rollers are designed to stretch sore muscles and help them to recover faster. These devices are simple in design, consisting of either a solid or hollow tube made from dense foam. As described in the introduction, they are used by athletes and physical therapists alike to help loosen up “trigger points:” tender spots where muscles have contracted painfully (1). Specially designed groves and bumps on the outer foam shell are crafted to mimic human fingers, allowing these rollers to give you a deep massage without the need of a workout partner or massage therapist.
The release of pressure and muscle tension by self-massage is called “self-myofascial release.” When done by a masseuse or trainer, self-myofascial release is achieved by long, slow, deep pulls on the muscles. Luckily for those without personal trainers, foam rollers are designed to allow the user to do the same thing at home on his or her own, with similar results (2).
Foam rollers can be used during your pre workout shake routine, or after a workout to warm up muscles, or help to stretch them during a cool down.
They can also be used effectively in a yoga, CrossFit, or weightlifting routine. In these cases, the user normally utilizes the roller much like he or she would an exercise ball, as an extra balance challenge. Some people stand on the roller (with caution, of course), or place it under their leg or arm as they complete other exercises and stretches.
Foam rollers relieve muscle tension and soreness. Working out puts a lot of strain on the body, and this normally leads to tense, painful muscles that can delay or harmfully impact future workouts. When one works out, tiny tears are made in muscles, and their healing time can be greatly hampered by overexercising in the days following. Foam rollers help to speed up recovery time by helping the muscles to repair themselves, so that you can bounce back quickly after a tough workout, and get back to your fitness regimen faster without hurting yourself (3).
Foam rollers help to improve elasticity and maintain proper levels of tension in muscles. They do this by elongating the muscles as your body rolls over them, which helps the muscles to stretch from the inside. The muscles and the fibers within them are lengthened, which can help to keep you from getting sore spots and kinks due to contracted muscles (4).
Other studies have suggested that perhaps it is the heat generated by the rolling of the foam cylinder that promotes a loosening of tight muscles (5).
Using foam rollers as a part of an exercise routine has been shown to improve one’s range of motion. Foam rollers were invented so that the average man or woman could get the same benefits of massage at home without having to visit a masseuse or chiropractor. Foam rollers have been shown to alleviate pressure points in the body, which can extend one’s range of motion and make movement much easier (6).
Foam rollers can be used as a more natural way to relieve pain at home. Whether one is taking part in physical therapy due to an injury, or just suffers from run-of-the-mill pulled muscles, foam rollers are a great way to help relax muscles and get rid of bothersome soreness. Foam roller exercises are easy on the body, and giving oneself a massage with one is a great way to improve one’s circulation, which in turn releases more feel-good chemicals in the brain to alleviate pain (7).
While foam rollers are not a drug or medicinal supplement and do not have “side effects,” there are still a few negative consequences to look out for when adding a foam roller to your routine.
Incorrect use of the foam roller, whether it be improper placement, incorrect speed, or overuse, can result in harm to the body (8).
The whole point of using foam rollers is to decrease pain and lessen muscle tension, but if you do not follow the instructions and use the foam roller in a careful, controlled manner, you could wind up in just as much pain (or more) than you would have been in had you never given it a try in the first place.
Foam rolling has been tested pretty rigorously in the scientific literature, and the consensus is that it’s effective, as long as it’s done properly. While specific studies have used slightly different protocols, the majority of foam rolling protocols share a few things in common.
First, they involve a timed amount of rolling. Most people will roll up and down a muscle a couple of times and then move on to another area of the body, but this is not the right way to foam roll.
Instead, set a timer and roll a specific muscle group for a full 60 seconds, then switch to the other side of the body, or another muscle group. Each major muscle group that you are trying to foam roll should get two sets of 60 seconds of continuous foam rolling to achieve the maximum benefits of foam rolling.
The other methodological error that most people make when doing foam rolling without any guidance is their rolling technique. The name “foam roller” suggests to many people that all you have to do is roll up and down to get the benefits.
However, scientific studies have developed specific techniques for rolling that are quite different from what people do naturally. In research studies, subjects are instructed to start at the bottom end of a muscle (the part furthest from the center of your body) and make small, kneading, back-and-forth rolls, working gradually up to the top of the muscle (the part closest to the center of your body).
Then, once reaching the top, you roll all the way back to the bottom in one swooping motion, then repeat for the prescribed duration (e.g. 60 seconds).
If you find that these rolling techniques put too much pressure on your muscles, you can offload some of your body weight onto your arms or legs to reduce the pressure.
By gradually working to put more and more of your weight on the foam roller over time, you can gradually increase the strength of foam rolling treatment that you are giving yourself in your foam rolling routine.
Q: How do you use a foam roller properly?
A: The right way to foam roll is to set a timed rolling protocol and stick to it. Instead of a few half-hearted rolls on your calves and thighs, set a timer on your cell phone or smartwatch for 60 seconds, and roll each muscle group on each leg for two sets of 60 seconds, alternating sides between sets.
Use a short, kneading-like rolling motion, working your way from the most distal part of a muscle group back closer to the center of your body, and rolling back down to the bottom in one smooth swooping motion. These are the protocols that are used in the scientific research that has validated the benefits of foam rolling, so they are well worth following.
Q: What does a foam roller help with?
A: Foam rolling can help you get loosened up before a workout, cool down after a workout, alleviate soreness, and treat musculoskeletal pain.
The primary mechanism that foam rolling is thought to manipulate is altering myofascial tightness in your muscles, but it may also stimulate nerve endings and pain receptors in a beneficial way. Thanks to this pretty fundamental biological connection to the way your body works, a foam roller is effective in a wide variety of situations.
Q: Can foam rollers help with trigger points?
A: Yes, in fact there are certain foam rollers that are specially designed for trigger points, some of which are in our rankings. Any foam roller that has a grid or bump layout on the exterior surface of the roller is engineered to seek out trigger points.
Not all foam rollers have these trigger point bumps, because it can make the foam roller less effective at delivering consistent pressure to an entire muscle group.
This tradeoff is worth it if you’re often troubled by specific sore spots. Be careful not to get a foam roller that has bumps or trigger point nodules that are too big, though, because a foam roller like that won’t apply sufficient pressure to the entire muscle group that you are rolling.
Any textured foam roller from our rankings will be adequate, though, because we excluded foam rollers with trigger point surface textures that were too large.
Q: Is foam rolling good for your back?
A: Foam rolling can help relieve lower back pain in certain circumstances, but only if you do it properly. Low back pain can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, but the most common ones (like muscle tightness in the spine extensor muscles) can be addressed by a foam roller.
When you foam roll for low back pain, make sure you are not putting your back in a compromising position. Be careful not to put your full weight on the foam roller; use your legs, arms, and the rest of your body to partially offload your lower back if you are not sure about how much pressure to apply.
Don’t directly roll on your spine, either: this kind of pressure can aggravate many causes of low back pain, like a herniated disc. Finally, make sure you are doing other things to improve your low back pain, like keeping an active overall lifestyle.
Q: Why does foam rolling hurt?
A: Foam rolling is often associated with a “good” kind of hurt, similar to what you get with a good stretch or a deep tissue massage. If foam rolling is downright painful, there are three likely explanations.
First, you could just be doing it wrong. You aren’t supposed to apply full body weight pressure to every muscle group that you are rolling. Instead, try offloading pressure using your other leg or using your arms.
Another potential explanation is that your foam roller has nodules or bumps that are too prominent or too stiff. Some foam rollers use trigger point bumps that can cause high localized pressure, especially if you don’t have much subcutaneous fat. If this is the case, you’ll have substantially less pain if you foam roll on a flatter foam roller.
Finally, you might have a more serious injury, like a bone bruise or a stress fracture. If offloading pressure, using a flatter foam roller, and employing better foam rolling techniques doesn’t work and you are still having pain, it’s worth seeing a doctor to pinpoint the problem.
Q: What size foam roller should you get?
A: Foam rollers come in sizes that range from 12 to 36 inches, but for most users, something around 18 inches is about the right size. This is small enough to be able to store it conveniently, and easy to use even in a narrow hallway or a small apartment.
Moreover, 18 inches is also large enough so that people of a typical body size can apply even pressure to most major muscle groups. If you are specifically looking for a travel-friendly foam roller or a secondary foam roller to keep in your car, something as small as 12 inches might be a good choice, though you should be aware that it may not be effective for larger muscle groups such as your upper back.
If you have a larger frame or broad shoulders, you may want to opt for a 24 or even a 36 inch foam roller. These larger foam rollers aren’t quite as convenient and can take up more space, but are hard to beat when it comes to evenly rolling broad areas of your body.
Foam rollers are a great addition to any workout.
They are a good way to challenge one’s balance while exercising, and they can help to relax muscles and loosen tight spots after a workout with many of the same benefits as working with a physical therapy professional.
However, one must still be careful, as improper use of the foam roller could result in painful muscle aches similar to those incurred as part of one’s workout.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 foam roller recommendation, click here.