Best Foam Rollers of 2019
A foam roller loosens knots and tension in the muscles and helps restore flexibility. Learn more about foam rollers and find one that's best for you.
The Best Foam Rollers to Work Out the Kinks
Do you find yourself feeling excessively stiff and sore after working out? Do you experience muscle tension that doesn't ease with stretching? A foam roller could be just what you need. With a growing awareness of the vital role that massage plays in soft-tissue recovery, more and more people are turning to foam rollers to smooth out the kinks and ease the aches.
But with so many foam rollers on the market, it can be hard to choose the right one for your tight muscles. You'll need to decide on the material, length, and texture. If you don't know where to start in your hunt for the best foam roller, you've come to the right place.
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How Foam Rolling Works
Foam rolling is often referred to as "self-myofascial release." This is a massage technique used to loosen knots and tension in the muscles, but it is especially useful for restoring flexibility to the connective tissue, known as fascia.
Resembling a web of interwoven fibers, fascia is what holds the body together. Fascia wraps around the muscles, internal organs, veins, arteries, tendons, and bones. Comprised of crisscrossing collagen and elastin fibers, healthy fascia is pliable and elastic. However, repetitive movement, strain, contracted muscles, or trauma can cause fascia to tighten and individual fibers to stick together. These adhesions create tough bands around the muscles, which can limit movement, restrict circulation, and cause pain.
Because fascia is continuous tissue, pain isn't always localized. Often an injured muscle and the compromised fascia surrounding it can lead to pulling and strain on seemingly unrelated parts of the body. This is what's commonly referred to as a trigger point. Massage is an effective way to loosen muscles and connective tissues to dissolve trigger points. Foam rolling allows you to do this without assistance.
Should You Use a Foam Roller?
Foam rollers were once mysterious tubes used exclusively by professional athletes, sports physicians, and physical therapists. These days, you'll find foam rollers at almost every gym. The benefits of foam rolling have contributed to these devices' growing popularity.
- Improved Range of Motion: Tight, constricted muscles can severely limit range of motion. By breaking up fascial adhesions, foam rolling allows muscles and joints to loosen up and move as they should. Adding a foam roller to your regular stretching routine can help you get the most out of every workout.
- Lower Risk of Injury: Another pitfall of decreased range of motion is a heightened risk of injury. Stiff muscles not only make it difficult to maintain proper form, but they are also more likely to tear. Keeping your fascia and muscles pliable means your body is better able to bounce back after being pushed to the limits.
- Reduced Risk of Post-Workout Soreness: If you try to push yourself harder with each workout, you're probably familiar with the joys of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. While the jury is still out on what exactly causes DOMS, studies have found that foam rolling can reduce the pain and stiffness that often creeps in around 24 to 48 hours after a challenging workout.
- Improved Circulation and Faster Recovery: The pressure and release of massage stimulates blood flow. Improved circulation gives muscles an influx of oxygen and nutrients, which can enhance performance and speed up recovery.
- Ramp Up Your Reps: You can use a foam roller to make moves like squats, planks, lunges, and bridges more challenging. In a pinch, shorter foam rollers can be used in place of yoga blocks.
Foam Roller Features
Foam rollers are available in three foam types with different levels of firmness.
- Polyethylene (PE): PE foam rollers are popular among beginners. They tend to be soft and affordable, making them a good option if you're just testing the waters. However, they're not the most durable, and you'll probably need to replace your PE foam roller every so often.
- Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA): Shock-absorbing EVA foam rollers offer a great balance of functionality and durability. Most EVA foam rollers are lightweight, long-lasting, and moderately firm. While EVA foam rollers typically have a slightly spongy feel and a little give, some are available in higher densities for added firmness.
- Expanded Polypropylene (EPP): A relatively new addition to the foam roller market, EPP is made up of tightly compressed polystyrene balls and packs a mighty punch in terms of firmness and durability. If you need an extra-firm foam roller to keep up with rigorous training, an EPP foam roller won't let you down.
Foam rollers are available in varying lengths. Depending on your needs, you may prefer a longer or shorter foam roller. As different lengths offer different advantages, many people buy two foam rollers to accommodate specific areas.
- Long (19 inches to 36 inches): Longer foam rollers are excellent multitaskers. The added length offers good stability for beginners and works well for targeting larger areas like the back. In addition, long foam rollers can be used as workout tools to maximize a wide variety of moves.
- Medium (13 inches to 18 inches): Whether you're short on space, need a little more accuracy for areas like the calves and arms, or simply want a foam roller that's easier to get from point A to point B, these foam rollers offer a happy medium between versatility and stability.
- Short (4 inches to 12 inches): Short foam rollers can easily be tossed into a gym bag for on-the-go use. These foam rollers are also ideal if you have limited floor space or you need to target smaller muscle groups.
When shopping for a foam roller, you'll encounter a wide array of textures. Smooth foam rollers offer consistent pressure and tend to be the gentlest. Foam rollers with raised ridges do a better job of working out adhesions and alleviating tightness while also stimulating blood flow and providing improved traction. Protruding lumps and knobs are designed to penetrate and loosen stiff tissue and can be used with varying amounts of pressure.
How Much Do Good Foam Rollers Cost?
The price of foam rollers varies according to their material, size, and texture. Keep in mind that textured foam rollers of all types have a somewhat higher starting price of around $15.
- PE Foam Rollers: PE foam rollers tend to be the most affordable, costing $5 to $30. If you're on a tight budget or just want to give foam rolling a whirl, start with one of these. A wide variety of PE foam rollers of different lengths and densities fall within this price range.
- EVA Foam Rollers: EVA foam rollers are versatile, durable, and effective. Higher densities, extra length, and texture mean most EVA foam rollers cost $15 to $60.
- EPP Foam Rollers: EPP foam rollers usually cost $10 to $40. However, because EPP foam rollers tend to be firmer than others, they may be a bit too much for inexperienced users.
Q. Is it normal to experience pain while foam rolling?
A. Yes, to a point. With a foam roller, you're applying pressure to an already tender area, so you will probably feel some pain. But while foam rolling shouldn't be comfortable, it shouldn't be excruciating either. The key to effective foam rolling lies in finding just the right amount of pressure for any given area.
Q. Is it better to use a foam roller before or after exercising?
A. Using a foam roller both before and after a strenuous workout can be beneficial. Foam rolling prior to exercising can loosen up knots and adhesions for improved range of motion, while foam rolling after a workout can relax tensed tissues and stimulate circulation to aid in recovery.
Q. I've heard that foam rolling can eliminate cellulite. Is this true?
A. Although some studies have found that foam rolling can temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite by smoothing fascia and stimulating circulation, it doesn't have much effect on the deeper fibrous bands that cause cellulite and cannot entirely eliminate it.