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Anyone that works out regularly has no doubt heard of foam rolling and should probably investigate what it has to offer. I mean, there’s a reason why physical therapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers all harp on foam rolling. It can be a great way to warm up, cool down, and recover from a workout, not to mention help to prevent injuries.
If you’re feeling stiff or sore, instead of going straight into stretching or your workout, foam rolling can help you limber up. For the most part, the biggest benefit you’ll get from foam rolling is ‘myofascial release’ which is essentially loosening up the fascia below your skin. This will help if you plan to stretch out because you won’t be as stiff. It will also help by increasing blood flow and circulation.
Here’s a helpful video from TriggerPoint on the benefits of foam rolling.
What to consider with a foam roller
With that in mind, what makes a great foam roller? Well, there’s a few things you should consider.
– What areas of your body are you looking to foam roll?
– Will you use it as a fitness tool in addition to a recovery tool?
– What’s your budget?
– How often will you be using it?
– Do you care about portability?
– Do you have a preference for density of the foam roller?
Our Pick for the best foam roller
Having said that, for most people, the AmazonBasics Foam Roller [check current price on Amazon] is the way to go because it’s affordable, comes in different lengths (12″ to 36″), and has a nice balance in terms of firmness level, as it’s not too harsh or soft. Now to be fair, there are a lot of these polypropylene foam rollers so you don’t have to choose this particular one. This is just an example of a standard foam roller that we’ve found to be broadly applicable and useful.
Foam rollers can be expensive, but if you’re not seriously into working out or training, it’s probably best to get a foam roller that’s good enough, but not professional grade. The AmazonBasics Foam Roller is highly affordable. It’s generally between $9 and $20 on Amazon, depending on the size that you select.
A few reasons you might care about the length of the roller: (1) some folks like to do push-ups and other exercises with the roller, so having a longer roller might be an advantage since it will accommodate your natural push-up hand placement and (2) if you plan to roll out larger areas like your entire back, a smaller roller won’t be long enough.
Rolling out your back is easier with a longer foam roller.
You want the act of foam rolling to be pleasing, but slightly uncomfortable since you’re rolling out tender muscles, etc. Therefore, if your roller is too soft, it won’t fight back enough. If it’s too firm, it will hurt. You need the roller to have a little give, unless of course, you really want an extra stiff roller for tough knots.
This particular roller does not have a plastic inner pipe to prevent it from sagging. As such, over time (years), it will sag and compress in. It’s not really a big deal given the price, but it’s something to take note of. This won’t be a foam roller that lasts a lifetime.
Also, because it is a medium on the firmness scale and it doesn’t have any teeth, it’s not your best bet for deep tissue massages (which hurt like heck by the way). It will help you massage larger muscles, but you can’t really hone in on a specific area with this roller.
If you ignore price, this is the best foam roller on the market. Instead of merely rolling over your muscles, the Vyper vibrates to help break up that fascia. It has three different intensities that you can manually cycle through during foam rolling. The motor is really powerful. Regardless of whether you’re heavy or light, you’ll be taken aback by how effective the vibrating motor is.
Three different vibrating speeds.
HyperIce recently introduced the Vyper V2 [see on Amazon], however we haven’t experienced any major advantages with the new version…and you’ll pay more for it. It does, however, have a smooth surface, as opposed to the ridges on the first gen Vyper. You may also have stumbled upon the TriggerPoint GRID Vibe [see on Amazon] in your quest for the best foam roller, and that is another viable option, however we’ve found that this roller is a little too short for our liking. The Vyper is 6″ tall, while the Vibe is only 4″. We’ve found that it’s preferable to be lifted off of the ground a little more when you’re foam rolling because certain muscles are easier to target this way. That said, the Vibe is much cheaper at around $99 on Amazon.
If you can look past the price tag of the Vyper (generally around $180 on Amazon), you’ll almost assuredly agree with us that the Vyper is a game changer. It’s far more efficient at loosening muscles up. In fact, sometimes I’ll just let it sit on a tender spot without rolling over it, simply because I know the motor will eventually loosen up that troubled spot.
In terms of durability, we have not had any issues with this roller and we’ve had it for many years. The battery is still strong and the motor is in good working order. Firmness is a little tough, as are the ridges, but the vibrations help to make it less harsh.
On the downside, this roller can be loud and annoying for others—you won’t want to foam roll unless you’re on ground level since it vibrates pretty intensely. Also, again, price is steep. And, it’s short (12″) and heavy (3.5 LB) so it doesn’t check every box, but it really is a cut above normal foam rollers.
Here’s also the official video for the Vyper, which shows off the vibration technology and design of the product.
If you’re looking to hone in on a particular muscle or really massage deep, the Pro-Tec Orb is the way to go. It has about the same density of the AmazonBasics Foam Roller, but it’s smaller (5″) and more compact so you can get more targeted with your treatment—great way to get a solid (painful) deep tissue massage. This is particularly helpful for rolling out your shoulder blades, calves, hips, and hamstrings. The Orb is around $20 on Amazon and is one of the most useful recovery tools we’ve ever tried.
The other massage ball that almost broke our list is the HyperIce Hypersphere [see on Amazon], which is a vibrating massage ball. It’s very dense and hard and therefore is quite unforgiving, which is why we left it off of the list. We think the Orb is the one to get, all in all, especially if you consider price.
The Orb will breakdown over time since it’s made of the polypropylene foam, however, it’s affordable enough that it’s worth at least trying out. It really is a nice complement to a foam roller since it can target those pockets that a foam roller can’t really dig into.
TriggerPoint is likely the best known brand in the recovery/foam rolling industry. They have products at virtually every retailer and you see them at most gyms. And that’s not just because they are fantastic with marketing, branding, etc., but also because they make reliable, innovative products. You can see TriggerPoint’s lineup of recovery products on Amazon.
Grid pattern will help to knead out extra stiff/tight areas.
The GRID Foam Roller, in particular, has to be their best performing product—it really is the gold standard for foam rollers. What makes the GRID unique is that it’s extra durable with EVA foam and a solid core (which is somewhat like 4″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe). What this means is the EVA foam won’t compress and sag as much or as quickly as standard polypropylene foam, which you’ll find on most foam rollers.
Reinforced with a dense core.
The solid inner pipe also has no give so the durability of this foam roller is on another level. It also comes in different sizes, ranging from 12″ to 36″ and is so tough you can use it for push-ups and other exercises that carry a lot of body weight. Basically, what you’re paying for with the GRID roller is durability.
From a practical standpoint—from what we’ve found—the GRID isn’t really that much more effective as a foam roller, however, it does have a unique grid pattern (hence the name) that can help to dig into knots and focus on really sore muscles. It just has a different feel than most rollers and might take some getting used to.
Here’s a video showing the GRID family of foam rollers.
Now, it does have a few downsides. The first of which is price. The GRID starts at about $35 and goes up to about $65 [check price on Amazon], making it quite a bit more expensive than your average foam roller, such as the aforementioned AmazonBasics Foam Roller. Additionally, because it’s more durable than typical foam rollers, it’s also more dense and less forgiving—some people might find it to be too firm. All in all though, there’s a reason TriggerPoint is the biggest name in foam rolling. They make durable, effective products. They also tend to include manuals and foam rolling guides with their products that can be helpful in learning more best practices.
This is a clever product, especially for smaller knots and areas that are almost impossible to reach with a foam roller, massage ball, or lacrosse ball. Roller Ball Massagers fit in the palm of your hand and the ball itself will rotate within a shell. As an example, I use these all the time on my traps, biceps, and forearms, which I can’t really service with a traditional foam roller. But, I can easily roll over them with this product.
In fact, as you can see below, I regularly use the Vive massagers to roll out my upper forearm in particular. After heavy lifting sessions I tend to feel some soreness just below the inside of my elbow. Using the Vive massager and then stretching seems to help with the pain.
It hurts, but I’ll do this as I’m just sitting there watching TV.
The reason that we like the Vive Roller Ball Massager [see on Amazon] is that it’s affordable (typically a 2-pack for $15) and it has a rubber gripper on the outside, which stops it from slipping out of your hand.
Aside from that, these are basically a commodity. You can do a quick search on Amazon for ‘roller ball massager’ and find dozens of viable alternatives. They’re basically all the same, aside from price and that gripper. One thing that you will need to keep in mind is that dirt, dust, and grime can slide under the massager ball and stop them from rolling smoothly. So just keep them off the ground, basically.