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Top athletes know the importance of massage after a game or training session. While amateur gym-goers may lack a personal masseuse, people of all fitness levels can speed recovery, release tension, and increase flexibility post-workout through the magic of foam rollers.
A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of foam exercise equipment that looks a lot like a human-size rolling pin. You can use a foam roller for self-massage, but some people also use them in their exercise routine to enhance various stretches.
Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to buy and use a foam roller. But with a huge range of sizes, textures, and materials on the market, which foam roller is best for you? At BestReviews, we're here to help. We analyze data, scour customer reviews, and consult experts. What we don’t do is accept free samples from manufacturers. Our honest, unbiased reviews cut through the jargon and the hype to give you the information you need before you buy.
The product matrix above features our top five foam rollers.
However, if you want to know more before you commit to this workout tool, just read on for our full shopping guide.
A foam roller has a diameter of approximately six inches and a length of several feet. What can it do and how do you use it? Let's find out.
Foam rollers can help up your game when doing certain floor exercises and bodyweight exercises. For instance, lying on a foam roller while doing crunches works your core harder. Doing planks or pushups with your hands on a foam roller makes them more challenging.
People with basic exercise regimens can benefit from foam rollers too.
A foam roller can double as a yoga prop. When you need a little help with certain poses, a foam roller can provide extra balance and minimize the distance you have to stretch.
Stretching your body before and after exercise reduces muscle soreness and lessens your chance of injury. A quick internet search will reveal a large number of foam-roller stretches and exercises for your warm-up or cool-down routine.
Shorter foam rollers work best as yoga props, as they're more rigid and stable when balanced on one end.
Self-myofascial release – also known as "trigger-point release" or "foam rolling" – is a kind of self-massage designed to work out adhesions in the layers of fascia below the skin. These adhesions can be caused by overworking the muscles, and they can be painful. By using your bodyweight to roll yourself over a foam roller in various directions, you put pressure on the adhesions, which releases them.
Here are some benefits of self-myofascial release:
Improves flexibility and range of motion
Relieves muscle pain
Promotes recovery post-workout by increasing blood flow
Helps prevent injuries
Reduces soreness after exercise
Relieves tightness and knots in muscles
Fascial adhesions (also known as "trigger points") are points where the fascia, or connective tissue, has snapped and healed – but not correctly. Foam rolling can help with this.
Foam rollers come in a range of lengths, from about 12 inches to 36 inches.
Longer foam rollers are best for exercising, as shorter models might not be wide enough to support your whole body.
Shorter foam rollers are easier to maneuver for massage. They're also more portable if you want to take your foam roller with you to the gym.
If you want to use your foam roller for exercises such as pushups, choose one at least as long as your natural shoulder width.
From soft to extra-firm, foam rollers are available in various densities. It's important to pick the density that's right for you.
A too-soft foam roller won't effectively release your trigger points or massage deep into the tissue. A too-hard foam roller could cause pain and bruising.
Generally, it's best to start off with something on the softer side if you're new to foam rolling and work up to a firmer model once it becomes less effective.
It's generally accepted that you should feel some discomfort when foam rolling, but it shouldn't be painful. If it hurts when you're massaging with your foam roller, you probably need a softer one.
Some foam rollers are smooth, whereas others have lumps, bumps, and ridges.
Textured foam rollers are primarily designed for massage, especially if you want to get deep into the fascia and muscles to relieve pain and workout knots and adhesions.
Smooth foam rollers are best if you'll mainly be using them for exercise or just want a very light massage.
If you want to be able to incorporate your foam roller into your workout and use it for deep-tissue massage, you may need to buy two separate foam rollers: one smooth and one textured.
Foam rollers are available in three main materials: polyethylene (PE), ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), and expanded polypropylene (EPP).
PE rollers are widely available and fairly affordable. They're fine as a first foam roller, as they're usually on the softer side, but they don't tend to be extremely durable and long-lasting.
Lightweight, durable EVA rollers have shock-absorbing properties. They're generally medium firm, but you can also get high-density EVA if you want a firm or extra-firm foam roller.
EPP is a newer material that's hard-wearing and firm to extra-firm in density. These foam rollers are extremely durable but can be too hard for some users.
If you opt for a PE foam roller, one-piece designs are superior to two-piece models, which tend to lose their shape more quickly.
Follow these tips and you'll be rolling with the best of them before you know it:
If you come across an area that hurts to roll, start a few inches away from that area instead of directly on it.
To release adhesions, you should be rolling over problem areas fairly slowly, rather than going quickly back and forth.
Foam rolling is an extremely effective warm up for your body pre-workout.
You only need to spend 20 to 30 seconds on each tender spot. If you spend 10 minutes trying to work out a knot, you might cause more damage.
If you're not sure whether you're using the right form and technique with your foam roller, consult the instruction manual, watch some instructional videos, or book a session with a personal trainer.
Even if you don't exercise often, foam rollers are great for relaxing your body and mind, much like a regular massage.
If you're torn between a soft or a firm foam roller, selecting one with a medium firmness is a good compromise.
As a rule, foam rollers are fairly affordable. But their costs vary depending on type, length, material, and density.
Smooth foam rollers tend to be cheaper than the textured varieties, but you'll still find a wide range of prices.
If you're new to foam rolling, start with an inexpensive soft foam roller, as you're likely to want to increase the density within a month or two. There’s no point spending too much money on something you'll soon be upgrading.
Textured foam rollers are generally more expensive than smooth foam rollers.
Decent models start at about $15 and can cost as much as $80.
Unless you're a committed athlete, you don't need to go all the way to the top end of the price range, but don't go below $15 if you want a quality item.
Q. Do I need more than one foam roller?
A. Depending on how you plan to use a foam roller, you may need more than one. For instance, you might want a long, smooth roller for exercising and a shorter textured model for massage.
Q. Does it make a difference what color my foam roller is?
A. With foam rollers, color isn't all about aesthetics. White and colored foam rollers are made from low-density foam, which is better for those new to foam rolling who want a softer roller, which may not be as durable or long-lasting. Black foam rollers are made from high-density foam, which is durable and excellent for people who want a more intense massage. However, these rollers can prove painful for foam-rolling newbies.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.