Foam rolling. Nowadays, it looks like everyone’s doing it. An increasing body of research and bodywork pros–physical therapists, massage therapists, and personal trainers alike–extol the soft-tissue advantages of self-massage such as improvements in muscular flexibility and decrease in stiffness and even pain. Gyms and PT facilities are strewn with them, but just how can you know what products are best for at-home usage? To find out, we went searching for you, whittling down countless choices to some top-selling choice of the very popular roller kinds, and enlisting a cadre of experts and their muscles for over 40 hours of kneading and compressing. The finding: AmazonBasics’ High-Density Round Foam Roller, 36″ provides the products, and proves you do not need to invest a lot for relief.
For self-myofascial discharge (SMR, aka massaging your muscles) as well as for use in some specific exercises, the AmazonBasics’ High-Density Round Foam Roller, 36″ does the job for less than $20. The cylinder has a slightly rough surface texture which prevents it from slipping from clothes or the floor, and the 36-inch size allows for techniques that smaller rollers don’t, such as stretching that involve lying along its span. The only real caveat is that sensitive folks could discover the very company density–such as any black roller–to be too extreme.
A fantastic roller that’s not our top pick as it’s fairly pricey, the OPTP Black Axis Company Foam Roller is a firm-density EPP (expanded polypropylene) black foam roller, considered to be the golden standard for alleviating muscle tension and knots. It delivers as expected, with the organization’s 30-year reputation for quality under its belt. Still, you are paying a somewhat exorbitant price shipping premium over our top select from AmazonBasics.
When you are fresh to rolling, it could, well, hurt. The Gaiam Restore Total Body Foam Roller, made of polyethylene foam, is much less dense and hence less intense on muscles than the EPP substance of company rollers. Nonetheless, it isn’t so soft that it instantly warps under weight, and its own full 36-inch span makes it useful for all sorts of rolling and exercise purposes. But simply on account of the character of the material–not to mention the fact that muscles will adapt and might require a milder pressure–it’s not likely to last as long as a standard black roller.
On occasion a smooth foam roller only cannot get into very tight fascial knots–it is just the physics of this curved shape. Thanks to its variety of nubs and knobs, ProSource Sports Medicine Roller 24″x6″ lets you aim adhesions with ease. And with its relatively more length (it is also offered in a short 13-inch version), you can still cover quite large areas, including your glutes or upper spine. It does not roll as easily as smooth-surface rollers or people with more regular feel, but as a supplemental SMR product (which is exactly what it must be), it’s great.
The rolling-pin-like Tiger Tail The Classic 18″ Muscle Roller Massage Stick is made of foam-covered plastic with comfy rubberized handles. Given its petite dimensions, it’s great for travel and for digging to smaller areas on the body, especially the neck and calves. On the flip side, it’s not nearly as good at SMR for your bigger muscle groups–you can’t get the identical level of anxiety or expansiveness as possible by lying along with a large foam roller–so it is best as a supplemental product.