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If your workouts leave you hobbling like a cowboy after a cattle drive, you know the appeal of a deep massage and stretch sesh. Since not everyone can afford a massage once (or thrice) a week, a foam roller is the next best tool for working over tired muscles before or after hard training sessions.
The best foam rollers have the right shape, length, and density for your skill level (and pain threshold). Don’t let the uber-dense foams and masochistic nubs scare you. Physical therapists and professional athletes alike swear by foam rollers because they work.
These deceivingly simple devices manipulate and relax the small muscular connective tissues between larger muscle groups and help remove scar tissue. Get ready for a little (*ahem* or a lot) of pain at first, but trust us: Your muscles will thank you.
- Density: Foam rollers come in soft, medium (standard), and firm densities. The denser the foam, the more it digs into your muscles.
- Shape, size, and length: Different shapes target some muscle groups better than others. Foam rollers range in length from 12 to 36 inches.
- Surface texture: The standard foam roller has a smooth surface, but some rollers have contoured or nubbed surfaces to hit pressure points and dig deeper into your muscles.
- Materials: Open-cell foams are soft and easy on your muscles, but they break down faster than closed-cell foams like EPP and EVA. EPP tends to be more affordable yet still durable. Professionals use EVA foam rollers because they can withstand heavy daily use.
TriggerPoint GRID Original Foam Roller
- Multi-textured surface. The TriggerPoint Grid features three textures on its 13-inch surface — nubs that feel like fingertips, finger-like tubes, and a smooth palm-like surface.
- Includes free online instruction. Every purchase comes with access to free online instructional videos that show you how to target problem areas. Yes, please!
- Supports up to 500 pounds. This roller is available in both a short and a long length, and its high quality EVA foam supports a body weight of up to 500 pounds.
LuxFit Foam Roller
- Extra-firm high density foam. Sore muscles will scream for mercy thanks to this high density roller. Well, actually, you’ll scream, but if you really want to get to those deep muscles, this is the roller for you.
- Length options. The LuxFit comes in four lengths — 12, 18, 24, and 36 inches.
- Highly durable. That extra-firm, dense foam comes with the added benefit of durability — it doesn’t break down nearly as fast as soft or standard foams.
Considerations: Extra-firm high density foam might be too much for some people, especially beginners. Be prepared for some serious pain at first.
AmazonBasics High Density Foam Roller
- High density foam. This particular foam digs in without hurting as much as firmer foams.
- Length options. Like the LuxFit, the AmazonBasics roller comes in four lengths (12, 18, 24, and 36 inches), so you can pick a length that works for your body size and available storage space.
- More color choices. Not that we’re all about aesthetics, but it is fun to choose a model in purple, blue, black, or one of the four speckled colors.
Considerations: The seams on either side of this roller don’t always match up. Foam rolling can be uncomfortable in general, but a seam can dig into your skin in a way that’s not helpful.
Lifepro 4-Speed Vibrating Foam Roller
- Four power settings. Vibration adds another dimension to rolling. This roller’s four power settings will have your muscles purring with delight as tension falls away.
- Built-in timer. No need to use a phone, a watch, or even Alexa to time your rolling.
- Excellent battery life. It takes some mondo battery power to make a roller vibrate. This model’s rechargeable batteries last 2 to 4 hours, so most people will need to charge it only every few days.
Considerations: If you live in an apartment, a vibrating foam roller could bother downstairs neighbors. And, after enough time, the batteries do run out of juice.
321 Strong Foam Roller
- Medium density. The medium-dense foam offers a gentler massage, so newbies can get used to rolling.
- Color options. So many colors! Spice up your cooldown with a fun pink, green, or orange or one of many other colors.
- Includes instructional e-book. Rolling your quads, hamstrings, and calves doesn’t take much imagination, but what about your obliques, gluteus minimus, and inner thighs? A little instruction can do wonders for the effectiveness on your stretching and flexibility.
Considerations: This model has both nubs and channels, but the transition between the two might put you on a surface that’s either too rough or not rough enough.
Gimme 10 Foam Roller
- Two for one. A removable EPP foam core lets you adjust the firmness from standard to firm — it’s like two rollers in one.
- Contoured surface. Some research suggests that contoured rollers better support post-workout recovery, so use those nubs to dig into your sore muscles.
- Compact and lightweight. At only 12 inches long, this foam roller is fairly portable. It won’t take up much room in your suitcase and only adds about 1.5 pounds.
Considerations: This isn’t the best model for beginners. It’s painful, especially if you’re not accustomed to targeting pressure points.
ProsourceFit High Density Full Roller
- 36 inches lets you get creative. Long rollers allow you to roll out a bigger surface area, like your back or both legs at once.
- Firm, high density foam. The EPP foam holds its shape even after heavy use.
- Surface traction. Surface traction (not contours or texture) helps this roller maintain a grip while rolling.
Considerations: This model comes in three lengths and has a half-cylinder shape option. If you don’t have room for a long roller, one of the shorter options might work.
321 Strong 5-in-1 Foam Roller Set
- Multiple tools to target problem areas. This set includes a stretch strap, a massage stick, a double lacrosse peanut, and a plantar fasciitis ball to tackle aches, pains, and everything in between.
- Storage. Worried about keeping everything together? An end cap lets you store the other items inside the hollow foam roller.
- Includes instruction. An instructional e-book gives you exercises to get started.
Considerations: This hollow roller flexes under pressure, so it doesn’t perform as well for people weighing more than 150 pounds.
Brazyn Morph Bravo Foam Roller
- Two density options. Go for medium density with the Alpha or firm density with the Bravo.
- Packs flat and pops open. Pull to collapse, and push to open. Roll out while you travel, on your lunch break, or at the gym.
- High maximum weight. It may be collapsible, but it’s strong enough to support 350 pounds.
Considerations: The Brazyn Morph is pricey for a 14-inch roller, but it’s worth the price for those who need to roll on the go.