Working out is hard. At this very moment, there are probably thousands of people repeating to themselves the mantra, “no pain, no gain”. But while many people equate “feeling the burn” with having a good workout, others have realized that the post-workout period doesn’t have to be about suffering from soreness. Not if you have a foam roller handy.
|Trigger Point GRID Original/2.0||4.9/5.0||Hollow||5", 13", 24"||$$$|
|PERformance EPE High Density Roller||4.7/5.0||Solid||12", 18", 36"||$|
|ProSource Ultra Deluxe||4.4/5.0||Hollow||24"||$$|
|Supremus Sports Muscle Roller Stick||4.5/5.0||Stick||18"||$|
What’s a Foam Roller?
For the uninitiated, a foam roller may not seem like much. You might be asking yourself, “how is a squishy piece of foam supposed to help my muscles?” It’s a fair question, and the answer lies in understanding the physiology of soreness.
Your muscles have a limited supply of glycogen available to use for energy. That glycogen gets broken down into glucose, and eventually into ATP, which is the form of energy that your body actually uses. The problem is that in order to do this efficiently (that is, to get the most ATP out of each glucose molecule), there has to be oxygen available. If not, you need to burn more glucose to keep up with energy demands. That’s easy enough, but a problem arises when it goes on for too long.
The whole reason oxygen is necessary is that it serves as the final electron acceptor in a chain. If there’s no oxygen, something else has to fill that role (it’s called NAD+), but there’s only a limited supply. In order to replenish it, your body undergoes lactic acid fermentation, and it’s that very lactic acid that causes the burning soreness you feel after a workout.
What a foam roller does, then, is literally squeezes that built up acid out of your muscles, into your blood supply, and off to various other parts of your body that are far better at disposing of that undesirable waste product. It also stimulates blood flow, which in turn increases oxygen delivery to your tired muscles. As a result, your muscles are able to go back to recovery faster, and you feel a whole lot better to boot.
Foam rollers are also versatile in that they can be used for a wide variety of pre-workout stretches. Suffer from a stiff back, glutes, or legs? You’re going to love the benefits associated with owning a roller.
How to Choose a Good Foam Roller
While something like memory foam might be what first comes to mind when you imagine a foam roller, that’s not at all what you’re looking for here. Instead, these are made of a “high density” foam that borders on being outright hard. You might think that hard foam wouldn’t be very comfortable, and you’d actually be right. First-time users may even find foam rolling painful for a while, as their bodies adapt to the unique way in which it stretches muscles, tendons, and fascia.
So if comfort isn’t the goal, what is? There are a few major aspects to consider when making your decision and some of it ultimately is personal preference.
Solid or Hollow?
A solid roller is typically made of the same material throughout its entire diameter. As a result, you have a strong, rigid structure that reacts linearly to pressure. With a hollowed-out design, there’s usually hard plastic that comprises the structure of the roll, which is then covered with a relatively softer foam layer. The advantage is having a bit more comfort from a softer foam and a more spring-like resistance when pressing firmly against your body.
If you’re planning on using a foam roller for workouts beyond just stretching (i.e., pushups, dips, etc.), opting for a solid design might be a better bet. It should be better able to support your full body weight, so you don’t have to worry about any equipment failures. If the priority is myofascial release, however, the hollow style offers a more massage-like feel that can be soothing and stress-reducing.
It’s no shocker that a longer roll costs more, so it’s a good idea to take a moment and consider what you really need. A mini roller can be as small as 5″, which is a great choice if you only want to use it to massage tired arches in your feet. If you’re planning on doing some IT band stretches or even hamstring and quad work, you’ll want something around 12″ (1 ft.) long, to give you a little more wiggle room and sturdiness for support.
These days, there are even rollers that are over 2 feet long, which is a must if you’re planning on using it to increase your range of motion in floor exercises. For example, you can set a foam roll underneath you running along your back to raise yourself off the floor and help you really extend on pec flyes. It’s also a good bet if you’re looking to double your efficiency and stretch out both legs simultaneously.
Smooth or Textured?
Textured foam rolls have a 3D surface that is meant to almost simulate the work of a massage therapists’ hands. The variable pressures created by the nooks and crannies in a textured roll help further promote blood flow in much the same way as a massage at a spa might do. Frankly, there’s no downside, unless you absolutely hate the idea of rolling on something that isn’t smooth. That said, they also tend to be more expensive, so if you’re looking for a cheap foam roller, a smooth surface is the way to go.
Why Are Some Rollers So Expensive?
It’s understandable to think that a piece of foam should be fairly cheap. And truthfully, foam rollers range in price from very inexpensive to moderately expensive. As with anything, quality products demand a premium price, though that doesn’t mean every expensive roller is a good one.
In fact, with foam rolling being such an emerging trend, everyone is trying to cash in by pumping up prices to see what the market will bear. There are really only a few true innovators out there that are worth that kind of money, however, which is why we’ve taken the time to single them out for you.
These Are the Best Foam Rollers Available Right Now
Trigger Point Performance The GRID 2.0
Probably the best foam roller on the market (but also the priciest), the GRID 2.0 is an extended version of the original GRID roller and features a unique, textured surface meant to enhance the benefits of foam rolling. If you’re looking for the Rolls Royce of foam rollers, this is the one. And if you’re looking for a firmer feel, be sure to check out the GRID X, which has a stiffer foam to loosen up stubborn tissue.
PERformance EPE High Density Foam Roller
If you’d rather go for a high-density, solid foam, there’s no need to look much further than this top-rated item by PERformance Foam. Available in 3 sizes (12″, 18″, and 36″), you can choose whichever suits your needs. For people who want an extra stiff roll, this is an ideal (and inexpensive) option.
ProSource Ultra Deluxe Roller
Much the same style as the GRID 2.0 by Trigger Point Performance, this roller by ProSource actually features two different surface textures, allowing it to stimulate blood flow in different ways. While it might seem like a carbon copy of the more expensive GRID, there isn’t an extra firm option (a la the GRID X), and the prominent seam running over the long set of bumps looks like an uncomfortable design flaw. Still, if you’re looking for a 24″ long roll at the price point of something half its size, the ProSource is the way to go.
While “extreme” might not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about foam rolling, there is one aspect in which the GoFit Extreme really does stand out from its peers: it has the most aggressive bump pattern out of all the rollers we’ve featured. This is great for deep massaging into stiff tissues, but the tradeoff is a clear drop-off in comfort. Then again, we already mentioned that foam rolling is likely to be uncomfortable at first, until you get used to it. Available in just one size (13″) and two colors (Blue or Black) if you’re shopping for a foam roller that kicks things up a notch, take a look at GoFit.
BONUS: Supremus Sports Muscle Roller Stick
While not strictly speaking a foam roller (seeing as it actually has no foam whatsoever), a roller stick serves a similar purpose in an extra firm, yet compact form factor. Made of hard plastic wrapped around a metal core, it’s very durable, though the complete lack of foam may take some getting used to if you’re used to something softer. Though the muscle roller stick by Elite Sportz is actually an Amazon best seller, we’re giving the nod here to Supremus Sports’ offering simply based on price. They’re identical products, so why not save a couple bucks?