If you do it right, and with the right equipment, foam rolling is a deep-tissue massage you can give yourself at home every single day, for free, just by rolling around on the floor. Here’s how it works: A cylinder of firm foam pushes up against sore muscles and fascia, the thin layer of tissue that surrounds muscles, to loosen targeted areas, prevent injuries, and make you feel good both before and after working out. (It’s also nice when you just need a good stretch while watching TV.) Fitness people love them. “I geek out with foam rollers because they’re so awesome,” says Alice Toyonaga, who co-founded Modo Yoga. “They help improve the health of tissues — improving oxygen and blood flow through our fascia — help relieve muscles and joint pain, and increase mobility. What else can you want?”
Perhaps the better question is, which one should you get? Overall, trainers and instructors across the board suggest that you should be looking for something lightweight, compact enough for storing, and dense enough to dig into trigger points. Below, we’ve collected a selection of the best of the best that meet all those requirements. Our picks are recommended by trainers, runners, dancers, and a chiropractor, and they include standard, high-density foam rollers and specialty options like a collapsible, travel-size version and even a vibrating roller.
Best overall foam roller
A favorite of everyone from marathon runners to American Ballet Theater dancers, the TriggerPoint gets high marks for its bumps and ridges that simulate a hands-on massage, and the firm core that helps it keep its shape even after years of use. “It’s just the right density to be effective without bruising,” says Radan Sturm, founder of Liftonic. “A lot of rollers are too hard and will bruise rather than release. It’s the perfect size that allows you to target all major parts of the body.” Flexibility experts say rolling on the TriggerPoint not only eases sore muscles after a workout, it can loosen up your body before a stretching session. Alain Saint-Dic, head of training and development at Stretch Relief, likes how the TriggerPoint allows for deep pressure, and Kika Wise, founder of Kika Stretch Studios, says that compared to a more straightforward roller, TriggerPoint will “get into the tissue a little bit better,” allowing for a more intense experience.
Best high-density foam rollers
The deep, focused pressure of the TriggerPoint isn’t for everyone, though. If you’re prone to bruising or are new to rolling, you might want a simpler — but still intense — option. “The more spikes and grooves that you see, the more the muscles are stimulated,” says Keren Day, a chiropractor and co-founder of Racked Stretch. “This may sound great, but can be painful at first and may lead to injury, so definitely ease your way in with flatter, more basic tools,” like this option from AmazonBasics. The high-density foam means you’ll still feel a lot of pressure, but it’ll be evenly distributed throughout the roller’s surface area. “I prefer the smooth rollers over textured, to evenly massage out muscles,” says Julie Cobble, a master instructor at Physique 57, who says this model “works great.”
Liftonic trainer Lauren Bustos has tried a variety of foam rollers and found that “a basic high-density foam roller is it for me.” She likes that this streamlined, durable roller is “firm, smooth, yet provides friction so that it can get a bit of (gentle) grip on your skin, which helps to smooth out fascia.” She calls it a “dough roller” for loosening up tight tissue.
Best medium-density foam roller
There are times when you’ll want a slightly softer foam roller, like when you’re using a roller for more therapeutic work. Jan Lefkowitz, a chiropractor at Body in Balance Chiropractic, recommends lying down with a medium-density foam roller (like the OPTP LoRox) underneath your back to improve your posture. “Think of what your middle and upper back look like when you slouch and you are essentially doing the opposite with this stretch,” he says. Vanessa Chu, co-founder and COO of Stretch*d, agrees. She says this roller has a just-right density for warming up and relaxing muscles before stretching.
Best vibrating foam roller
On the other hand, if you want something that gives an even deeper release than high-density rollers, check out the extra-firm, vibrating Vyper. Both in his practice and in home use, Lefkowitz “has found that vibrational technology does some pretty amazing things in terms of decreasing pain and muscle recovery.” He told us the Vyper can bring powerful relief to the IT band area (the outsides of your thighs), as well as the quads and glutes. Celebrity personal trainer Danny Musico says, “It gets deeper into muscles than any other foam roller I’ve used,” and Barry’s Bootcamp CEO Joey Gonzalez once called it “the Tesla of foam rollers.”
Best foam roller for travel
This collapsible foam roller comes recommended by both Chu and celebrity personal trainer Gunnar Peterson, who loves it because “it’s portable and amazing to travel with.” Chu adds that it’s “the perfect density (not too hard, not too soft) to work out tight hip flexors and glutes from travel.”
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