Everything you do while you exercise causes a series of chemical reactions to unfold inside of your body. All of these reactions are essential, but who wants any of the waste materials from them hanging around one moment longer than necessary?
Foam rolling is an optimal way to flush lactic acid and metabolic waste out of your system, enabling your muscles to replace those pernicious, lingering substances with fresh oxygen. If you can’t have your own personal masseuse, a foam roller is the next best thing, and it’s certainly far less expensive.
What Makes for a Great Foam Roller
Over the past decade and a half, foam rollers have progressed well beyond simple cylinders of solid foam, and the marketplace now includes full-blown pieces of sophisticated, specialized machinery. This means that you have a variety of product features to consider before you ever offer up your credit card number. Three in particular immediately come to mind:
- Is the foam roller of an adequate size? All of the special features in the world are of limited benefit if you can’t spread every square inch of your body in need of rolling onto the roller.
- Are your foam roller’s special features actually helpful? Special features requiring battery chargings and extra attachments are expensive, but their attention-grabbing elements may not be as helpful as advertised.
- Does the roller excel at all of the essentials? If the special features of your roller ceased to function, would your roller become a piece of trash, or would its size, grooves and textures enable it to still function adequately despite the loss of special functionality?
Our Guest Expert
Nate Lawrie is the inventor of the first collapsible foam roller, and one of the preeminent innovators in the foam-rolling space, having designed and manufactured The Morph, the world’s first collapsible foam roller. He’s also a former NFL tight end, and a graduate of Yale University, which is to say, he possesses both the (bad) back and (great) mind necessary to help us separate the foam-rolling wheat from the chaff.
Best Foam Roller for Travel: The Morph
Its Greatness in a Single Sentence: It’s a full-sized foam roller that easily collapses and can be taken virtually anywhere.
Another Major Pro: In addition to having a pack-flat design, The Morph has a surface texture that matches or exceeds those of other premium foam rollers that are non-portable.
The Nitty-Gritty: Portability is an underrated feature of foam rollers, especially if you intend to keep one around for personal use, and you need the ability for it to travel. All of the mechanized features in the world are useless if you can’t bring the foam roller where it needs to be.
An Admitted Drawback: Checkout might be a couple minutes longer as you make sure you haven’t left it behind in your hotel room.
Nate Says: “The best portable or travel foam roller is our Brazyn Life Morph Foam Roller. I know that’s shocking — and that I’m biased — but it’s true. We invented the category. Ours is the only full-sized foam roller that has a textured exterior, and that packs flat for travel. The other option is simply to have a shorter roller with small diameter, but those don’t have the same functionality. Foam-rolling is something that’s meant to be a routine, and the more you do it, the healthier you will be. With the Morph, you get all of the benefits of a premium foam roller, and the versatility that allows you to bring it anywhere.”
Final Verdict: If you’re like Nate, and you need to foam roll daily because the long-term health of your extremities depends on it, having a portable foam roller like the Morph at your disposal means that even if you’re on vacation, your foam roller is working just as hard as it always does.
Best Heated Foam Roller: Moji Foam Roller
Its Greatness in a Single Sentence: A warmable foam roller that heats up quickly in the microwave just like a Hot Pocket.
Another Major Pro: Aside from also possessing surface texturing similar to that of other premium rollers, the Moji can also be split into two pieces, which means you can vary its length, and also foam roll different areas simultaneously.
The Nitty-Gritty: Heat is associated with muscle relaxation, so heating a foam roller is a logical innovation. It helps to transfer heat to the muscle more rapidly, and further accentuates the warming of the muscles caused by the friction of the roller.
An Admitted Drawback: You can take the Moji on the road with you, or even to the gym, but expect some quizzical expressions when you ask the gym staff to heat your foam roller in the break-room microwave for you.
Nate Says: “Heat makes more sense than cold to add for rolling because you want your muscles to relax and be warm. Heat has a way of helping that process along. In a lot of athletic training rooms, you’ll have ice massages being performed. It would usually be a paper cup filled with water, put in the freezer. Then you tear away the paper, the ice is exposed, and you can ice the injured area with the ice cup and give an ice massage. But it isn’t a deep penetrating massage. In terms of ice and a kneading massage, I’m not sure the benefit is really there. It’s very hard to prompt your muscles to relax when a cold surface is being applied to them.”
Final Verdict: If you want to heat things up with your foam roller, the Moji is your best bet — just make sure you’re near enough to a microwave; otherwise, your muscles will be left out in the cold, and you’ll be stuck having to heat them up the old fashioned way.
Best Vibrating Foam Roller: Lifepro Surger
Its Greatness in a Single Sentence: A vibrating roller with ridges and texture that can accelerate the muscle-activation process through its powerful pulsations.
Another Major Pro: Even if this roller’s vibrations fail to do the trick — or even if the vibrating function stops working altogether — its grooves and ridges are still ample to give you what you need, and exceed those offered by most rollers, including several that aren’t electrically enhanced.
The Nitty-Gritty: The Lifepro Surger provides you with all of the rolling essentials — solid size, sufficiently rigid foam and ridges to address the deep tissues — while also possessing the ability to charge and vibrate. This can help you work through the rolling process in an expedited fashion, as the results are more or less immediate.
An Admitted Drawback: Who wants to have to remember to charge up a foam roller on a daily basis? At a minimum, that recharging requirement is probably going to make you think twice about bringing it to the gym.
Nate Says: “I’ve tried vibrating rollers, and they’re great. Obviously, you get a different sensation on the muscle and a different activation as you’re rolling over it. The downside is that they’re very expensive and heavy, which makes them hard to travel with. They also tend to rattle the entire house, which a lot of people don’t like. In general, though, it’s a beneficial technology for foam rolling your muscles.”
Final Verdict: If you want to feel like you’ve purchased a top-of-the-line foam roller, this is certainly one way to do it. The Lifepro Surger ticks all of the essential boxes, while also offering a pretty great additional wrinkle.
Best Textured Foam Roller Under $40: TriggerPoint GRID
Its Greatness in a Single Sentence: The size, texture and quality of this foam roller have secured a place for it as the foam roller most people envision when they consider a roller that’s a step up from a simple cylinder of foam.
Another Major Pro: In addition to being highly functional, this roller is durable as well, and it even looks attractive. If it’s important to you that you foam roll and simultaneously appear to others like you’re serious about the practice, the Triggerpoint GRID can help you accomplish that.
The Nitty-Gritty: This is a full-sized roller that has the grooves you need to really dig into your muscle tissues more effectively than the simple foam cylinder, or even some other premium rollers.
An Admitted Drawback: The Triggerpoint GRID may go one step beyond the standard cylindrical forms, but it’s also unlikely to light your world on fire. If you’re looking for something more like a Cadillac option, this is more of an Oldsmobile. That’s not really a putdown; this thing is dependable. There are just sexier options out there.
Nate Says: “If you’re looking at foam rollers, you’re inevitably going to see a lot of different surface textures and patterns. You’ll see each of those can have different benefits. A roller with a lot of texture or big bumps on it will typically be able to dig a little deeper on your muscles. If you have a bunch of knots or adhesions, the textured rollers are good for digging into those. The TriggerPoint GRID has been around for a long time — and for good reason. It has good durability and a great foam rolling surface.”
Final Verdict: If you’ve tested the foam-rolling waters and looking to make a safe upgrade, this is among the safest selections you can make.
Best Budget Foam Roller: Amazon Basics High-Density Round Foam Roller
Its Greatness in a Single Sentence: This is what comes to mind when you first think of foam rolling. Honestly, you can’t say you’ve experienced the essence of foam rolling until you’ve tested out one of these puppies.
Another Major Pro: The basic foam roller is relatively inexpensive compared to every other foam roller on the market. If the fundamentals are all you need, this doesn’t have any of the specialty functions that might distract you from learning everything you should about foam rolling.
The Nitty-Gritty: This simple piece of cylindrical foam defines the genre. For a full half of people intent on dabbling with foam rolling, this will be all that’s required to scratch that itch, and roll those muscles.
An Admitted Drawback: Owning a basic foam roller is a little bit like having a set of ordinary dumbbells with a stack of weight plates that require frequent removal and re-clamping. The instant you splurge on a set of Bowflex SelectTech weights, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever use the old dumbbells ever again, and they’ll just sit around and remind you of the time when you were an unsophisticated home gym owner who still had a lot to learn. If you feel the need to upgrade to a higher-quality roller, this is likely to fall by the wayside lickety-split.
Nate Says: “Any of the standard foam rollers are going to feel about the same. They’re all made the same way. The inexpensive ones tend to not last very long, so you often get what you pay for. But if someone has never rolled before and they want to learn about foam rolling and how to incorporate it, the inexpensive ones are a good introductory product. If you learn to love the soothing aspects of foam rolling when it’s done right, then you can figure out what tools you’re going to progress into, and you can upgrade your roller.
“An Amazon Basics version is adequate for this. Most of those products are made the same way, and in the same factories, and they’re just branded differently. Pick one with good reviews, and then use it to get your introduction to foam rolling.”
Final Verdict: If you don’t know anything about foam rolling and want to give it a fair shot, this is absolutely the smart, safe purchase. It’s also sensible to believe that a full 50 percent of foam-roller purchasers will have all of their needs met by the simplest foam roller without needing to splurge on a more expensive roller with features that will prove to be superfluous.
Best Contoured Foam Roller: The Rollga
Its Greatness in a Single Sentence: Allows you to effectively focus on specific parts of your anatomy with more precision than certain foam rollers.
Another Major Pro: Not only do the grooves target some anatomical areas more potently, but they also allow you to keep your legs aligned to the roller as you roll along the full length of them. Essentially, it provides a degree of guidance that’s difficult to replicate with most rollers.
The Nitty-Gritty: If your objective is to target your legs, the Rollga has multiple grooves to simultaneously place both of your shins, calves, hamstrings or quads into them as a critical time saver that also optimizes the process.
An Admitted Drawback: The same features that enable the Rollga to excel when catering to your lower extremities may not be at all beneficial when targeting your upper body, at least not when compared with standard rolling models with a more cylindrical shape.
Nate Says: “The Rollga is very nice with the contours. It gives you a different surface as you’re rolling your muscles in those grooves. Subjectively, the part of your body that most needs your attention is what you should buy your foam roller for. I think the Rollga is great for addressing certain parts of your body that can fit into the contours, like your legs. It provides deeper pressure.”
Final Verdict: If you’re honing in on your lower body and want to minimize the number of times you need to manually adjust the position of your roller, having uniform grooves that can simultaneously steer both of your legs if necessary can make your foam rolling time more enjoyable, and less of an annoyance.