Professional athletes know the benefits of a post-workout massage. Not only will it speed up recovery time, but a massage can help unlock muscles that have tightened up as well as improve circulation, release tension, aid in flexibility and help eliminate built-up lactic acid. It also aids in relaxation, as well as being a reward to yourself after a hard workout.
Massage rollers are a convenient way for everyone to enjoy these benefits. A handy, inexpensive addition to your home gym equipment, they are used for self-massage to bring these benefits to the everyday athlete.
The cylindrical foam rollers look a lot like a human-size rolling pins and come in a variety of sizes and types for easy and convenient self-massage. We’ve looked at a variety of the best rollers in the main categories — smooth, ridged and bulleted, which offers a deeper tissue massage. Some are also travel sized, so you can take your massage on the road.
Whichever is best for you, look for a roller that’s well-made and won’t go flat or degrade after several uses.
What can a foam roller do?
A foam roller has a diameter of approximately six inches and a length of several feet. What can it do and how do you use it? Let’s find out.
Enhancing your exercise regimen
Foam rollers can help up your game when doing certain floor exercises and bodyweight exercises. For instance, lying on a foam roller while doing crunches works your core harder. Doing planks or pushups with your hands on a foam roller makes them more challenging.
A foam roller can double as a yoga prop. When you need a little help with certain poses, a foam roller can provide extra balance and minimize the distance you have to stretch.
Warm up and cool down
Stretching your body before and after exercise reduces muscle soreness and lessens your chance of injury. A quick internet search will reveal a large number of foam-roller stretches and exercises for your warm-up or cool-down routine.
Self-myofascial release – also known as “trigger-point release” or “foam rolling” – is a kind of self-massage designed to work out adhesions in the layers of fascia below the skin. These adhesions can be caused by overworking the muscles, and they can be painful. By using your bodyweight to roll yourself over a foam roller in various directions, you put pressure on the adhesions, which releases them.
Here are some benefits of self-myofascial release:
- Improves flexibility and range of motion
- Relieves muscle pain
- Promotes recovery post-workout by increasing blood flow
- Helps prevent injuries
- Reduces soreness after exercise
- Relieves tightness and knots in muscles
Foam roller considerations
Foam rollers come in a range of lengths, from about 12 inches to 36 inches.
Longer foam rollers are best for exercising, as shorter models might not be wide enough to support your whole body.
Shorter foam rollers are easier to maneuver for massage. They’re also more portable if you want to take your foam roller with you to the gym.
From soft to extra-firm, foam rollers are available in various densities. It’s important to pick the density that’s right for you.
A too-soft foam roller won’t effectively release your trigger points or massage deep into the tissue. A too-hard foam roller could cause pain and bruising.
Generally, it’s best to start off with something on the softer side if you’re new to foam rolling and work up to a firmer model once it becomes less effective.
Some foam rollers are smooth, whereas others have lumps, bumps, and ridges.
Textured foam rollers are primarily designed for massage, especially if you want to get deep into the fascia and muscles to relieve pain and workout knots and adhesions.
Smooth foam rollers are best if you’ll mainly be using them for exercise or just want a very light massage.
Foam rollers are available in three main materials: polyethylene (PE), ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), and expanded polypropylene (EPP).
- PE rollers are widely available and fairly affordable. They’re fine as a first foam roller, as they’re usually on the softer side, but they don’t tend to be extremely durable and long-lasting.
- Lightweight, durable EVA rollers have shock-absorbing properties. They’re generally medium firm, but you can also get high-density EVA if you want a firm or extra-firm foam roller.
- EPP is a newer material that’s hard-wearing and firm to extra-firm in density. These foam rollers are extremely durable but can be too hard for some users.
Foam roller tips
Follow these tips and you’ll be rolling with the best of them before you know it:
- If you come across an area that hurts to roll, start a few inches away from that area instead of directly on it.
- To release adhesions, you should be rolling over problem areas fairly slowly, rather than going quickly back and forth.
- Foam rolling is an extremely effective warm up for your body pre-workout.
- You only need to spend 20 to 30 seconds on each tender spot. If you spend 10 minutes trying to work out a knot, you might cause more damage.
- If you’re not sure whether you’re using the right form and technique with your foam roller, consult the instruction manual, watch some instructional videos, or book a session with a personal trainer.
- Even if you don’t exercise often, foam rollers are great for relaxing your body and mind, much like a regular massage.
Foam roller prices
As a rule, foam rollers are fairly affordable. But their costs vary depending on type, length, material, and density.
Smooth foam rollers
Smooth foam rollers tend to be cheaper than the textured varieties, but you’ll still find a wide range of prices.
- Basic PE rollers are the cheapest, ranging from roughly $5 to $30, depending on length and density.
- EPP rollers fall in the mid-range, from about $10 to $40.
- EVA rollers are the most expensive, generally costing around $15 to $60.
Textured foam rollers
Textured foam rollers are generally more expensive than smooth foam rollers.
Decent models start at about $15 and can cost as much as $80.
Unless you’re a committed athlete, you don’t need to go all the way to the top end of the price range, but don’t go below $15 if you want a quality item.
Q. Do I need more than one foam roller?
A. Depending on how you plan to use a foam roller, you may need more than one. For instance, you might want a long, smooth roller for exercising and a shorter textured model for massage.
Q. Does it make a difference what color my foam roller is?
A. With foam rollers, color isn’t all about aesthetics. White and colored foam rollers are made from low-density foam, which is better for those new to foam rolling who want a softer roller, which may not be as durable or long-lasting. Black foam rollers are made from high-density foam, which is durable and excellent for people who want a more intense massage. However, these rollers can prove painful for foam-rolling newbies.