Everybody’s foam rolling these days. Runners, cyclists, weightlifters – you name it, they’re doing it. That’s because anyone who exercises can benefit from the practice, which is also known as self-myofascial release. If you’ve embraced foam rolling, or have been sufficiently convinced by its reported benefits to want to start, then you need a foam roller. And although the effects of foam rolling largely remain the same with different rollers, they come in all shapes and sizes, so to help you decide which is right for you we’ve put together this buyer’s guide – and listed some of our favourite options.
Foam Roller Buyer’s Guide
Why foam roll?
“It starts to break down tension and tightness in the muscles, promotes blood flow to aid with muscle fatigue and increases your flexibility,” says Hannah Walsh, Runners Need store expert.
If you’re doing it right, foam rolling will probably not be a comfortable experience, but grit your teeth and remember that the pain is doing you good.
What are the different kinds of foam roller?
The key differences between foam rollers relate to their size, firmness and surface pattern. Longer rollers are good for working on large muscles and your back, while smaller (sometimes handheld) rollers can target smaller muscle areas and are, obviously, more portable.
“Handheld rollers have pinpoint precision that can target hard to reach areas such as the achilles and shin,” says Walsh, “and you can more easily control how much pressure is applied to the muscle.”
When it comes to firmness, check the colour-coding: white often indicates a softer roller, black is the firmest, with blues and pinks or reds in between. While beginners might want to start with a softer roller, there are benefits to braving the extra discomfort that comes from using a firmer roller.
“Firmer foam rollers are perfect for dense tissue and anyone who prefers more intense compression,” says Walsh.
The surface pattern also changes from roller to roller, including some that have alarmingly large spikes to really dig into your muscles.
“Foam rollers vary in surface design and rigidity to connect with the skin and fascia accurately,” says Walsh.
Different patterns on foam rollers’ surfaces are also sometimes designed to mimic different parts of the hand in order to simulate a sports massage. High nobbles match up to fingertips and longer tubular sections mimic the fingers, while flatter parts simulate palms.
There are also vibrating rollers to consider. These make the whole experience a little less painful and are said to ramp up the benefits of foam rolling considerably, but they do come at a greatly increased cost. And speaking of cost…
How much should you look to spend on a roller?
“You would need to invest around £35 for good-quality traditional foam roller,” says Walsh, “and you can spend up to £170 for the vibration technology.”
What should a complete beginner look for as the key features in a roller?
A medium-sized traditional roller is a good place to start your foam roller collection. As always the temptation will be to opt for a cheap one if you’re not sure how much you’ll use it, but there are durability concerns to consider.
“A solid EVA foam core makes it firmer than most traditional rollers and also gives the product some longevity,” says Walsh. “You can buyer cheaper foam rollers for around £20 but without a solid EVA foam core it won’t last and is likely to collapse under your bodyweight.”
The Best Foam Rollers
Nine strips of sweet self-myofascial relief await buyers of this classic foam roller, which has a solid EVA core to ensure longevity. It’s got big enough surfaces to work the larger muscles easily, but it’s also just about small enough to slip in a bag and target smaller muscles effectively. A great all-rounder, in short, and a roller that will suit beginners. £35, buy on runnersneed.com
Physical Company Performance Roller
This cheaper roller has proved reliably sturdy in our experience. What sets it apart from the competition, however, is the instructions it offers users via the magic of Near Field Communication (NFC) tech that’s built into the roller itself. Wave your smartphone near the NFC tag and you’ll be shown a library of foam roller exercises and instructions. It’s also a few centimetres longer than most other foam rollers, which is less glamorous than NFC but very helpful for core and back rolling. £19.95 (currently reduced to £13.93), buy on physicalcompany.co.uk
HyperIce Vyper 2.0
If you’re ready to make the jump to a vibrating roller, and have saved the requisite chunk of cash to do so, check out the rechargeable HyperIce Vyper. It has three vibration settings and lasts two hours on a single charge. HyperIce claims the vibrating tech in the Vyper makes it twice as effective as a traditional roller in helping your recovery after exercise. £169.99, buy on runnersneed.com
The Rumble Roller
This extra-hard foam torture tube is covered in flexible but firm bumps designed to mimic the thumbs of a physiotherapist. It looks absolutely terrifying, but if you can summon up the courage the RumbleRoller will do you no end of good. £19.95, buy on amazon.co.uk
This portable peanut-shaped device vibrates at three different speeds (which can be described as steady, fast and downright alarming) to aid in the post-workout massage process. Its size and shape make it ideal for targeting the nooks and crannies on your body that a traditional foam roller is too big to access, and the vibrating makes it marginally less painful to use than a standard roller. It also comes in a choice of colours – black, red purple and yellow. Who can say why, but it’s always nice to have some choice.
Along with the Pulseball itself you get a handy picture guide to rolling pretty much every muscle in the body, so you can happily while away the hours massaging yourself. Well, you can while away three hours. After that you’ll have to recharge the Pulseball. If using the Pulseball gets you addicted to vibrating self-massaging devices, then you can also pick up a full-sized vibrating foam roller from Pulseroll. Your muscles will never feel so well looked after. £89.99, buy on pulseroll.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
The Lacrosse Ball
An essential in every roller’s arsenal, the lacrosse ball is used to target hard-to-get to areas on the body like the soles and arches of the feet. This will be especially useful for runners who suffer with plantar fasciitis – inflammation of the tissue that forms the arch under the foot. You can also use a golf ball to roll your sole if you have one handy. £6.98, buy on amazon.co.uk