What is Foam Roller – Why, When, and How to Use

Everyone has heard of foam rolling in recent years due to its simple design, efficiency in self-massaging, and usefulness for a wide range of mobility and core exercices. Fitness enthusiasts have adopted this unique approach to relaxing your muscles. From international level athletes to renowned trainers, everyone recommends this efficient but straightforward device. 

So how do these cylindrical foam-based rollers have a design that beats several massaging techniques? What are the best foam rollers to buy on Amazon? In this comprehensive guide, we will decode everything you need to know about foam rollers.

Bestseller No. 1
Amazon Basics High-Density Round Foam Roller for Exercise and Recovery - 36 Inch, Black
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Bestseller No. 2
Yes4All EPP Exercise Foam Roller – Extra Firm High Density Foam Roller – Best for Flexibility...
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Bestseller No. 3
OPTP Pro-Roller Soft Density Foam Roller - Blue 36 Inch
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SaleBestseller No. 4
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller with Free Online Instructional Videos, Original (13-Inch), Black
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Bestseller No. 5
OPTP PRO-Roller Standard Density Foam Roller - Durable Roller for Massage, Stretching, Fitness, Yoga...
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What is Foam Rolling?

Also known as myofascial release, foam roller works on a thin tissue between our muscles called fascia. It helps our muscles stay packed and connected. Did you ever wonder how your bicep and tricep muscles work together? Fascia allows all our muscles to work together as integrated units. A healthy fascia allows more flexibility and smooth muscle functioning, but there is always a potential threat of binding for several reasons, including muscle injury, inflammation, disease, trauma, or inactivity. Whenever your muscles feel stiff, it’s because your fascia is “gummed up.”

Foam rollers work on these inflexible areas by releasing muscle knots. These areas or myofascial adhesions (physiological term) can limit your range of motion. Fortunately, foam rollers have been perfect for releasing muscle tension even though they may feel a little discomforting at times. Let’s see when to use a foam roller, its basics, and exercises targeting specific areas. 

It’s important to know that size, texture, density, and shape of foam rollers determine whether they’ll be fit for your needs or not. Refer to the buying guide at the end to know what will be a perfect fit for you. 

When to Use a Foam Roller

Foam rollers are effective on general muscle soreness at any time. Some people prefer using a roller first thing in the morning. Trainers even say that athletes prefer using foam rollers immediately before and after their workout sessions for the following reasons. 

  • Before Workouts: Rollers help muscles relax before working out, allowing more efficient muscle movement and a wide range of motion during the workout.  
  • After Workouts: Rollers are quite effective against general muscle soreness and also cut down on recovery time. 

How to Use a Foam Roller

You may find foam rollers discomforting while using them for the first time. So it’s better to be gentle while learning to use a foam roller. As you move on with your learning process, you will easily know your body’s response to different intensity levels. You will easily detect that “it hurts so good” feeling as you shift through different intensities. Don’t get into the misperception that the more it pains, the quicker you’ll recover. 

That is not how foam roller works, and you need to use the following steps to prevent bruising a muscle or suffering an injury.

  • Pinpoint the area that you think is sore or tight
  • Control your body in a way to keep targeted areas centered above your foam roller
  • Press your body against the roller to the point of discomfort (not pain) and hold it there for 20-30 seconds
  • The pressure alone will feel relaxing. Now slowly roll back and forth to relax the whole area. 
  • Let this pressure stimulate the entire muscle. 
  • Move back and forth while stopping at the areas that are stiffer & require more focus. 

As you’ll use the foam roller every day, experiment with different body positions until you find the most effective technique for your muscles. Also, it’s common to fixate on the massaging sensation and forget to breathe during the foam rolling properly. Make sure to take long breaths.

4 Foam Roller Exercises For Different Muscles

Calf Exercises

Place your foam roller on the ground, sit in front of it and extend one leg straight with your calf placed on the foam roller. By taking support from your other foot and your hands, lift your butt and start rolling your calf muscle over it slowly. Once you reach a tender spot, hold your muscle over the roller for 20-30 seconds before moving again.

Make sure to engage the calf perfectly by flexing your ankle while rolling it. You can cover the sides of your calf by rotating it in and out. You can increase the intensity by placing your foot at different positions. Repeat this on your other leg to completely stimulate the calf muscles. 

Iliotibial (IT) Band Exercise

Foam rollers are great for your IT band muscles. Place the roller under one of your quad muscles while you lie down on one side. Use your forearm to support your upper body and roll back and forth while the roller works on the outer thigh. Take pauses on specific stiff areas for 20-30 seconds to let the pressure work on your muscles. Leaning slightly forward or backward will help you adjust the intensity of the IT band workout. 

Quadriceps Exercise

Just like you went on with the calf muscle, place the roller under your thighs this time and use your elbows for the back and forth movement. In these exercises, you get the option to go work on both your thighs by propping yourself up using your arms. Again, make sure to relax for 20 to 30 seconds whenever you feel the softness in your muscles. You can use similar techniques by just repositioning yourself in the face-up or face-down position for other leg muscles, too, including hamstring, adductor, and more. 

Upper Back Exercise

Place the foam roller on the ground and lie down on it while balancing it on your shoulders. Go for a foam roller that’s about 24 to 36-inch long. Keep your arms straight and bend your legs while lifting your thighs from the floor to create a bridge-like pose. Once you are in that position, you can start working on your upper back by rolling back and forth. Remember to stop at certain points for 20-30 seconds once the points are stiffer.                                                                                                                     

Best Foam Roller – Top-Rated Foam Rollers  

Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller

The Trigger Point GRID has a one-of-a-kind design that provides a three-dimensional surface. Despite years of usage, the TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller’s core helps maintain its original form and size. Designed with a strong hollow core and a superb multi-density shell, the foam rollers are easy to use. When looking for a roller with a ridged surface, this is your best bet. In addition to mimicking a hands-on massage, this roller can also deliver a deep tissue pressure massage. Physical and massage therapists, coaches, trainers, and athletes swear by this foam roller for muscle restoration, pain reduction, and increased flexibility. With this product, you will also get free online instructional videos from fitness specialists at TriggerPoint. Trigger point provides you with a one-year warranty period to ensure the durability and longevity of the product. 

Blackroll Blackbox Set

The BLACKROLL is an excellent training and therapeutic tool for everyday use. Effective myofascial whole-body training can be accomplished with the help of just one tool. We can enhance our body’s long-term performance while minimizing overload injuries with the Blackroll Blackbox Set. The package contains two BLACKROLL training devices that can be used for both fascia training and fascia massage. These therapeutic balls and massage rollers are great for the particular point-by-point treatment of various body regions, including the neck, back, shoulders, arms, legs, and feet, and are a fantastic tool for removing tight & aching muscles. With this premium quality tool, you can take care of yourself at home without having to spend money every time you get injured or hurt.  

OPTP Pro Roller Soft Density Foam Roller

OPTP Pro-Roller Soft Density Foam Roller - Blue 36 Inch
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  • Soft Density: Features a softer, comfortable...
  • Versatile Fitness Tools: Ideal for balance and...
  • Standard Size: Measures 36-inches long by 6-inches...

This roller’s soft foam is perfect for massage and support during balance and core exercises. The closed foam technology of this half roller makes it very easy to clean. Its sturdy EVA foam enables heavy, frequent usage in the gym, studio, clinic, or home. For a safer, more steady sensation and easier control during a massage, pilates, yoga, and physical therapy, this model has a smaller 4″ diameter lower to the ground. If you are looking for a roller that will help you increase mobility, flexibility, and range of motion or enhance core strength, balance, and stability, this will be your perfect choice. This roller is ideal for adductors, quadriceps, and back massages and can also be used on smaller areas like hip rotators, glutes, and calves. 

321 STRONG Foam Roller

321 STRONG Foam Roller - Medium Density Deep Tissue Massager for Muscle Massage and Myofascial...
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  • Stretch overworked and strained muscles of the leg...
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The lightweight and travel-friendly 321 STRONG Foam Roller weighs under one pound. The foam’s triple grid 3D massage zones make you feel like you are taking the specialized massage from a genuine masseuse. The use of the foam roller is quite simple. This beginner-friendly roller is comfortable to us, and the medium density roller penetrates the soft tissue layer of weary muscles. It is recommended during recovery because it is one of the most effective means of treating muscular discomfort and improving performance. Increases blood flow to the massage location, clearing away lactic acid that has been accumulated over time. You might want to consider this product if you are looking for a sturdy, inexpensive solution that will work deep into your muscles.

LuxFit Foam Roller

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The LuxFit foam roller comes with a conventional flat shape ideal for essential pain treatment and a pleasant massage. The flat surface of the LuxFit is perfect for relieving muscular soreness after a workout, as well as warming up before a session. This model is available in four sizes, a 12-inch, an 18-inch, a 24-inch, and a 36-inch, making it suitable for individuals of all sizes. Its firmness allows it to penetrate deep into muscle tissue to relieve pain. Due to its enormous weight capacity, it may be used by individuals of various sizes. It’s also manufactured from specially treated plastic that helps in resisting chipping, cracking, and deforming. Another fantastic feature of this roller is the waterproofing, so your sweat won’t get trapped. 

Gaiam Foam Roller

Gaiam Restore Muscle Massage Therapy Foam Rollers (18 Inch & 36 Inch)
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  • INCLUDES: 15-Minute 'How To' digital workout is...
  • DIMENSIONS: 18"L x 6" Diameter / Weight = 0.96lbs

Pre- and post-workout, this medium-density foam roller helps athletes and physical therapy clients relieve discomfort from tired muscles and joint stiffness. Apart from providing greater leverage and control, the Gaiam Foam Roller offers maximum control and stability when in use. This budget-friendly roller won’t make a hole in your pocket while providing good results. Using Gaiam’s foam roller, your muscles will receive a deep tissue massage. In addition, your spine will be stretched and aligned due to the gentle release of stress. This product is made while considering the significance of healthy bodies in everyday life. The compact size of the roller allows you to target smaller areas or isolate specific muscle groups efficiently.

Prosourcefit high-density foam roller

ProsourceFit High Density Half Round Foam Roller Parent 36x3, Black
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  • TRAVEL FOAM ROLLER - Available in 12 inch, 18 inch...

This is one of the most excellent muscle treatment tools in the market, appropriate for self-myofascial release, mild stretching, joint mobility, and spinal stability. In addition to being environmentally friendly, EPP foam with high density provides solid support that won’t degrade structure over time. All body types and fitness levels benefit from this roller, especially those in need of some therapy. The roller is particularly designed to release knots in the muscles, stabilize the spine, and strengthen the core. Compared to rollers with flat surfaces, the high-density structure of the roller helps deliver a deeper massage. The materials used to make this roller are non-toxic, high-density expanded polypropylene (EPP). The cleansing procedure is much easier than any other roller on the market. Its small size makes it easy to store and ideal for travel. 

Gimme 10 Foam Roller

Gimme 10 Foam Roller for Deep Tissue Massager for Muscle and Myofascial Trigger Point Release -...
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Made of medium-density EVA foam, this high-performance Gimme 10 Foam Roller helps you soothe even the densest muscle tissues in the lower and upper back. Perfect for running, yoga, pilates, dancing, and athletes who need to do stretching before running or other activities and after workout recovery. A heavy-duty ABS hollow-core muscle roller makes up the foam roller, which is roughly a foot long. As a result of the triple-grid massage region, scar tissue and cellulite are reduced, providing a massage as good as having a physical therapist. Roll your entire body with this traditional foam roller to get firm healing pressure. The roller comes with a triple grid massaging zone that helps in reducing scar tissue and cellulite. It’s one of the highly recommended and classic rollers easing down pain in upper and lower body muscles.

Buying Guide – Foam Roller

How to choose the best foam roller for you

Perform your deep tissue massage, popularly known as “self-administered myofascial release” (SMR), using a foam roller that is best suited to your needs. The process uses your body weight to loosen up and relax your muscles.

If you have had some experience with the foam rollers, you may not have liked it initially because the process of using a foam roller is not all that comfortable as you may have wanted it to be. It takes a while for your muscles to adapt to the process before the massaging points (also known as trigger points or myofascial adhesions) of the foam roller loosen up the stiffness of your muscles.

Following are the primary considerations before you go shopping for a foam roller :

  • Foam Roller Density- Foam rollers come in various densities, eventually determining their effectiveness at deep tissue massage. A soft foam roller, that is, the one with light density, may provide insufficient pressure, while a harder and denser foam roller may end up bruising and exhausting your muscles. Such extreme density rollers may negatively impact your performance. If you are a newbie in the realm of foam rollers, you should start with the one on the softer side. As your muscles adapt to your technique, you can upgrade to using a denser or harder foam roller. Also, denser rollers are much durable, therefore, can be used for a longer duration. On the other hand, softer rollers may give in sooner and get permanently deformed due to constant wear and tear, implying that it’s time to buy a new one.
  • Colour of rollers: The color of the roller can also indicate its density. When determining roller based on color, one should know that white is the softest density, whereas black is the highest density. Blue and red are usually the medium densities. But the color and densities can vary according to the brand too. A common way to test the relative firmness of a foam roller is to squeeze it to assess its firmness.
  • Surface Texture: Some foam rollers come with a textured surface as they have ridges and knobs on their surface to apply a varied intensity pressure. Other foam rollers are smooth in texture, and their pressure intensity is smooth and uniform overall.
  • Smooth rollers: As explained above, this basic design of smooth rollers applies uniform pressure throughout the length of the foam roller. If someone is starting with the rollers, smooth rollers would be a wise choice, as the pressure intensity in smooth rollers is not as much as in textured rollers.
  • Textured Rollers: These rollers have knobs and ridges on their surface, providing enhanced specificity of targeted massage. Many rollers come in various textures, so you can choose the perfect intensity textured roller that best suits you.

Shape and Size 

We can find foam rollers in a range of shapes and sizes.

  • Length: There are long rollers, shirt rollers, and shortest rollers. The long rollers are about 36 inches, and if you are foam rolling for the first time, this is where you start. They are well suited for your back as they are long enough to cover your back when placed perpendicular to your spine. Also, when compared with short rollers, they are more stable.

To work the smaller areas like arms or calves, shorter rollers(about 24 inches) function perfectly well. Then there are shortest length rollers about the length 4-12 inches. These are portable and work well in limited floor space.

  • Diameter: The diameter zone is between 5-6 inches for mist foam rollers. It is a comfortable measure to ease your body into rolling. For more profound, more targeted massages, some prefer a 3 or 4-inch diameter roller.

Half-Round Foam Roller 

This type as they sound. These rollers have been cut in half lengthwise. These are used in specific stretches to improve balance and massage sore muscles.

Foam covered roller massagers

These rollers can be found in the shape of sticks and balls. The stick-shaped foam-covered roller looks like a rolling pin. These are used on legs and upper back massaging for precise muscle targeting.

The foam-covered balls work effectively on the curved areas of the body.

Benefits of using a foam roller

Foam rolling is a self-massaging technique, professionally called “self-myofascial release” (SMR). It can help relieve muscle stiffness, soreness, or inflammation and increase joints’ range of motion.

Before or after your exercise routine, foam rolling can be performed with your warm-up or cooling down. The benefits of foam rolling may not be the same for every person.

Some notable benefits of foam rolling are :

Ease muscle pain

Foam rolling can ease up sore muscles.

A study conducted on eight men concluded that foam rolling for at least 20 minutes after their exercise helped reduce delayed onset muscle soreness than those who didn’t perform foam rolling. These men were also able to perform better physical activities than those who didn’t foam roll.

A detailed study on a large scale might help better understand how foam rolling impacts muscle pain.

Helps you relax

As the stiffness of muscles breaks, it makes you less tense, and naturally, you tend to be calmer. There is no profound evidence to prove that foam rolling helps you relax, but studies suggest that it does benefit muscles after a workout.

A small study of 20 females showed that foam rolling helped them relax as much as resting after their workout. But it’s safe to say that a detailed study is essential before establishing this benefit of foam rolling.

Meanwhile, if foam rolling helps you relax, there should be no doubt about adding it to your workouts.

Manage fibromyalgia symptoms

A promising study of 66 adults with fibromyalgia revealed that the participants who foam rolled for twenty weeks experienced reduced fibromyalgia symptoms than those who didn’t try foam rolling.

Nevertheless, more research is needed to ensure the efficacy of SMR techniques in treating fibromyalgia.

Alleviate backaches 

As the foam rolling technique helps ease sore muscles, it helps relieve pain in the body. Thus it may help in alleviating the tension in the back too.

While using a foam roller on the back, one should be very careful as it’s easy to injure or strain your back further.

For lower back pain, place your roller vertical, in line with your spine, and start rolling from side to side. Doing otherwise, that is, putting the roller horizontally, can make your backache worse.

Increased range of motion 

Range of motion implies flexibility and performance. Researchers have gathered evidence from a small study of eleven adolescents that foam rolling, in addition to some static stretching, resulted in an improved range of motion.

More research is required of a diverse group of people to comprehend the better relationship between foam rolling and range of motion.

A combination of static stretching and foam rolling has shown the best results in an improved range of motion.

Temporary reduction in cellulite 

As of today, there is no scientific evidence that the SMR technique can permanently reduce cellulite. However, some foam rolling providers claim that it may temporarily help smooth out your skin by breaking up fascia(a connective tissue contributing to the appearance of cellulite).

Final Word

It’s not often that something painful can help you relax, but that’s how exercising works. However, a piece of faulty workout equipment can leave us with injuries that we never expect or want after having an incredible physique. This list of high-performing foam rollers will help your muscles and joints relax so that you can be ready for your next session in time without any stretches or strains.