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LuxFit Premium High Density Foam Roller (36 inch)
My personal favorite of the bunch is the LuxFit Premium High Density Foam Roller. Not only is it incredibly simple to use, it works exceptionally well to massage out my sore muscles, as it’s hard enough to be effective without being painful. The roller also offers a great stabilizer for planks and an effective aid for pushups and yoga moves (for those who are interested in multi-purposing their roller).
So while it doesn’t offer the deepest massage, going too deep isn’t always what you want. The LuxFit gives a worthy massage without inducing further pain, and I can see myself reaching for this one time and time again.
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
The TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller is a fantastic option for those who want a small, light, and durable foam roller. Unlike its larger counterparts, this roller is made of hard plastic and dense foam, which gives it a lasting durability over the puffier foam rollers. The compact size also makes it more portable than most while still working OK to stabilize side planks if you want it to.
The best part about this roller is the firmness. It offers a varied rolling surface for different levels of massage, and is firm enough to give a great massage while being cushioned enough not to hurt. If you’re looking for something smaller than your typical three-footer and are willing to spend a little bit extra, this is an excellent choice.
How We Tested
I’m Bethany, a former athlete (I swam and played water polo, then took up running and yoga, thank you for asking). Particularly because water polo led to shoulder issues and running led to a leg injury, I’m very used to foam rolling to help keep myself from getting reinjured. At this point, I’ve been foam rolling—using everything from large squishy rollers to portable trigger sticks to baseballs—for years.
To test, I used each foam rollers to massage or stretch three groups of muscles after a workout—my upper and lower legs, my upper arms, and my back. I also used each roller in the course of a yoga routine, and to assist me with pushups and planks. This way I could judge how useful each would be for a variety of tasks, beyond simply rolling out my calves after a run or stretching out my back after a long day at the office.
During these tests, I took the doctor’s advice and paid attention to how easy as well as comfortable each roller was to use. I also thought about whether I got a good massage, and what the overall build quality was. I also noted how each would be to store, how easy they were to clean, and what my overall experience was with each product.
Why You Might Need a Foam Roller
“The harder you train in terms of volume and frequency of training, and the higher intensity you train, the more likely you are to have micro tears or strains in your muscle,” says Pete Viteritti, a sports chiropractor with more than 25 years of experience treating everyone from Olympic athletes to everyday runners like myself. Viteritti is also my former chiropractor, who I saw to treat a running injury a few years ago. These micro tears happen when the load you’re putting on your muscles exceeds what your muscles can handle. And that’s where foam rolling comes in.
Foam rolling can reduce the cumulative tension in your muscles, which in turn reduces the risk of injury from muscle tightness. But keep in mind that it’s just a preventative tool and doesn’t fix problems you’re already experiencing. So if you do get injured, please see a doctor.
With that warning aside and the benefits of foam rolling clear, how do you know which one to choose?
“It’s really a personal preference,” says Viteritti. “It’s like vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Some people like chocolate, some people like vanilla. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just what you like.”
So when it came to testing, I took his advice. I thought about whether I liked aggressive massages or lighter ones (somewhere in the middle) and if I had a high or low pain tolerance (again, somewhere in the middle). There’s really one key factor when it comes to effectiveness, says Viteritti: “What’s the best foam roller? The one you’re going to use.”
So pick your foam roller based on its overall specs, not what the Olympic-level bodybuilder on YouTube is selling. Get the one you’re going to use on a daily basis.
What Are The Different Kinds Of Foam Rollers?
While you’re thinking about which foam roller would work best for you, it’s good to consider lengths and materials. In general, most foam rollers I researched and tested were around 36-inches long. This makes them stable when rolling out your muscles and allows you to do any stretch you can find online, but can be tough to store in an apartment.
There are a few different materials you’ll find as well, which range from relatively soft to fairly hard. Much like length, it goes back to what is comfortable for your body. The softest is Polyethylene (PE)—the Yes4All roller we tested is made of this material. It’s great for beginners, though not the best quality.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is a step above PE. It has the spongy feel of the PE foam but enough firmness to get a bit more of a massage. Our favorite compact roller is made of a hard plastic inner tube covered in different densities of EVA.
The next step up is the Expanded Polypropylene (EPP), which offers a denser, firmer roller. For context, the AmazonBasics’ roller is EPP, and our winner the LuxFit considers itself a Molded Polypropylene. There are also a few more specialty rollers out there. For instance, the Rumble Roller is a proprietary mix of EVA and other, harder materials. This is great for intense athletes, but overkill for most folks. From my experience, EPP works great, while PE is a bit too soft for my muscles.
Other Foam Rollers We Tested
OPTP Black AXIS Firm Foam Roller – Full Round, 36 x 6
The OPTP Black AXIS is a close second to the LuxFit in terms of ease of use, perfect balance of hard-but-not-too-hard, and relatively durable material. It’s a good foam roller, though a little bit softer than I want it to be. I didn’t get as deep a massage as I would’ve liked, though I imagine it’d be great for someone newer to foam rolling.
Gaiam Restore Total Body Foam Roller (36 inch)
The Gaiam Restore roller is, overall, very typical. In other words, it does what it’s designed to do. It works out my muscles well enough and it’s great for planks and pushups. That said, it produces pretty silly crunching noises at times, and the material feels a bit flimsy, like it might lose chunks if I accidentally knock it into the corner of a table.
AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller (36 inch)
The AmazonBasics is another perfectly fine foam roller. It’s very basic, and there’s nothing really about it that stands out. So while it doesn’t offer the best massage, it seems like a decent starter foam roller for someone who’s looking for a cheap option.
ProSource Sports Medicine Roller
The ProSource Sports Medicine Foam Roller really lives up to its “pro” name. It seems well-suited for a professional athlete, but it’s not super comfortable for someone who’s more casual about their body. To be frank, it’s more painful than I like. However, if your workouts are intense and you’re OK with a bit of pain, this would be perfect.
Yes4All USA Foam Roller (36 inch)
I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or recommend the Yes4All USA roller, as it’s nothing to write home about. It’s a standard three-foot roller made of firm, airy material. The massage is OK, but my roller came with a small chunk carved out of it, so I worry about how sustainable it’ll be in the long-run.
RumbleRoller Textured Muscle Foam Roller
The Rumble Roller will beat you up and take your lunch money. This roller is hard and knobby, and will knead your muscles more intensely than you can imagine. I’m not going to lie, it’s physically painful to use, and I cannot imagine reaching for it on a regular basis. This roller is definitely designed for someone who wants a very deep self-massage.
GoFit Foam Roller (36 inch)
The GoFit roller is pretty typical as far as large foam rollers go, though it’s squisher than most. Given the bouncy material, it didn’t give a deep massage. It also makes funny crunching noises when in use. Overall, this roller isn’t as helpful as I’d want it to be, but it might be OK for someone new to foam rolling.