Simply buying a plastic tube can save hundreds of pounds on paying for expensive sports massages â and that's why foam rollers have exploded in popularity.
The science behind it is largely focused on how it can help relieve knots in the fascia that covers and connect tissues throughout the human body. Sometimes that fascia can clump together and cause aches and pains. Myofascial release, either using a foam roller or through massage, can help loosen and relieve those knots, allowing blood to flow freely again.
Why is that important for fitness?
Well, one of the main causes of those knots is through overuse and exercise - donât do anything about it and it could get worse. The other benefit of using a foam roller for many people is that itâs a great way to warm up the body before a workout.
Considering you can get yourself one for less than the price of a burger and chips, itâs an investment thatâs well worth looking into.
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How we tested
Alas, the choice of foam rollers on the market is growing quickly, with technical innovations ranging from vibrating and heated foam rollers to a selection of shapes that frankly look like theyâre designed for a toddler to play with. Here we test out the various products available to see which you should be spending your money on.
When testing foam rollers we looked specifically at product-specific factors, instead of any medical or physiological effects they might have (weâre not physiotherapists). Things like the quality of the build, hardness, how they feel, interesting features, value for money and if they actually do what they say theyâre meant to.
Hyperice Vyper 2.0
The idea of adding vibration to exercise is hardly a new innovation. Back as far as the mid 19th century, machines were designed for the sole purpose of vibrating people to lose fat. Itâs a concept thatâs seen an occasional resurgence, with one of the most recent being the widespread inclusion of vibrating plates to gyms around the world. Itâs always been an area of skepticism in the industry when it comes to training benefits, but does it have benefits for massage?
The Vyper 2.0 is the latest iteration of the brands vibrating foam roller. At first glance, itâs largely what youâd expect from a foam roller in terms of size and shape. The material used on the exterior is an eco-friendly, poly-propylene that makes for one of the hardest rollers on the list. The finish is a mix of slight grooves and smaller, smoother sections with a sort of bobbly matt finish. It also comes in a range of five color options.
According to the manufacturer specifications, the Vyper 2.0 is the most powerful vibrating roller on the market, and to be completely honest, it does indeed vibrate an awful lot. Powered via a rechargeable lithium battery (two hours of use per charge), it works on three frequency levels: 45, 68 and 92 HZ.
Those numbers donât mean a great deal to us, but when you press the button to hit the top setting we were surprised out how much it vibrated. If you turn it on without holding it to the ground with your body it bounces around the floor until you can finally grab it.
How does it feel?
Without the vibration turned on, the effect of the relatively smooth outer shell is minimal. Itâs essentially just a hard foam roller. As soon as you flick it to vibrate things change quite dramatically. In terms of shape and design, the Vyper 2.0 is a long way from being the deepest sensation we've felt, but with the vibration setting on you definitely get a feeling that muscles are being pummelled. Overall the feeling is more one of relaxation than the pain felt by many others out there.
Brazyn Morph Collapsible Foam Roller
The concept behind Brazynâs Morph roller is very simple. Based on the principle that foam rollers are too large to transport when youâre traveling, especially if youâre only carrying hand luggage, it's created a product thatâs collapsible. During use itâs designed to replicate the size and shape of an average-sized roller, once collapsed it becomes flattened into a shape which can easily slip into a bag.
According to Brazyn, the industry-standard size for a foam roller is 5.5 inches diameter and 14.5 inches long, the exact size of the Morph. Inside that cylinder sit two sheets of thick circular metal that hold the shape and structural strength of the roller when itâs in use.
By pushing the plates inside the cylinder they flip down and allow the whole thing to collapse. These two plates have strings connected between them with plastic loops. Pull them both at the same time and the flat roller opens up again. Itâs a nice easy system to use that feels remarkably sturdy once set up. Apparently, itâs been tested at over 350Ibs. Which is reassuring.
For us, the term flat is a bit of an overstatement. Itâs definitely a lot smaller and easier to slip into a backpack, however it still takes up a bit more space than we were expecting. A comparison in thickness would be a fairly chunky book.
How does it feel?
The build is surprisingly sturdy once youâve pulled the mechanism out, something we weren't expecting, the process of opening it and closing it is also extremely easy. The exterior of the roller is by far the softest on the list, so if you're looking for a really deep tissue sensation it's unlikely the Brazyn will do the job. For beginners, or people looking for a very clever piece of kit that offers a nice easy roll, it's worth investigating.
Moji Heated Foam Roller
Buy now: Moji (US) | $89.99
The benefits of heat are well known when it comes to health and fitness, so itâs not surprising that a foam roller would appear introducing it as a feature. According to Moji, by adding heat therapy into a roller, benefits include reducing muscle stiffness, increasing circulation, raising tissue temperature, and it helps to minimize the pain associated with it. However, much like vibration, the benefits of heat when added to a foam roller are open to debate.
Due to the fact it needs to be small enough to heat up in a microwave, the Moji heated roller is by far one of the more minimal products weâve seen The unit splits, via a simple click lock system, into two separate parts that can be used/carried independently or, once heated, clicked back together.
The outer rubber on the roller is limited, so itâs a fairly hard roller. There are some protruding rubber blocks that run across the roller, but theyâre fairly small. The other thing we noticed, presumably due to the heatable material inside, is that the roller is quite heavy in comparison to the others weâve tested.
How does it feel?
After being placed in the microwave for the suggested 3 minutes 20, we were surprised by how hot the roller becomes. After rolling out our calves for a couple of minutes the heat coming through the outer covering was extremely high, not unbearable but a lot more than we had expected. When we tried it out on the back muscles it was even more noticeable. It also retained the heat for around 45 minutes, which is far more than we expected.
The material and grooves on the outer casing are at the softer end of the spectrum, but presumably, this is because the heat wouldn't dissipate so well with a more pointy design.
Lululemon Double Roller
As we were working on this selection of foam rollers, it was Lululemonâs double roller that came as the biggest surprise to us. Firstly because we didnât even know that Lululemon had a foam roller until researching the available options, and secondly because itâs by far one of the most interesting and creative foam roller designs weâve ever seen.
The name, logically, comes from the fact that the roller can be split into two separate units. The outer roller is a soft, ridged option thatâs designed to be used on the arms and legs, whilst the second is a much more severe-looking roller with a harder surface and much deeper grooves. Visually, as youâd probably expect from Lululemon, itâs a beautiful looking product. The outer has a marble finish whilst the inner a darker, granite look. Even if you donât even plan on doing any foam rolling, put it on a mantlepiece and let it tie the room together.
How does it feel?
When using the soft outer roller the sensation is fairly soft. If this was the only option then we might have been dismayed. The inner roller, however, is designed in such a way that the enormous grooves really delve deep into the muscles. Again, if this was the only option it may be an issue.
The fact that you get two ends of the spectrum makes this a really impressive piece of kit. Perfect for beginners as well as those wanting something significantly tougher. The two options also mean you can add a different level of pressure to areas where you might be particularly sensitive, without having to buy two rollers.
There really arenât many brands out there that have built such an impressive level of trust around their foam roller products as RumbleRoller has. It's a company that does one thing well, and thatâs making high-quality foam rolling and massage products that do exactly what you expect them to.
Our favourite product from their range is the original RumbleRoller, a full-on, tough piece of kit which is built to last as well as get deep into the muscles. You can choose between three different length options as well as three levels of hardness, dependent on where and how you plan to use it (longest for when youâre at home/need the best range of movement and hardest from when youâre a seasoned ârollerâ).
How does it feel?
If youâre looking for a roller thatâs going to push deep into those aches and pains, then the RumbleRoller original is a great option. Not as good as the Lululemon for getting deep into the whole muscle, but the design is perfect for tackling really specific areas. It's also one of the sturdiest and toughest options we've tried. It'll last you for years.
Rumble Roller Gator
Yes, weâve included a second option for RumbleRumble, for the simple reason that the Gator is designed so differently than its original counterpart. On one hand, the Gator is a great option for people that are new to myofascial release and want something effective, that isnât going to have them crying out in pain. On the other, the Gator works on a principle of gripping the skin and adding cross-friction (a slightly different technique from most rollers).
The outer shell of the Gator is made up of small 1cm protrusions that act like little finger grips for your skin, holding it in place as the roller pushes into the muscle. The foam roller itself is actually one of the harder products weâve seen and once youâve worked out the slightly modified way to use it, is a very impressively designed piece of kit. In contrast to the original RumbleRoller, the Gator only comes in one option.
How does it feel?
The concept of pulling the roller and then rolling seems to work surprisingly well. As a standalone roller, itâs just a good harder product. But incorporate the technique in the instructions and it works very well causing a muscular sensation we haven't felt in any other roller. Well worth a look if you want to try a new format of roller out.
Tiger Tail Long One
Yes, we know the Tiger Tail Long One isnât a foam roller per se, but weâve added it to this list for the simple facts that 1) we love it and 2) it offers a great alternative to a foam roller in a number of scenarios. So, if youâre looking for a roller that you can use on the move or whilst sitting at your desk at work, it beats everything else on the list by a mile.
Unlike your average foam rollers that can only be used on a flat surface, Tiger Tailâs massage sticks are designed to be used from a standing or seated position, which makes them significantly less antisocial when it comes to using it in public, or when you lack the space to sprawl out on the floor. It's especially good for taking with you when youâre planning on a long run/cycle/swim/anything active and you need to warm-up or cool down the muscles.
How does it feel?
The Tiger Tail Long One is a great piece of kit to have either instead of a foam roller or to use as well as one. The shape and size mean that you can really get into muscles that aren't always easy when using a normal one on the floor. You can also use it in positions other than lying down, meaning that the effect on the muscles feels significantly different.
Amazon Basics Foam Roller
Buy now: Amazon | $9.94
Not all of us need to spend loads of money on a foam roller, especially if youâre a beginner and your body isnât used to the joy (intense pain) of myofascial release, then you can get away with something that sits far lower on the pricing scale.
The Amazon Basics foam roller is exactly what it says on the tin, a very basic device for foam rolling. It has no fancy materials, no pointy sticky out bits and definitely no creative mechanical functions that make it interesting to write about. Itâs essentially nothing more than a tube of polypropylene than can be used to roll your body parts on. Itâs also a job that it does very well, especially if youâre a beginner or have particularly sensitive fascia.
How does it feel?
To be honest, if youâre already used to foam rolling, itâs not going to do a lot for you unless you need something gentle for a specific area. The polypropylene material used to make it by far the lightest and softest on the list and it takes a fair bit of rolling to start to feel it working its way into the fascia. That said, the really light material actually has a bit more strength than we initially thought. Once you really worked into it you can get a moderate level pressure.
Neon Sheep Foam Roller
Buy now: Neon Sheep (UK) | ÂŁ13
The design of the Neon Sheep roller has everything you could need at an impressively low price. Unlike the Amazon Basics roller, it'll do the job whether you're a beginner or if you're looking for something that'll get nice and deep into that muscular tissue.
A great all-round piece of kit to have around the house that not only looks nice but is made from a durable and lightweight EVA foam. So it'll keep you rolling for years to come. No fancy design features and no bold statements, just a great affordable and functional piece of kit.
How does it feel?
The combination of the pointed sections and the more flattened area across the roller means it's well designed for different muscles (as well as those at different levels of rolling). The material is tough, so you're going to feel it, unlike the Amazon Basics option. It won't get in as deep as some of the other rollers on the list, but at that price, you can't really complain.
Manta Foam Roller
Some of the foam rollers in the list have fairly interesting designs but this one from Manta may well be the weirdest looking of the lot. Appearing more like a fancy Greek vase for your dinner table than a device to help ease muscular issues may cause a level of skepticism - but there's a very good reason it looks the way it does.
The primary focus is the back, with a special spinal groove in the middle to allow the shape to access areas most other foam rollers can't hit as effectively. The outer areas of the roller also have specific grooves and ridges to focus larger muscles like the glutes, the hamstrings and the calves.
How does it feel?
If you're using the Manta with your spine within the middle ridge, the motion is instantly different from a 'flat' roller. Where your spine would normally take some of the brunt of the movement, that's now taken by the muscles either side. The result makes it much tougher.
If you aren't suffering from any sort of back issues, then that extra effort may not be worth it. However, we've had a member of the team using it who suffers from ongoing back issues and he's claimed that it's by far his favourite of the bunch for relieving pain.