Foam rolling, like many once-fringe physical therapies, has a puzzling reputation.
Some advocates of foam rollers, like the brands selling them, tout the process—which entails using a short or long cylinder to roll out, pastry like, the tightness in your muscles—as a way to improve circulation. Others claim that writhing around on said foam tubes can help athletes (or mere mortals) improve recovery and flexibility, and perhaps even boost physical performance.
Science has yet to definitively answer (or really study) how foam-rolling impacts muscle recovery and performance, let alone how many times a week, or for how long, you should be rolling around for to see results.
Though the specific science behind “self myofascial release” — the fancy term for giving yourself a massage—is still unclear, the broad consensus is that the tube is doing something good. In an article for TIME, Markham Heid rounded up a few recent studies on the effectiveness of foam rolling and found the benefits may have to do with how our central nervous system is responding to the pressure, rather than the whole self-massage thing. Heid concluded, “foam rolling deserves its good reputation—though maybe not for the reasons many fans and trainers assume.”
Ok—throat-clearing on the shortcomings of the scientific literature out of the way—now for the fun part. Which foam roller do you buy? Below are the top two (based on price, reviews, and my own experience) on Amazon.
AmazonBasics High-Density round foam roller, $8.75 to $15.49, depending on size
Amazon’s own foam roller (conveniently also “Amazon’s Choice” in foam rollers) is one of the highest rated tubes around. And with 2,591 customer reviews and a very appealing price range, it’s no wonder. (It’s also the foam roller I use.) Plus, this foam roller is the place to start if you’re just beginning, as it’s got no bells and whistles, just the solid roller in three different sizes.
It’s easier to roll out muscles using the larger foam rollers, just because there’s more tube to work with, but the small size has the benefit of being portable—easy to throw in your workout bag.
TriggerPoint GRID 13-inch foam roller, $39.95
This foam roller is very popular on Amazon, with 3,190 reviews. The difference with this foam roller, compared to the “basic” one mentioned above, is that it has a ridged exterior that’s designed to more closely mimic an actual massage. As the description puts it, “the distinctive, multidimensional surface of the GRID replicates the feeling of a massage therapist’s hands to help channel blood, improve oxygen flow and heal tissue.”
Whichever side you fall on the foam roller fad, it’s worth looking into if you’ve experienced tightness or soreness in your body. In my experience, the hurt-so-good relationship I’ve built with my foam roller has been a gift that keeps on giving. To be clear, I’m not using the roller to be better at sports, but in terms of relieving tension and helping reach some tricky upper back sore spots, the roller is indispensable.
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