A foam roller is a circular device crafted from synthetic foam that provides massage-like benefits for stiff, painful muscles.
In the past 20 years, foam rollers – once the exclusive domain of the physical therapist – have become decidedly mainstream. Many physically active people today have at least one.
But they’re not just for athletes. People recovering from surgery or accidents can also benefit from a foam roller. And older folks should use them to retain flexibility and help prevent injuries.
We put scores of foam rollers to the test and determined the following represent the best foam rollers of 2020.
1. LuxFit Premium High Density Foam Roller
With so many good foam rollers out there, it was difficult to pick a clear #1. But the LuxFit Premium High Density Foam Roller gets the nod because it delivers in every way a foam roller should, and it raises the ante by providing a full 1-year money-back guarantee.
What we like: We like the way this roller feels. Never punishing or too squishy. We also appreciate the durability and the fact that it comes with a 1-year warranty. And we’re fond of the reasonable price and that it’s light and easy to carry.
Flaws: In this case ‘high density’ is a euphemism for ‘hard’. Also, why isn’t there a 24” version available?
2. AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller
Amazon isn’t kidding when they call this a ‘basic’ foam roller. Still, it’s made of durable materials, performs as advertised, and has an agreeable feel. In addition, it doesn’t soak up sweat.
What we like: The molded polypropylene retains its firmness regardless of how hard you work it. It’s also available in several different lengths. And it’s lightweight and affordable, like a good foam roller should be.
Flaws: The longer versions are heavier than you think they’re going to be. And don’t look for a warranty. There isn’t one.
3. Gaiam Restore Foam Roller
The Gaiam Restore is a moderately firm roller that’s ideal for those who’ve never used a foam roller before. Or for older folks who don’t need the tough love of a hard roller. It’s great for warming up before a walk or weight session. And equally suitable for cooling down or flexibility training.
What we like: The moderate firmness makes this a good choice for beginners. You have a choice of 18″ or 36″ to accommodate your specific needs, and the agreeable surface doesn’t stick to your skin. It also comes with an instructional video on DVD.
Flaws: The instructional DVD is really more of a promotional DVD for Gaiam. In addition, the roller can be a bit noisy at times.
4. Yes4All Premium High Density Foam Roller
This is an average density roller that’s reasonably affordable and should satisfy both novices and folks with a bit more foam roller experience. It says its high density, but we’d categorize it as moderate density. It’s fashioned from PE foam and comes in 3 different colors.
What we like: We like that it’s available in so many colors and sizes. And that it can support a 300-pound individual without losing its shape. We also appreciate that they provide a handy instructional guide right on the Amazon page.
Flaws: Not really for lightweight beginners because it’s not as pliable as the marketing photos make it out to be.
5. OPTP Axis Foam Roller
The OPTP Axis is another roller that’s walking the line between moderate and firm. As such, it’s a good choice for just about anyone. It will work out those serious knots or gently massage tired quads after a long walk or run. It’s also reasonably priced for an American made product, and the 1-year warranty is a big plus.
What we like: We appreciate the overall quality of this roller. The expanded PE foam is not too firm yet very durable. The roller also feels great against your body and will address those knots and strains with reliable effectiveness. It’s also easy to keep clean with a little soapy water.
Flaws: At 6 inches in diameter this is a pretty big roller. That’s not really a flaw, but you should be aware of it. Instructions and a warranty would have been nice too.
6. GoFit Foam Roller
This is a great all-purpose foam roller that won’t break your bank. It’s reasonably pliable, easy to clean, lightweight, and won’t stick to your skin. If you’re just starting out and are of average build, this is a good choice.
What we like: This is a generally well-made foam roller for warming up or working out the kinks after exercising. It’s moderately firm, and comes in three lengths to suit your specific needs.
Flaws: This is pretty firm, so keep that in mind. Also, if you use it every day, it’s not going to last for years. But at this price, it’s still a decent value.
7. TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
TriggerPoint takes a different approach to foam roller design. They eschew the bulky solid core of most rollers and instead attach their moderately soft EVA roller to a rigid, lightweight tube. The result is a forgiving roller. But one you can really lean into if need be.
What we like: We like how versatile this roller is. How easy it is to move about and store. It’s also well-made, comes with a basic instruction sheet, and is guaranteed for a year from date of purchase. And it has an upper weight limit of 500 pounds.
Flaws: If you’re looking for something that’s routinely stiff, this isn’t it. It’s also pretty expensive for such a short roller.
8. OPTP Soft Density Half Roller
The half roller design isn’t for everyone. But if you’re into pilates or yoga, you’ll likely find it provides you a solid, comfortable platform. At the same time, you can use it to work out muscular kinks and increase flexibility. But you’ll need to have some experience to get the most out of it.
What we like: Not everyone has the need or temperament to deal with a half roller. This one gives you the option of working things out in a less labor-intensive manner. Practitioners of yoga and pilates will likely find it a worthwhile companion.
Flaws: The downside of a ‘roller’ that doesn’t roll is that it will likely take a little longer to find effective ways to use it.
9. RumbleRoller Textured Muscle Foam Roller
The list wouldn’t be complete without a textured roller. This puppy is for experienced rollers only as it really digs in to work out the kinks. It’s kind of like having a traditional Thai massage. Which, if you’ve ever had one, you know is both painful and extremely relaxing.
What we like: If you have a bit of experience with foam rollers, you’ll find this textured roller will address all your needs. We particularly appreciate how effective it is in dealing with muscle spasms and deep-seated knots.
Flaws: If you are new to foam rolling, this will probably be too much for you. That’s because it requires an experienced hand to make proper use of it.
10. Hyperice Vyper 2.0 Vibrating Roller
We end our list of the best foam rollers with the Vyper 2.0 Vibrating Roller from Hyperice. For some folks, the vibrating roller is the be-all, end-all of self-massage products. And we admit that there’s a lot to like here. The Vyper takes control and lets you lay back and soak in the relief and relaxation.
What we like: The Hypervice Vyper 2.0 is a luxury to be sure. But that doesn’t prevent it from also being effective and taking some of the workload off of you. We like the different vibration settings, the fact that the battery is rechargeable and that the surface is very comfy and accommodating.
Flaws: It’s expensive. There are no two ways about it. It’s also smaller than you probably think it is.
Who Should Use a Foam Roller?
The answer is ‘just about anyone’. Athletes intent on optimizing their performance will benefit from foam rollers. Recreational runners who are tired of feeling achy the day after a big run should use foam rollers to feel better. Weight lifters who push their muscles to failure to rebuild them bigger and stronger should use foam rollers. And older folks, whether they work out or not, will benefit mightily from using a foam roller to stay limber and reduce the chances of falling.
The foam roller is not a cure for anything except sore, stiff, aching muscles. Like all great ideas, it’s simple in concept and equally straightforward in practice. And perhaps best of all, you can pick up a foam roller for about the price of a large pizza. That’s really good news for many seniors who are on a fixed income and don’t have tons of money to spend on a health club membership or weekly visits from the masseuse.
How We Ranked
Unlike flat-screen TVs or high-performance automobiles, choosing the best foam rollers is not a complicated process. There are a limited number of things to consider, and none are particularly complex or technical.
So, when looking for foam rollers for our list, we started by checking the texture. If it said it was firm, was it actually firm? Or was it rock hard? There’s a difference. If the roller was advertised as ‘great for beginners’, this should indicate that it’s no more than moderately firm. That’s because beginners need to ease themselves into working with a foam roller.
We also examined the shape. Some cheap foam rollers are not all that round, or they lose their shape after just a few vigorous sessions. If a roller was made from gluing together two half-moon shapes (as many are), we wanted to see a perfectly matched seam all around. And if the roller had raised bumps, those should be a consistent size with no sharp or overly hard edges.
We also considered durability. EPP foam rollers are most likely to last a long time. That fact, however, doesn’t mean it’s okay if a PE roller falls apart in a few weeks. Any reasonably well-made foam roller should stand up to many months of daily use. Lastly, we considered price. There is no justification for an item like this to cost a hundred dollars. Unless, of course, it’s an electric-powered, vibrating roller.
A foam roller is safe, effective, and affordable. Maintaining good health can be an expensive proposition these days, especially if you go the health club route. But even if you can afford to join a gym, it’s debatable you’ll actually get your money’s worth. Especially if you’re over 50, since most health club activities are geared toward a much younger set. Foam rollers represent an affordable way to retain flexibility. That, in turn, can make your workouts much more effective and help you avoid injuries in your everyday life. Runners, weightlifters, and CrossFit fanatics will also find foam rollers to be enormously useful in speeding recovery. Younger women too should consider using foam rollers to relieve stress and strain caused by their changing physiology (1).
A foam roller can reduce muscle tightness. This is the primary reason people use foam rollers. Workouts can be tough on the body. More so if you are over 50. Muscles pushed to new heights are not going to take it lying down. They’re going to let you know they’re not very happy. They’ll tighten up and make you a stiff, achy mess the day after your workout. Smart use of a foam roller will get the blood moving through your muscles, facilitating the healing process, restoring flexibility, and alleviating pain and soreness.
A foam roller will help you achieve better posture. As we get older, gravity tends to have its way with most of us. As a result, it’s not uncommon for folks to start developing problems with their posture after they pass 50. And bad posture isn’t going to lead to anything good in the long run (2). Trying to fight back against the constant tug of gravity can sometimes feel like trying to hold back the tide. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems. Your foam roller can be your #1 ally in the fight against bad posture. Simply place the roller beneath the small of your back and then lean back as far as you can go, supporting your head with your hands. Hold this pose for at least a minute. Repeat a couple of times every day.
A foam roller can increase circulation. The fascia is a layer of tissue that encases your muscles. If you’ve been mostly sedentary for some time, the fascia can stiffen up as a result of reduced blood circulation. When the fascia tightens up, we often experience it as a knot in the muscle or the sense that we’ve pulled the muscle (3). When you work tight muscles with the foam roller, you’re also working the surrounding fascia. That has the effect of opening the veins in the fascia and promoting blood flow. This increased circulation causes the stiffness to subside. When combined with the loosening of the muscle tissue itself, you’re then able to move without pain or restriction.
A foam roller can help you recover from workouts or injury. Anyone who has ever engaged in a vigorous workout has experienced soreness in the aftermath. It’s only natural. This soreness is the result of microscopic tears that occur in the muscle tissue when it’s pushed beyond its comfort zone. These tears then produce inflammation, which is what we experience as soreness. Studies have shown that 20 minutes of foam rolling 24 and 48 hours after exercising can substantially reduce the amount of pain a person feels (4). This has the added benefit of shortening recovery time and setting you up nicely for the next workout.
A foam roller can improve your range of motion. The looser your muscles are, the greater your range of motion. It’s not rocket science. Any time your muscles are tight and sore, you simply won’t be able to execute the same type of moves you would be able to perform under normal circumstances. By increasing circulation and releasing knots and areas of tension, your limbs return to their usual limber selves. If you’re unconvinced of the benefits, don’t use the roller after one of your workouts. The difference you’ll feel both immediately and the next day will likely be dramatic.
A foam roller reduces the chance of injury. Tight, sore muscles restrict range of motion as we’ve just seen. But that’s not their only negative effect. They can also lay the groundwork for injuries. That’s because tight, tense muscles restrict flexibility in the joints (5). As a result, the muscles have to work harder to compensate for this loss of flexibility. That can lead to knots, muscle strains, tendon injuries and more. Relaxed muscles enable greater flexibility in the joints. This allows for natural motion, with each muscle group pulling its own weight. Nothing more. Your humble foam roller can create those nice, relaxed muscles and help you avoid soft tissue injuries.
A foam roller can reduce the appearance of cellulite in the short term. ‘Reduce the appearance of’ is not the same as ‘eliminate’ or ‘cure’. That said, for ladies who have been wrestling with cellulite for years, being able to reduce its appearance for a while is enough. Without a doubt, the best way to get rid of or at least reduce the amount of cellulite in your body is to eat right and exercise regularly (6). In lieu of that, however, foam rollers have demonstrated the ability to smooth out areas where cellulite is typically present. If only for a day or so.
Q: Are foam rollers safe?
A: Foam rollers are considered generally safe for most people. People who experience negative side effects are usually ones who used poor form, used a roller that was too hard or too soft, or who tried to use it to address a muscle tear or broken bone. When the right foam roller is used the right way, it can greatly reduce soreness after a workout, help you loosen up prior to a workout, improve circulation (7), reduce the pain of sciatica and much more. The key to enjoying these benefits is taking your time and learning the most effective methods for using the device.
Q: What are foam rollers made of?
A: Foam rollers are typically made from one of 3 types of foam. Polyethylene or PE (8), ethylene vinyl acetate or EVA (9) and expanded polypropylene or EPP (10). PE is a good choice for beginners because it’s forgiving and relatively inexpensive. EVA is a step up from PE. It’s the most versatile of the three and produces foam rollers that range from malleable to very firm. EPP is considered by most to occupy the top of the roller material heap. While it’s almost always used to create firm foam rollers, those rollers typically last a long time, don’t absorb sweat, and have a smooth agreeable surface.
Q: How does a foam roller work?
A: Foam rollers work in the same way a good massage works. They apply pressure to muscle tissue, and by doing so, smooth out knots, increase circulation and return the muscles to a relaxed state. The key to enjoying optimal benefits from a foam roller is to take your time. If you’re new to foam rollers, don’t start with one that’s too hard. Before you begin, watch some online videos that explain exactly how to use the roller. Also, don’t try and use it to obtain pain relief from broken bones or torn ligaments. If you tore your ACL (11) you wouldn’t go to a masseuse for help. And you shouldn’t whip out the foam roller to try and fix it.
Q: Can a foam roller relieve sciatica pain?
A: Foam rollers have shown some promise in being able to relieve the pain associated with sciatica. Sciatica (12) is a condition that affects the sciatic nerve in the back. It has several potential causes, including bone spurs and herniated discs. Regardless of the cause, it is typified by pain that shoots down through the buttocks and leg. (Usually only one leg.) A foam roller can release much of the tension that accumulates in the muscles around the inflamed sciatic nerve. That can greatly reduce discomfort from the condition. Keep in mind though that this by itself does not represent a cure for sciatica. Simply a way to make the condition more bearable.
Q: What about vibrating foam rollers?
A: The jury is still out on whether or not vibrating foam rollers actually provide any additional physical benefit that would justify their cost. The primary benefit of these types of rollers seems to be that they save you some work. Instead of having to forcefully work a particular body part into the roller to obtain relief, you just place the roller under that body part and the vibrations do the work for you. There are lots of people who like that idea. So much so that to them, it’s a matter of vibrating roller or no roller.
Q: Can a foam roller help with any type of injury?
A: While a foam roller is great for helping you recover from muscle strains and the like, there are some instances where it won’t help. In fact, using it might make things worse. If you have torn a ligament (13) for example you should seek immediate medical care and not try and treat it using a foam roller. Perhaps at some late stage of your recovery from such an injury, a foam roller may come into play. But not upfront. Also, if you have swollen knees or ankles, it’s unlikely a foam roller will do anything but make the associated pain worse. Ice the swelling and try to determine its cause before using a foam roller on it. Remember, the foam roller is supposed to return bodily tissue to a relaxed state. Not repair tissue that’s been torn or cut.
Q: How do you clean and maintain a foam roller?
A: One of the many great things about a foam roller is that it’s so easy to maintain. In most cases, all you need to remember is to avoid storing it in direct sunlight. That’s because the UV rays from the sun might cause some materials to degrade. Also, it’s best if you store it standing up so that you or someone else doesn’t trip over it. And remember, while using it, don’t wear any clothing that contains things like zippers or snaps that could take a bite out of the surface. Cleaning is also easy. Just wipe it down with a damp cloth after using it and let it air dry. Occasionally you might want to wash it using some mild soap. If you do, remember to rinse it thoroughly and let it air dry. Try not to get it too wet since some rollers can absorb moisture.
Q: What’s the right way to use a foam roller?
A: If this is your first foam roller, it’s important you take your time and ease into things. Start by applying light pressure to large muscle groups like your quads (14) or glutes (15). These muscle groups are easily accessible and are easily able to absorb lots of pressure. So if you make a mistake, it’s not likely to hurt you. Get familiar with which movements work and which don’t. And how much pressure you need to apply to obtain a satisfactory result. Practice your form. Try approaching the task from different angles. If you’re older, you may want to place a thin yoga mat under the roller so that your arms and legs don’t have to contact the bare floor.
Q: Can a foam roller get rid of cellulite?
A: Yes and no. A foam roller may be able to reduce the appearance of cellulite. But the effect is bound to be short-lived. It’s simply wrong to get anyone’s hopes up that the foam roller is a cure for cellulite. It’s not. That said, evidence suggests that the use of a foam roller may provide a short term improvement in the extent of dimpling in the skin (16). And there are plenty of women who will take that. So if you plan on heading to the beach, you may cut a smoother profile if you use the foam roller before heading out. Just don’t be too disappointed when the cellulite returns a day or two later.
Q: What should I look for in a foam roller?
A: What you look for in a foam roller will depend almost entirely on your physical condition, experience level, and what you want to use the roller for. While rollers come in both round and half-round shapes, you should steer clear of the half-rounds unless you have some compelling reason to have one. When it comes to standard round rollers, there are a few things to keep in mind before you buy one. For instance, if you want to use the roller to massage your entire body, you should pick something moderately firm and pretty long. If you just want something to work your legs and glutes after running, you can use a short, firm roller. And if you have trouble with knots and extreme muscle tension, consider a textured roller.
Q: Can a foam roller help you lose weight?
A: A foam roller is not intended to produce weight loss. Its job is to help you loosen up tight muscles either before or after working out. Of course, it can also be used just to stay loose, whether you intend to work out or not. And it can be used to address specific health issues like sciatica. Finally, as we’ve seen, there is compelling evidence that it can produce a short term cosmetic improvement in cellulite. But weight loss? Not really.
The foam roller is an effective way to loosen up tired, achy muscles. It is especially useful in helping you loosen up before exercise and helping alleviate soreness after exercising (17). It is also useful for addressing specific health conditions like sciatica, as we just mentioned.
For older folks, foam rollers can be particularly useful in helping them stay flexible. Which is important to maintaining balance and avoiding falls (18). Most foam rollers are also very affordable, which makes them appealing to seniors who need to maintain good health but are working with fixed incomes.
All of the foam rollers on our list are quality products which, when properly employed, can help you feel better and improve your quality of life. They represent a cross-section of the best the market has to offer, so you’re sure to find one to fit your needs.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended foam roller, click here.