There are many factors to take into consideration when buying a foam roller - it is important to take your time before making a purchase to ensure you are choosing the roller that's right for you needs and your money is well spent.
Some foam rollers may look like your average swimming pool noodle float, there is so much more to them than their deceptive simple appearance would suggest.
If you are new to foam-rolling you will probably be unfamiliar with the various types of roller you can buy and how to get the best out of one.
Key factors to think about when buying a roller include density, quality, size, shape and reliability and durability - to name just a few. Let's take a look at some of the important things to think about before you decide which foam roller to buy and part with your hard-earned cash.
This a key consideration when buying a foam roller. A low density roller is the least firm and a high density is the firmest - meaning it is the sort which will generate the greatest pressure on your muscles and trigger points when rolling.
Beginners will often start with a low density roller until their muscles being able to cope with really firm pressure from your body weight pressing down on the device. It is then wise to progress to a medium density roller and finally one which is made from firm foam.
The softest and least firm type of foam is generally made from Polyethylene (PE), the next level of density is Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and the firmest is Expanded Polypropylene foam (EPP).
You can read more about roller density in our article about the types of foam roller.
Most foam rollers range in size from 30cms to 90cms. There are a few other sizes but these are the most common and popular.
When choosing a roller it's important to take into consideration the physical size of the person who will be using the roller and also the main areas of the body to be rolled - a 30cms roller, for example, isn't going to work its magic on someone with a 50cms wide upper back who wants roll their back regularly.
It's also worth bearing in mind a lengthy 90cms roller isn't necessarily going to be ideal for carrying to your local gym for a workout - a smaller roller will be much more suitable.
Foam rollers do come in various shapes as well as sizes. There are the round foam rollers which are cylindrical in shape and often 30cms, 60cms or 90cms in length.
Some rollers are not actually completely cylindrical and actually have a slight oval appearance when viewed from either end. Beginners sometimes find these good to use as it is easy to control them and their shape means they won't roll away in the way a standard completely cylindrical roller can.
Also available is the half round, which is like a full cylinder foam roller cut in half lengthways with a flat side and rounded edge. These half-round foam rollers are great for men and women with limited mobility or stability.
The flat edge lies on the floor and you roll over the curved edge. Half round rollers are also used regularly in the home, fitness centres and gyms as stability training tools.
Since you can’t roll them under your body, these roller types are usually incorporated in different physical activities to increase its intensity. Half rollers are also often used to improve a person’s balance as well as build up on strength. You will often see them being used in yoga or Pilates classes.
Normal use of a foam roller may occasionally cause temporary indentations - but there's usually no need for concern as these areas will normally recover their normal shape within a few hours.
The colour of a roller will indicate the density of the foam is it made of. White is the least dense and is ideal for beginners because it is gentler on the pressure points. While it will still relieve the tension in muscles it won’t be as aggressive as a roller made of denser foam, meaning less discomfort will be experienced.
Black foam rollers may look the same as white ones, but they are made from a higher density foam which - due to it being harder - makes it more suitable for those who are more experienced and used to foam rolling.
If you’ve used the white foam roller for a while and are no longer seeing the results to want, or it’s starting to feel minimal muscular sensation, then it’s probably time to move on to a blue or green medium density roller, or a dense black one.
When buying a foam roller, make sure to slide your hand all over its length to make sure that the texture is smooth and consistent at all sides - this is, of course, unless you a buying a roller with grids or nodules which will obviously have an irregular surface.
You want a smooth and firm roller, not one that has any imperfections such as lumps or gaps on it. This is because you don’t want to miss a space when using the device on your body - you should be aiming for an evenly spread pressure all over whatever body part you want to massage.
HOW DOES IT FEEL?
The feel good factor is essential when using a foam roller so it's crucial to choose one that doesn't actually cause pain and tension, instead of relieving it. When you first start foam rolling you will probably need a slightly softer type of roller, until you fascia and muscles become attuned to the very firm and deep pressure associated with a hard, dense roller.
A degree of initial discomfort is to be expected when using a roller - this often referred to as 'good pain'. However, you definitely don't want to be feeling anything resembling intense pain or even sense that the roller is hurting you. If you do experience this and find yourself grimacing it is probably due the fact your roller is too hard for you at this stage of progress in the realm of foam rolling.
If you experience a sharp pain or any sort of severe pain when rolling, you should consider contacting a doctor, physical therapist or other medical professional for advice. This type of pain is definitely in the 'bad' pain category and you will need some advice on why you are experiencing it.
You also need to consider texture when choosing a roller - some are completely smooth, while others have dimples, ridges, bumps, knobs or nodules on them.
The nodule type of rollers are for fitness enthusiasts who are quite experienced at using a foam roller for some time. This style of roller is made to really get into the deep muscle tissue to relieve the tension.
The TriggerPoint GRID roller is a very popular choice of roller for advanced users and a surface which is covered in grids and nodules to really work tight muscles the easiest of this type of textured roller and the rumble roller would be the hardest.
The Rumble Roller is another highly regarded device which does an incredible job of penetrating deeply to help you confront and reduce your muscular pain. This type of roller is also covered in dozens of protruding firm but flexible knobs which create the effect of being worked on by the thumbs of a massage therapist.
When you've taken everything into consideration and opted for the roller you feel is right for you, it is important to make sure you use it regularly to keep yourself in good shape and tackle any muscular tightness you've been experiencing. You should develop a routine and use the roller before and after workouts to ensure the best results possible.
Some foam rollers are quite expensive so it's a good idea to buy a cover or carry bag to protect it and keep it clean. There are plenty of roller bags available in a range of sizes so it's usually easy to find one that meets your needs.
You can keep your roller surface in prime condition by cleaning it with a mild mixture of soap and water, or rubbing alcohol - never use bleach or any other harsh cleaning chemicals on a roller.
You should never store any other objects on top of a foam roller. You should always keep it out of steady direct sunlight, and avoid prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.