Types of Foam Roller - Which One is Right for You?

You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to buying a foam roller - they are available in many types of foam and sizes so it makes sense to spend a bit of time choosing the roller that is best suited to your needs.


You really shouldn't rush into buying a foam roller and it is important to take time to find one that's just right for you. There's no point buying an expensive deep-penetrating deluxe roller if you are new to rolling and you only intend to use one occasionally.


A nodules roller - such as the Rumble Roller or a TriggerPoint roller, for example - could be far too harsh for your muscles if you are new to foam rolling. Equally a lightweight low density roller is unlikely to hit the spot if you have been rolling for some time and your muscles are able to take some serious pressure.

Types of Foam Roller

Foam density really is a key factor in determining which roller to buy - there are various gradations of density from one type of roller to another. The least dense and softest types of rollers are usually white, medium firm rollers are normally green or blue and the firmest of all are normally black.


Roller density can range from low to extra firm. The softest variety is made from Polyethylene (PE) which makes it ideal for beginners to rolling. Rollers made of this standard foam can comprise one or two piece constructions. The single piece version is the better option.


Some feature an inner circle and outer circle of foam which can be seen by viewing from either end of the roller. This version is not likely to be as durable and is inclined to distort in shape after a while. Also, the inner circle of foam can sometimes become detached from the outer layer.


The next density of foam is Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA). This is very study and long-lasting, despite still being quite spongy and light in weight, making it perfect for users who don't want anything too firm. It is also possible to buy high density EVA rollers which are a bit firmer and don't have the same level of sponginess.


Finally, we come to Expanded Polypropylene foam (EPP) - this is the firmest of all and has a smooth surface. If you look closely at the structure it appears to be made from moulded polystyrene balls. Rollers made from EPP foam can stand up to intensive use, therefore they are often the material of choice in health clubs and gyms where they will really be put through their paces.


Key factors to consider when choosing a roller are material, durability, price, and quality. The diameter of most rollers is around six inches and they are available in a variety of lengths. A low-density foam may be good for a beginner, but a high-density foam roller with a hard core might be required for a heavily muscled athlete who needs the intense pressure of such foam.


It's worth bearing in mind that foam rollers are only intended to penetrate into larger muscles, such as your quads, calves ,glutes and lats. If you want to work on your smaller muscles, including those in your neck, and rotator cuff, you'll need to consider buying something else such as massage balls or a muscle massage stick.


LOW DENSITY ROLLER: These are cheap and cheerful and are usually white in colour, meaning they are the lightest and least dense type of foam. They are similar in density to the long cylindrical floats you see in swimming pools and therefore they are inclined to lose their shape quite quickly when body weight is applied to them.


They can be used successfully by a beginner to get the hang of foam rolling for a short periods of but don't expect this type of roller, made of material similar to Styrofoam - to have a long shelf life.


HIGH DENSITY ROLLER: A basic version of this type of roller is ideal if you are just getting into foam rolling and want something with a bit of substance to it. Some come with groove running their full length and some without. There are many brands available for this type of roller and Physioroom makes some very impressive black high density rollers. This high or regular density is a good entry point roller and they usually cost around £10 TO £20.


HOLLOW TUBING ROLLER WITH NODULES: There are many variations of this type of roller and they are quite solid in structure, considering they are hollow inside. They comprise a very tough and firm hollow cylinder with a dense foam layer, featuring bumps, grids or nodules, on the outside.


Some have a combination of grids and nodules. These extra-rigid structures are very durable and really do penetrate into your muscles.


EVA FOAM ROLLER: Foam rollers made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) are fairly dense and provide firm pressure on the body. Most foam rollers found in commercial gyms are made from EVA which is sometimes referred to as foam rubber of expanded foam. Rollers made from this material can handle considerable weight, frequent use and also keep their shape more than some other rollers for sale.


This material is renowned for being flexible and elastic while at the same time being strong and very robust. EVA has been used for protective clothing an equipment in a range of sports including hockey, boxing and mixed martial arts. It is also use in the manufacture of ski boots.


EVA can be found in smooth-surface rollers and also those with a grid surface. They really do maintain their shape for a long time and are heat and water resistant.


BIOFOAM ROLLER: Rollers made from this type of material are taking off in a big way as BioFoam® is the first CO2 neutral foam in the world. It is based on renewable resources and is very environmentally friendly. A roller made from this material has the capability to be turned into compost when it is comes to the end of its life.


Biofoam looks similar to regular polyurethane foam but has obvious appeal to anyone who is keen on safeguarding the environment - viewed up close it comprises a mass of tiny spherical foam beads. The raw material for this type of foam consists of biopolymers, which are made from organic-based vegetable materials. Biofoam rollers are available in a range of styles and sizes.


TRIGGERPOINT GRID FOAM ROLLER: This is a hugely popular variety of roller made by TriggerPoint, a highly regarded company which leads the way in producing massage tools for the athletic, personal wellness and healthcare markets.


The surface of a TriggerPoint GRID roller features a series of nodules or grids which continuously knead the contours of your body, gently stretching soft tissue in multiple directions. It has a hard exterior with a hollow core.


The raised grids on these rollers are a combination of a tubular style, which have the effect of being massaged with fingers, and high and square mini grids which create the effect of fingertip massage. The low and flat areas of the roller create the effect of being massaged with the palm of a hand. There are two versions of GRID with the most recent GRID2.0 being twice as firm as the original version.


This type of roller is used like a standard foam roller, though it has specially designed deep nodules that are firm but flexible - much like the thumbs of a massage therapist.  When you use the roller the bumps or nodules continuously knead the contours of your body, gently stretching soft tissue in multiple directions.


TriggerPoint rollers are designed to permanently maintain their shape, so they will last much longer than a traditional black or white foam roller. If you want something that really gets deeply into your muscles, then this is the way to go. These rollers are available in various lengths including 30cms, 60cms and a large 90cms.


The staggered-pattern also causes the roller knobs to push and pull your muscle in all directions, instead of just back-and forth like a standard foam roller. The rubber knobs are designed to dig into muscle tissue but yield to bone, making this type of roller one of the most popular, safe and effective roller around.


These rollers really are wonderful for dense tissue and deeper muscle compression. They are built to stand the test of time and are ideal for constant and heavy use. There are various GRID roller products including the GRID X roller, the GRID VIBE vibrating roller, the GRID STK roller stick and the trusty standard GRID roller. TriggerPoint also make an impressive range of massage balls.


RUMBLE ROLLER: This is a hollow cylinder type roller which has an outer surface which is covered in many highly-raised nodules. These nodules or rubber knows dig into muscle tissue but yield to bone, making them safe and effective. The Rumble Roller nodules to push and pull your muscle in all directions, instead of just back-and forth like a standard foam roller.


Rumble Rollers come in two colours, blue and black. Blue is the softer of the two and the black version is extremely firm. This type of roller is superb when it comes to the nodules really penetrating deeply into your muscles. Rumble rollers come in three lengths, with the medium option being around 60cms and costing around £40.


This type of roller keeps its shape and will last much longer than many inferior rollers, made of cheaper and less durable material.


GATOR RUMBLE ROLLER:  this is a popular alternative from the standard Rumble Roller. This has small and flat nodules on it which are intended to grip your skin. You then move across the roller rather than on it - this method is devised to grip and stretch the fascia under your skin and is less aggressive than the standard Rumble Roller which features deep nodules.


This is a great option if you want to work your muscles more superficially with a gripping and stretching effect, rather than a deep penetrating type of roll. This type of roller is only available in one size, namely 12.3cms wide and 30cms in length. They cost around £40 to £50.


HALF FOAM ROLLER: This type of roller is like a standard roller but cut in half along its length. They are often used by beginners who get some discomfort when they initially start foam rolling and a full roller gives them some discomfort from pressure on their muscle tissue.


A half roller doesn’t move when you rest your muscles on it, so it is easier for the user to control the pressure and stay balanced - they have also been proven to help athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are in rehabilitation and recovering from an injury.  The half foam roller can also help those who have difficulty maintaining their balance on a round, moving foam roller.


VIBRATING FOAM ROLLER: This type of roller is a fairly recent innovation and does and utilises vibration in order to penetrate into your muscles to reduce tightness and loosen up knots. These battery-powered rollers, which have a range of different vibration levels, are believed to also help with improving flexibility and circulation.


They range in price from around £20 for a cheap model to more than £100 for a deluxe vibration. Most of them feature a rechargeable battery and come with a handy carry bag. They can also be used without power in the way you use a standard roller. The majority of vibrating rollers have raised nodules or grids on the surface to assist with deep muscle penetration during self-massage sessions.


They are available in low and high density options and are often made of environmentally friendly foam. A variation on this type of roller is the vibrating battery-powered massage ball which is ideal for muscles which a normal roller is not suitable for.


TRAVEL FOAM ROLLER: Some people want to continue with their regular roller sessions even when they are away from home on holiday or business. That's when the travel roller can come to the rescue. There are several small rollers on the market these days which are specially designed to tuck away easily in a suitcase, holdall or rucksack.


Some even have a handy compartment in the hollow area of the roller where you can store your massage ball, water bottle and other fitness accessories. Travel rollers also come with a drawstring carry bag to keep the device clean when not in use.


As you can see, there are many materials and products that you can choose from. Some inferior quality foams can fold or lose shape after a few uses - therefore it makes sense to buy the best roller you can afford. It is vital that any roller you spend your hard-earned cash on should support your weight and retain shape no matter how many times you use it.