How to Choose the Right Foam Roller – Ultimate Buyer’s Guide
Foam rollers are a powerful tool for loosening up tight muscles and accelerating workout recovery. But with a wide selection of foam rollers on the market, how do you determine which one will be best for you and the goals you’re trying to achieve?
Every foam roller has a different blend of materials, firmness, texture, and features that give it distinct advantages and disadvantages from one to the next. If you’re new to foam rolling or just buying your first roller outside of the one you use at your local gym, you’ll want to figure out which type will work best for your body and your goals.
This article breaks down all of the different categories of foam rollers, their strengths and weaknesses, and will help you decide which one is the right roller to add to your gym bag.
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There’s a reason why foam rollers have become a staple part of most gym bags. The benefits span from your pre-workout warm-up to your post-workout cooldown. You can also find yourself working it into your nightly routine, rolling out sore muscles while the TV plays your favorite show in the background to pass the time.
If you want to dive into the benefits of foam rolling (a form of Self-Myofascial Release) before deciding which one is going to be right for you, check out this article on the benefits of self-myofascial release first!
You can use the list below as a table of contents. So if you already have an idea of what type of device you’d like to learn more about, you can click that one in the list and skip down to that section.
Let’s begin by breaking down the different types of foam rollers into categories. Then we’ll go over each in detail in its own section.
The Different Kinds of Foam Rollers
- High Density
- Low Density
- Medium Density
- Trigger Point And Deep Tissue Rollers
- Vibrating Rollers
- Half Round Rollers
- Collapsible (Travel Rollers)
High Density Foam Rollers
If you’re looking for a well-rounded and durable foam roller that gets the job done at a low cost, a high density foam roller is an easy choice.
Because of the higher density of the foam, you get a firmer roller that is less likely to deform over time. That also means it will provide a lot of even pressure on the targeted tissues while rolling.
If you have some experience with foam rolling, you’re likely familiar with the discomfort that comes with the process of releasing fascia. In contrast to softer, low density rollers, the higher density material makes sure that you have enough pressure for the myofascial release process to happen, even if you’re body is already used to foam rolling.
These are likely the familiar foam rollers that you’d find at your local gym. And for a good reason too. They’re durable and inexpensive to replace when they’ve finally had enough mileage put on them.
Who Are High Density Foam Rollers Best For?
High density foam rollers are best for someone who has some experience foam rolling and is looking for an inexpensive way to add their own roller to their home gym or workout bag.
Low Density Foam Rollers
Low density foam rollers are an excellent choice for beginners and for working sensitive muscles.
Because of their lower density, you’ll have a softer rolling experience. A softer roller means less direct pressure and less pain while you get used to foam rolling.
There are quite a few other reasons besides being new to foam rolling where you might opt for a lower density. You might have body parts that you’ve never rolled before or muscles that are sensitive because they are already sore from your last training session.
Having a lower-density foam roller lets you dial back the intensity when you need to. You still get the benefits of foam rolling when a high density foam roller might be too much, and you otherwise may have just skipped it altogether.
The biggest downside to low density foam rollers is their longevity. Because they’re softer, that also means that they can deform much faster than a high density foam roller.
The good news is. Once your body adapts to the softer foam roller and you decide to make a move to a higher density, you’ll use your low density roller less often. You’ll still have it around for those days when you’re feeling sore and may need a softer roller. And since you’re not using it as often, you’ll get more life out of it.
Who Are Low Density Foam Rollers Best For?
Low density foam rollers are best for someone just starting with foam rolling or looking for a softer roller to use on sensitive muscles.
Medium Density Foam Rollers
Medium density foam rollers are the in the Goldilocks zone between high and low density foam rollers.
If you’re not sure if you’re ready for a high density foam roller, but also not sure if a lower-density will be enough pressure to give you the benefits you want. Then a medium density foam roller could be the best choice for you.
The medium density foam gives you improved longevity compared to the low density roller, but still gives you lower intensity than the high density roller.
Who Are Medium Density Foam Rollers Best For?
Medium density foam rollers are best for those who can’t quite decide if they should go with a high or low density roller. They are also an excellent progression tool to work your way up from a softer to a more firm roller.
Trigger Point And Deep Tissue Foam Rollers
Trigger point and deep tissue foam rollers include an additional texture that mimics the hands and fingers of a massage therapist.
Sometimes you may want to target specific points in the myofascial tissue (called trigger points) that may be giving you problems.
The rugged texture on the device works by localizing the pressure to one specific point. This sustained pressure helps with trigger point release and allows the tissue to relax and have the opportunity to re-align.
Deep tissue and trigger point foam rollers may look a bit intimidating at first glance. But their ability to focus pressure on a smaller area may be exactly what you’re looking for to reach your mobility and recovery goals.
Who Are Trigger Point And Deep Tissue Foam Rollers Best For?
Trigger point and deep tissue foam rollers are best for those looking for the high-intensity release of specific trigger points in their muscle tissue.
Vibrating Foam Rollers
Vibrating foam rollers add a little extra benefit to the traditional foam roller. The benefits of adding vibration to foam rolling are to help increase circulation to the targeted muscle groups.
By improving circulation, you are channeling blood and oxygen to your muscles. This can help prime your body before a workout as well as boost recovery after your workout.
This study also suggested that including vibration in foam rolling helped improve individual pain tolerance. It can also help further improve the traditional benefits of foam rolling, like improving range of motion.
Who Are Vibrating Foam Rollers Best For?
Vibrating foam rollers are for those looking to make the investment that takes their foam rolling to the next level. If you’ve been foam rolling for quite some time and are looking for something that enhances the existing benefits of foam rolling. A vibrating foam roller may be the exact tool you’ve been looking for to maximize your athletic performance.
Check out our in-depth write up on the science and research for the additional benefits of vibrating foam rollers vs regular foam rollers.
Half Round Foam Rollers
Half rollers are an excellent tool for any work that requires the stability that full round foam rollers can’t provide.
For trigger point and myofascial release, half-round rollers are designed to provide the stability you need when you want longer sustained pressure on a specific part of your body. They also make a great addition to help with core, flexibility, and balance work.
Although it is technically a foam roller (split right down the middle lengthwise), you’re likely to find more applications for a half-round roller as a stretching and mobility tool than for myofascial release.
Who Are Half Round Foam Rollers Best For?
Half-round foam rollers are best for those looking for a versatile tool to assist with flexibility, stabilization, and mobility, along with some of the traditional fascia release that foam rollers provide.
Collapsible Travel Foam Rollers
Foam rollers don’t seem like an object that takes up much space until you’ve attempted to stuff one into your suitcase.
Maybe you have to drive or fly to that race you’ve been preparing for all year. Or perhaps you have a long hike planned during your next vacation, and you just know you’re going to want to have a foam roller afterward.
Collapsible travel foam rollers are a brilliant invention that allows you to keep up your foam rolling practice wherever you go. Most of them are even small enough to stuff into your work bag.
Who Are Collapsible Travel Foam Rollers Best For?
Collapsible travel foam rollers are best for those who need a convenient way to take their foam rolling with them wherever they go. From marathoners and powerlifters to the traveling fitness enthusiast, collapsible foam rollers guarantee you’ll have a foam roller ready to go at any time.
How to Select the Right Foam Roller
To make sure that you pick the right foam roller, you need to determine your starting point and what goals and benefits you are trying to get from foam rolling.
Identifying your starting point and experience level will allow you to narrow down the density and firmness of the foam roller that you need.
Understanding your goals and the benefits you want to get out of foam rolling will help you decide if specific features are better at helping you achieve those goals. It will also help you determine what kind of investment is worth it for you.
Review and Final Thoughts:
When it comes to the benefits that your athletic mobility brings to you, foam rolling is an excellent place to put your attention that can make incredible differences in your athletic performance.
Hopefully, this article helped you simplify the process of sorting through dozens of sources for information on the different kinds of foam rollers and helping you decide what you need by putting them all nicely all into one place!
If you’ve narrowed down the foam roller type you’re looking for, but still looking for additional guidance on specifically which brand you’d like to buy, check out our article on the Best Foam Rollers of Every Category.
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