Whether you’re a professional athlete, someone who's just starting to work out, or a person acting on the advice of a physical therapist, there are a lot of benefits to foam rolling. For example, self-massage using a roller or ball is a great way access trigger points, achieve myofascial release, speed up muscle recovery, increase blood flow, and relieve the muscle tension that builds up from working out or sitting at your desk all day. But how much foam rolling you need depends on how active you are, and the type of roller you need depends on how you feel.
That's why we tested a bunch of different types of these recovery tools. If you're looking for something simple and easy-to-use, we'd recommend the LuxFit Premium High-Density Foam Roller(available at Amazon for $26.82). While we love our top pick, the other rollers we tested have a lot to offer as well.
These are the best foam rollers we tested ranked, in order:
LuxFit Premium High-Density Foam Roller
TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller
OPTP Black AXIS™ Firm Foam Roller
Gaiam Restore Foam Roller
AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller
ProSource Sports Medicine Foam Roller
Yes4All USA Foam Roller
Rumble Roller Textured Muscle Foam Roller
GoFit Foam Roller with Training Manual
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The TriggerPoint Grid is a fantastic option for those who want a small, light, and durable roller with a hollow core that can access many different muscle groups. Unlike its larger counterparts, this roller is made of hard plastic and dense foam, which gives it a lasting durability over puffier foam rollers. The compact size also makes it more portable than most while still working OK to stabilize side planks if you want it to.
The best part about this roller is the firmness. It offers a varied rolling surface for different levels of massage and is firm enough to give a great massage while being cushioned enough not to hurt. If you’re looking for something smaller than your typical three-footer and are willing to spend a little bit extra, this is an excellent choice.
Hard plastic and dense foam gives it lasting durability over puffier foam rollers
Firm enough to give a great massage while being cushioned enough not to hurt
Doesn't offer as much stability as larger foam rollers
I’m Bethany, a former athlete (I swam and played water polo, then took up running and yoga, thank you for asking). Particularly because water polo led to shoulder issues and running led to a leg injury, I’m very used to foam rolling to help keep myself from getting reinjured. At this point, I’ve been foam rolling—using everything from large squishy rollers to portable trigger sticks to baseballs—for years.
To test, I used each foam roller to massage or stretch three groups of muscles after a workout—my upper and lower legs, my upper arms, and my back. I also used each roller in the course of a yoga routine, and to assist me with pushups and planks. This way I could judge how useful each would be for a variety of tasks, beyond simply rolling out my calves after a run or stretching out my back after a long day at the office.
During these tests, I took the doctor’s advice and paid attention to how easy as well as comfortable each roller was to use. I also thought about whether I got a good massage, and what the overall build quality was. I also noted how each would be to store, how easy they were to clean, and what my overall experience was with each product.
“The harder you train in terms of volume and frequency of training, and the higher intensity you train, the more likely you are to have micro tears or strains in your muscle,” says Pete Viteritti, a sports chiropractor with more than 25 years of experience treating everyone from Olympic athletes to everyday runners like myself. Viteritti is also my former chiropractor, who I saw to treat a running injury a few years ago. These micro-tears happen when the load you’re putting on your muscles exceeds what your muscles can handle. And that’s where foam rolling comes in.
Foam rolling can reduce the cumulative tension in your muscles, which in turn reduces the risk of injury from tight muscles and can restore your regular range of motion if you're experiencing discomfort after a workout. But keep in mind that it’s just a preventative tool and doesn’t fix problems you’re already experiencing. So if you do get injured, please see a doctor, who may advise you to take up physical therapy or seeing a massage therapist.
How do you know which Foam Roller to choose?
“It’s really a personal preference,” says Viteritti. “It’s like vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Some people like chocolate, some people like vanilla. There’s no right or wrong, it's just what you like.”
So when it came to testing, I took his advice. I thought about whether I liked aggressive, deep tissue massages or lighter ones (somewhere in the middle) and if I had a high or low pain tolerance (again, somewhere in the middle). There’s really one key factor when it comes to effectiveness, says Viteritti: “What’s the best foam roller? The one you’re going to use.”
So pick your foam roller based on its overall specs, not what the Olympic-level bodybuilder on YouTube is selling. Get the one you’re going to use on a daily basis.
What Are The Different Kinds Of Foam Rollers?
While you’re thinking about which foam roller would work best for you, it’s good to consider lengths and materials. In general, most rollers I researched and tested were around 36-inches long. This makes them stable when rolling out your muscles and allows you to do any stretch you can find online but can be tough to store in an apartment.
There are a few different materials you’ll find as well, which range from relatively soft to fairly hard. Much like length, it goes back to what is comfortable for your body. The softest is Polyethylene (PE)—the Yes4All roller we tested is made of this material. It’s great for beginners, though not the best quality.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is a step above PE. It has the spongy feel of the PE foam but enough firmness to get a bit more of a massage. Our favorite compact roller is made of a hard plastic inner tube covered in different densities of EVA foam.
The next step up is the Expanded Polypropylene (EPP), which offers a denser, firmer roller. For context, the AmazonBasics' roller is EPP, and our winner the LuxFit considers itself a Molded Polypropylene. There are also a few more specialty rollers out there. For instance, the Rumble Roller is a proprietary mix of EVA and other, harder materials. This is great for intense athletes, but overkill for most folks. From my experience, EPP works great, while PE is a bit too soft for my muscles.
Other Foam Rollers We Tested
OPTP Black AXIS Firm Foam Roller - Full Round, 36 x 6
The OPTP Black AXIS is a close second to the LuxFit in terms of ease of use, and its perfect balance of hard-but-not-too-hard, and relatively durable material. It's a good foam roller, though a little bit softer than I want it to be. I didn’t get as deep a massage as I would've liked, though I imagine it'd be great for someone newer to foam rolling.
Perfect balance of hard-but-not-too-hard, and relatively durable material
The Gaiam Restore roller is, overall, very typical. In other words, it does what it's designed to do. It works out my muscles well enough and it's great for planks and pushups. That said, it produces pretty silly crunching noises at times, and the material feels a bit flimsy like it might lose chunks if I accidentally knock it into the corner of a table.
Works well to stretch out muscles and assist with planks and pushups
The AmazonBasics is another perfectly fine foam roller. It's very basic, and there's nothing really about it that stands out. So while it doesn't offer the best massage, it seems like a decent starter roller for someone who’s looking for a cheap option.
Decent starter roller for someone looking for a cheap option
The ProSource Sports Medicine Foam Roller really lives up to its “pro” name. It seems well-suited for a professional athlete, but it's not super comfortable for someone who's more casual about their body. To be frank, it’s more painful than I like. However, if your workouts are intense and you're OK with a bit of pain, this would be perfect.
I wouldn't go out of my way to buy or recommend the Yes4All USA roller, as it's nothing to write home about. It's a standard three-foot roller made of firm, airy material. The massage is OK, but my roller came with a small chunk carved out of it, so I worry about how sustainable it'll be in the long-run.
The Rumble Roller will beat you up and take your lunch money. This roller is hard and knobby, and will knead your muscles more intensely than you can imagine. I'm not going to lie, it's physically painful to use, and I cannot imagine reaching for it on a regular basis. This roller is definitely designed for someone who wants a very deep self-massage.
The GoFit roller is pretty typical as far as large foam rollers go, though it's squishier than most. Given the bouncy material, it didn’t give a deep massage. It also makes funny crunching noises when in use. Overall, this roller isn't as helpful as I’d want it to be, but it might be OK for someone new to foam rolling.
OK option for someone new to foam rolling
Lightweight, bouncy material doesn't give the best massage
Bethany is a freelance contributor for Reviewed. An avid home baker and aspiring home cook, she reviews and writes mostly about kitchen gadgets (with the occasional fitness review thrown in). Her specialty might be fancy desserts, but she's never met a batch-cooked dinner recipe she didn't like.
Outside of her work for Reviewed, Bethany is a content creator working on clean energy and climate change at a regional non-profit and runs a tabletop game at her local comic book shop.
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