If you’re involved in an intense workout session and always want to make sure you are doing everything possible to put your best foot forward, one thing you must be doing is tending to your recovery needs. The faster you can recover between your workout sessions, the faster you can get back into the gym and begin your training again.
One technique that more and more people are starting to get involved with to help assist with recovery is foam rolling. Foam rolling has been used by high level athletes for quite some time, but now more gym-goers are starting to get involved with it as well.
Let’s walk you through the details you need to know with regards to what foam rolling is and then go over choosing the best foam roller.
Ready to roll ahead? Check out everything you need to know in our comprehensive foam roller chart:
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
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Theragun Wave Roller
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Amazon Basics High-Density Roller
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321 STRONG Foam Roller
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LuxFit Foam Roller
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What Body Parts Can You Foam Roll?
Using a foam roller is a great way to target larger muscle groups all over the body. Some common target areas include:
- Hip flexors
- IT bands
- Thoracic spine
- Tibilaris anterior
In simple terms: You back, shoulders, legs, glutes, hips, and sides. It’s important to note that using a foam roller will never replace the need for a great warm-up routine and targeted functional mobility movements. However, it’s a great way to get muscle relief and replicate the effects of a deep tissue massage.
What Is Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a recovery technique used by anyone doing regular exercise training to help release built up tension and soreness in the muscle tissues. It is a myofascial release technique, which is often used by massage therapists or physiotherapists that you can do all on your own, making it extremely effective for immediate care.
When you use a foam roller, you are going to be activating one muscle while relaxing the opposing muscle, which is what brings about the deeper state of relaxation that you are seeing.
The equipment that is used for foam rolling usually consists of a foam cylinder of various sizes; commonly 12 inches long, 6 inches in diameter. However, longer foam rolls up to 36 inches in length are produced for rolling over certain muscles in the back. A variety of foam roller densities exist, often denoted by the color of the roller. Those new to foam rolling, or those who have particularly tight muscles or severe trigger points, often start with a softer foam roll. White rollers are typically softer, while blue and black rolls tend to be much firmer.
Foam Roller Benefits
The benefits of foam rolling are going to be remarkably similar to the benefits you would receive from a deep tissue massage. First and foremost, you are going to notice that you are much more relaxed after doing the foam rolling. You will feel more flexible in the area that was previously tense and tight, so you are better able to move through the full range of motion you normally would.
Additionally, foam rolling can also help to provide some stress relief as well. Most people find it highly relaxing and once they’ve done it a few times, will want to continue doing it on a regular basis if nothing else for the stress relaxation it provides.
Foam rolling on a regular and longer term basis can also help to enhance blood flow to the various muscle regions, so if you suffer from circulation problems, it may assist with this as well.
The main muscles that you will be able to use the foam roller with include the glute muscles, the lat muscles, the inner thigh (groin) muscles, the quads, the hamstrings, the hip flexors, the upper and lower back muscles, and even the core muscles if desired.
How To Use A Foam Roller
To use a foam roller, you simply place the cylindrical piece of foam underneath the area that is feeling the tension and pressure. Once you’ve located the tender spot, you’ll roll the body back and form over the foam, placing your full weight on the muscle group you’re targeting.
As you do this, you should feel the muscles tensing up at first and then relaxing as you ease into the exercise.
Foam Roller Exercises
There are a number of foam roller exercises as well as foam roller stretches that can be done. Here are a few to get you started. Note that generally speaking, the slower you move across the foam as you perform these exercises, the greater the benefits are going to be as you’ll trigger a deeper level of muscle relaxation as the exercise is performed.
After finishing your exercises, it’s also wise to do some light stretching afterwards as well to complete the process.
Upper Back Releaser
To help relieve tired and tense muscles in your upper back, you’ll want to place the foam roller directly underneath the shoulder blades with the knees bent and feet on the floor (like you are going to do a crunch).
From there, slowly roll the body over the foam, back and form while keeping the elbows bent and hands at the sides of the head.
Continue on, keeping the abs tight the entire time until the back is fully relaxed.
To relax tight lat muscles, you’ll simply want to put the foam roller right underneath the under arm, pressing up against the lat muscle. You should be facing the side of the room, one knee bent and foot planted for support with the other leg extended. Your working side arm should be extended above the head with the other bend and in front of you for balance.
Roll back and forth and then switch sides to target the opposite side of the body.
Quad Tension Easer
Have sore quads that just won’t relax? Foam rolling can get them all healed up. Place the body over top of the foam roller with the upper thighs right over the mid-point. From there, roll the body back and form over the foam, keeping the arms straight in front of you for balance.
Keeping your abs tight at all times will also help to keep the body in straight alignment so you aren’t risking lower back pain.
The hamstrings are another muscle group that tend to get very tense and tight with time as well. To help treat this area, simply place the hamstrings over top of the roller, the hands planted firmly on the floor behind you for optimal balance.
Once there, keeping the abs tight, slowly roll back and forth over the roller between the knees and the hips, targeting the hamstring muscles.
You can also perform this same exercise for the calves as well by simply shifting the body down lower so it’s directly under the main area of the calf muscle.
So now that you see a few of the main foam roller exercises you can do, let’s move on and go over how to select the best foam roller.
Types Of Foam Rollers
When selecting the best foam roller, you need to consider the different types. The main characteristics you will need to consider is the length of the foam roller, the width of the foam roller, as well as the firmness of the foam roller.
The firmer the foam roller is, the more of a deep tissue massage it’s going to give you. For someone who is just starting, you may want to go with one that is slightly less firm as it’ll be more comfortable to start.
Then as you get more advanced, you may go to a firmer model.
Also note that the less firm foam rollers may not hold up as much over time if you’re using them often as they’ll start to lose their spring-back firmness.
Likewise, depending on the muscles you plan to work, that can also influence firmness. More tender and sensitive muscles like the lats may be better served with a softer roller while larger muscles that are thicker such as the quads or hamstrings will be better served with a firmer roller.
The size of the roller will depend on the muscle group you want to work as well. Again, the thicker and more dense a muscle, ideally the thicker the foam roller should be.
Now let’s go over some of the best foam roller options to consider.
One of the highlights of this textured foam roller that makes it unique is that it possesses a Distrodensity Foam Zone, which allows you to experience different degrees of pressure depending on where you are working the body on the roller itself.
This makes the TriggerPoint GRID foam roller more like a number of foam rollers all in one.
It is able to support up to 500 pounds, so something that everyone would use and because of this, should prove to be quite durable. It’s only 13 inches long as well, which some people may not like as they may prefer a longer foam roller, but for those who prefer to tote their roller around with them to various fitness classes or locations, it makes it much easier for transportation. It weighs just 680 grams, so is a lightweight foam roller and has a height of 6 inches.
The black appearance gives it a nice sleek look and customer reviews for it are quite positive. Most users who have experienced this roller claim it was very effective for myofascial release and reducing muscle tension.
The Triggerpoint GRID foam roller is a higher priced foam roller, coming in at over $40 in most places, so it’s more of an investment model for those who do have a higher budget.
For a deep tissue massage unlike any other, you can’t go wrong with the vibrating roller from Theragun. Theragun technology has become a staple in physical therapy, assisting with pain relief and the repair of muscle tissue.
This unique vibrating foam roller offers five speed settings, a long battery life, and Bluetooth connectivity to sync with the Theragun app for guided foam roller exercise sessions. The unique wave-shaped textured surface aid with pressure control as you roll out various muscles. It’s firm enough to dig deep into your muscle tissue, without being abrasive enough to cause undue pain for those with muscular conditions.
As with any innovative upgrade, you can expect to pay a lot more for the Theragun Wave Roller than a traditional foam roller. You won’t find this vibrating roller for less than $100, but it’s well worth the investment for a serious athlete.
The Amazon Basics brand has done well to carve out a piece of the fitness industry pie. Their high-density smooth roller offers decent quality at an approachable price-point, making it an ideal budget buy. This standard foam roller is quite firm with little give, making it a powerful combatant against Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Amazon Basics offers both short rollers at 12″ and longer rollers ranging from 18-36″. If you’re looking for something effective and, well, basic, this is a great option.
The 321 STRONG Foam Roller is another fan favorite option for digging into muscle knots, improving blood flow, and providing pain relief. The textured surface boasts a patented design with different grooves and dimensions to aid in self myofascial release.
This is one of the softer rollers on the list, promoting “medium density,” meaning it has more give than a hard roller, but still offers ample support. It’s the only roller on the list that promotes everything from relieving tension in the thoracic spine to helping offset plantar fasciitis.
The 321 STRONG also comes with an eBook to guide you through a foam roller exercise to hit your targeted areas.
The LuxFit Foam Roller is another no-frills, basic foam roller that helps promote muscle recovery after a tough workout. This simple solution is well-reviewed with four different sizes ranging from 12-36″. The shorter roller is ideal for throwing in your gym bag and getting a quick session before your workout, while the longer rollers are great for digging deep and releasing those muscle knots.
One thing that sets the LuxFit Foam Roller apart is the 3-year full warranty. This product was made in the USA, and offers high quality for a great price.
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CrossFitters will rejoice to see Rogue’s classic RumbleRoller on this list. As is true with the brand, RumberRollers boast the utmost in quality and durability. This textured roller is designed to feel just like a deep tissue massage, working out those deep muscle knots and getting you ready for your next killer WOD.
The Rogue RumbleRoller comes in three different sizes and two density options, offering something for everyone. This versatility is why you find this brand in so many gyms, both personal and commercial. The original blue RumbleRoller is softer, designed with beginners in mind. The black XFirm is 36% denser, and created for experienced athletes who want to up the intensity.
“Rolling” It Up
So there you have a convenient foam roller chart listing the best foam rollers to across all price points. You need to assess what you plan to use the foam roller for and how often you will be using it in order to make the most informed decision.
Whichever model you decide however, one thing is for certain and that is that foam rolling is an excellent way to relieve sore, tight muscles, improve recovery, and provide additional stress relief.