Which foam roller should I buy? Are the ones with spikes better? Are those expensive brands really better?
A quick re-cap, foam rollers are fantastic self massage tools with many benefits. (You can read about 5 lesser known benefits here.) This massage is done by using body weight to apply pressure on your back, legs, arms, and areas and is great for all sorts of muscle aches and pains. It can also be used for stretching, mobility, strengthening and proprioceptive exercises.
I've been asked these questions by many of my clients, as well as a recent comment my my last post about foam roller benefits. I thought I'd write it out here so others with the same questions can decide for themselves. There are plenty of foam rollers in the market, from the cheap to the very pricy. Foam rollers also differ in size, design and material type.
I personally don't promote or recommend a specific type/brand of foam roller. The reason is simple. If the roller does what you want it to do (give you a massage, release trigger points and adhesions and improve circulation) then it's good enough. I get that "A carpenter is only as good as his tools" - but I really don't believe that the tools make the carpenter. Since there are a variety of uses, the first thing you need to know is why do you want the foam roller? What's your objective? Answer that, and choosing a foam roller that fits your needs is easier. Answer the 3 simple questions below to match-make yourself with your perfect foam roller. Some of the considerations are as follows:
So what about the bumps or spikes? The different materials? Foam or EVA? What about a PVC pipe? A pool noodle?
All these are great features. Features are about saleability and marketing. The more features, the higher the perceived value, and retail price.
Materials and Durability:
I know some materials are more durable while others will be flattened and deform under constant use/abuse. (My first foam roller did exactly that. It's not round anymore! But it still works till today!) There's a range of materials used which determine both it's durability and it's density (how hard it is, and how much pressure it creates). PE and EVA (basic standard material and softest feel), high density EVA and EPP (higher density, more durable and medium massage pressure) and of course, the highest density versions (hence highest durability and highest pressure) made of EVA with PVC pipe core. I've even owned, used and sold a foam roller which was literally a solid bamboo core with a neoprene (wetsuit) covering! So which one is best? That depends on what you need.
There are foam rollers with various surface textures. These could be grid patterns, spikes or 'Y' shaped grooves. All of these boast additional benefits above and beyond the traditional cylindrical roller, and are advertised to do more targeted massage. I'm sure they have their place, however, i'm not 100% certain that my spiky roller, is way better than my 6 year old deformed roller. It definitely is firmer due to the different materials (and causes more pain) but I can't say it's definitely more effective. This, I believe, is just a matter of personal preference (and "it's all in your head"!) I ask my clients who comment on these fancy designs, "will you be able to place that pointy bit of the roller right on the point you want to release?" Try it! It's hard to aim with a roller. You'd be much better off using a trigger point ball instead!
Rollers come in a variety of sizes. Most are a standard size that ranges from 33cm- 45cm in length and 13cm-15cm in diameter. There are travel sized ones that could be 25cm - 30cm in length and may only be 8cm-10cm in diameter. And there's full length >90cm rollers. Which is best? Well it depends on how you want to use it. For most people, anything less than 33cm is too small - the only exception is if you want a roller that fits into your gym or tennis bag.
3 Questions that will determine your Perfect Foam-Roller Match!
1. What are you doing with it?
- New to rolling and want to release some tight muscles? Maybe opt for a softer one.
- High pain tolerance and love those deep massages? Firm is for you.
- Planning to do exercises on it? Soft or Medium make it easier to balance and perform exercises on. Firmer means less give and more difficult to balance, but that is not necessarily a bad thing!
- Need to lay back onto it? The longest size would allow you to lay vertically on it to exercise, and have it support and guide neutral alignment of the spine.
2. Got Space to use it? This will determine which length suits you best.
- Want to put it in your gym bag? Small (30cm, and smaller diameter)
- Want to do exercises on it? Standard 45cm or Long >90cm are best. If you need to lie on it, the long one would be best.
- Don't really mind? Medium/Standard size 33cm to 45cm would work perfectly.
3. How much do you want to spend?
- Are the the 'need the latest fancy gadgets and features' type of person?
- Are you brand conscious?
- Are you going to use it often? Or will it eventually live under the bed, never to be seen again
(And a bonus question: 4. What's your favourite colour? =] )
Happy Rolling! And look out for my upcoming e-book on self massage and foam rollers “On a Roll- Feeling Great and Getting in Shape” launching soon.
Why did you choose the roller you currently have? Have any comments? Just write, and ask!