Things you have to do even though they kinda suck: flossing after your meals, being cordial with your difficult mother-in-law, and foam rolling regularly (we know, it hurts so good!). Yes, if you don’t have a foam roller, you’ll want to invest in one—it’s more important for post-workout recovery than you might realize.
Even though it may burn like hell and take up what feels like your precious few moments in the gym, foam rolling (a self-massage method recommended by physical therapists) can help you feel amazing in the days that follow—instead of like you’re a permanent resident of sore city. “Foam rollers are best used for daily maintenance on nagging injuries and/or increasing blood flow to the body to warm up and improve athletic performance,” says Kamraan Husain, DC, director of performance at The Workout Kansas City. “Investing in a foam roller is about longevity and doing everything possible to heal from our day to day stresses.” A word of caution if you are foam rolling injuries: For any nerve injuries or tears (or if you’re not sure what’s ailing you), you’ll want to go to a doctor to get checked out before you roll.
In fact, one study published in The Journal of Athletic Training found that participants who foam rolled after a workout were significantly less sore up to 72 hours later. And if you’re not hurting as much in the days following your workout, that can translate to more gym time—win-win!
So how much should you be foam rolling? Alicia Jamison, a certified personal trainer at Body Space Fitness, suggests that you aim to roll for five to 10 minutes right before and/or right after your workouts.
That said, finding just the right foam roller can be a challenge. Are you a runner whose calves need some relief? An on-the-go athlete who needs something ultra-portable? Or are you just looking for a high-quality roller that can release tight knots? No matter your recovery needs, we made your foam roller search a bit easier. We spoke to the experts and scoured websites like Amazon and Walmart to find the best foam rollers out there right now.
There’s a reason the foam on this vibrating, textured roller is different widths—it was designed to feel like a massage therapist’s hands. Plus, the spaces in between give your tissues room to breathe, promoting the flow of blood and oxygen, which helps repair muscles faster.
Reviewer rave: “There is so much to be said about vibration therapy — coupled with foam rolling makes pure magic. This device does the trick. I use before and after runs and just as proactive treatment. Highly recommend.” —thisgirlruns, amazon.com
LuxFit’s roller has no frills, but it’s perfect for those new to foam rolling. “If you’re unsure about what kind of roller to use or are totally new to this concept, the classic white or black foam roller is a good place to start,” says Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d. “The general rule of thumb is that the more dense the roller, the more intense it will be.” This roller is made from polypropylene foam technology, so it won’t lose its shape after heavy use. It also comes in four different sizes, depending on your needs.
Reviewer rave: “ (…) Good thing about the firmness of this is that you can choose the amount of pressure by leaning into it. If it was softer it would not do the job.” —Hana, amazon.com
This genius textured roller doubles as a water bottle to save space when you’re on the road. The grooved surface digs into muscle knots to release tension.
Reviewer Rave: “Great idea, really well made. Keeps drinks cold and foam roller works well. Saves me carrying two items to the gym/track.” —Gavin Thomason, amazon.com
This vibrating foam roller is great for people who tense up when foam rolling—the vibration technology gets the job done, without having to push your entire lower body weight into the roller. The creators claim it can increase your range of motion by up to 40 percent, versus 18 percent with a regular roller.
Reviewer rave: “It’s the Lamborghini of foam rollers with its powerful vibration technology and dense material. This tool is fantastic for helping speed up the warm up process and is proven to increase heat to the tissues faster than a traditional foam roller.” — Kamraan Husain, DC
You’ll get the same trigger-point results on your IT bands, hamstrings, quads, and calves as a hard lacrosse ball or a softer tennis ball, but with a more moderate pressure thanks to this orb’s high-density foam. Meaning this little orb will help offer some muscle relief, without ample agony.
Reviewer Rave: “I do love this massage ball. It is lightweight with a textured surface allowing it to provide some grip between body and wall when using it on my shoulder/neck area. A great addition to my other rollers, hand tools, and devices for deep tissue work.” —Southern Gramma, amazon.com
This mini foot roller can provide pavement pounders with major relief—especially if you’re suffering from plantar fasciitis or heel spurs. The ergonomic shape lets you really dig into your foot’s smaller muscles.
Reviewer rave: “My plantar fasciitis diagnosis was recent, I’ve been searching for anything that could help. Several sites recommended rollers, and after research, I chose this one. It’s compact so I can take it to work or on vacation. It’s also easy to store.” —Kelly Rivers, amazon.com
You can either roll your body on a foam roller or roll a foam roller on you—and this is one of the best foam rollers for the latter. Not only does this stick come with non-slip grips, so you don’t wear your hands out, it’s also the perfect size to stash in a purse, gym bag, or carry-on.
Reviewer rave: “Due to having flat feet and a few other issues, running has always been a difficult task for me due to the everlasting curse of shin splints. The trainers at Orange Theory recommended the Tiger Tail Rolling Muscle Massager and it has completely changed my ability to exercise. I honestly don’t know how I’ve come this far without one.” —V. Lopez, amazon.com
If you can’t find the perfect foam roller, make your own: This stick comes with massagers of varying sizes and densities, so you can mix and match to your needs. Changing out the “gears,” if you will, also lets you target tougher-to-reach areas like the achilles, shins, shoulders, and forearms.
Reviewer rave: “As a marathon runner who puts a lot of miles on my legs training, I have many (and I do mean MANY!) massage rollers. But I’ve gotta say this one is my ABSOLUTE favorite. It’s just the best!! The “beads” on it feel so good, you just have to try it.” —Hummingbirds, amazon.com
The Rad Helix is the one of the best foam rollers for myofascial release on your back. The two cone-shaped ends extend and open up your back, but the cut-out keeps the pressure from getting to be too much on your spine. (It works on your calves, quads, hips, and hamstrings, too!)
Reviewer rave: “This roller is awesomesauce. I use it in tandem with my regular foam roller as it is good to get the muscles along the spine without crunching the spine in the process. It is also light and small enough to take with me when I travel, which is a plus.” —Amber Alfano, amazon.com
The Rollga’s peanut-shaped roller is made to contour your body and will help you target muscles while avoiding bones and tendons — this helps get hard to reach spots other rollers might not reach and makes rolling less painful. It also comes in three different foam densities (soft, standard, and hard), so you can find one that’ll match the intensity you need.
Reviewer rave: “This one is a little more advanced, but it does an amazing job of getting your back extensors. It also really gets the hamstrings so good and the quads really well.” —Alicia Jamison, CPT at Body Space Fitness
When different parts of your body have different needs, you’ll get a little bit of everything with 321 Strong’s set. Their durable massage roller doubles as storage for their massage balls, stretch strap, and massage stick.
Reviewer rave: “Love this set! I’m a massage therapist and have other therapists that work for me. We all use these pieces in between sessions and often suggest them to clients for at-home care as well. All of the items are durable and very easily cleaned” —Emily, amazon.com
Acumobility’s roller has four rows of large bumps to give you the “I just got a deep tissue” massage feeling post-roll.
Reviewer rave: “It’s 11 inches in diameter (most rollers are six inches in diameter). This increased diameter allows for better range of motion as one is using the roller, much like a yoga wheel,” —Kamraan Husain
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