7 Best Foam Rollers and Reviews 2022 | The Strategist – New York Magazine

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Photo-Illustration: Courtesy Hyperice

If you do it right, and with the right equipment, foam rolling is a deep-tissue massage you can give yourself at home every single day, for free, just by rolling around on the floor. Here’s how it works: You roll a cylinder of firm foam against sore muscles and fascia (the thin layer of tissue that surrounds muscles) to loosen areas that feel tight, prevent injuries, and make you feel good both before and after working out. (It’s also nice when you just need a good stretch while watching TV.) Fitness people love them. “I geek out with foam rollers because they’re so awesome,” says Alice Toyonaga, who co-founded the Los Angeles–based studio Modo Yoga. “They help improve the health of tissues — improving oxygen and blood flow through our fascia — help relieve muscles and joint pain, and increase mobility. What else can you want?”

Perhaps the better question is, which one should you get? The trainers and instructors we spoke with say that depends on what experience you’re looking for. Any foam roller should be able to release trigger points by loosening up these tight spots in the muscle fibers, but some will feel firmer than others (a plus if you like a deeper massage), and some have added texture to get deeper into your muscles. Below, we’ve listed the best of the best that should satisfy a variety of preferences. Our picks are recommended by trainers, runners, dancers, and a chiropractor, and they include standard, high-density foam rollers as well as specialty styles like a collapsible, travel-size version; a non-foam option; and even two vibrating options. Read on to learn what our experts suggest looking for in a foam roller, or click one of these links to jump right to our picks.

Best overall | Best high-density | Best medium-density | Best vibrating | Best less-expensive vibrating | Best for travel | Best for back stretches

Length: If you want to target bigger muscle groups, like rolling out the length of your spine or both legs at once, go with a longer foam roller (two to three feet should cover it depending on your height). Shorter foam rollers (around one foot or less) are great for working on smaller areas or one arm or leg at a time. Consider your storage space, too, as larger foam rollers will obviously take up more space, and smaller ones will be easier to travel with.

Texture: Traditional foam rollers are smooth for consistent pressure across the area you’re massaging. Others have bumps and ridges that get deeper into your muscles and feel more intense. These textures are often designed to mimic the feel of a masseuse’s hands and fingers.

Density: A foam roller’s density determines how intense the massage feels. Higher-density foam rollers will apply firmer pressure while lower-density rollers will feel more gentle. This is typically a matter of personal preference and how firm of a massage you can tolerate. If you’re unsure, start with something less dense and work up to a higher-density roller.

Special Features: These days you can find foam rollers that do everything from heat up and vibrate to fold down flat for easy storage. We’ve noted which foam rollers below have any additional features that make them more functional.

13 inches long | Ridged and bumpy texture | High-density | Rigid hollow core for durability

A favorite of everyone from marathon runners to American Ballet Theater dancers, the TriggerPoint gets high marks for its bumps and ridges that simulate a hands-on massage, and the firm core that helps it keep its shape even after years of use. “It’s just the right density to be effective without bruising,” says Radan Sturm, founder of the strength-training studio Liftonic. “A lot of rollers are too hard and will bruise rather than release. It’s the perfect size that allows you to target all major parts of the body.” Flexibility experts say rolling on the TriggerPoint not only eases sore muscles after a workout, it can loosen up your body before a stretching session. Alain Saint-Dic, former head of training and development at the stretching and recovery studio Stretch Relief, likes how the TriggerPoint allows for deep pressure, and Kika Wise, founder of Kika Stretch Studios, says that compared to a roller with a smooth surface, TriggerPoint will “get into the tissue a little bit better,” allowing for a more intense experience. I’m an avid runner and the TriggerPoint is also my foam roller of choice, for many of the reasons the experts above cite. It’s definitely an intense massage (I like to vary the intensity by resting more or less of my body weight on it) that relaxes my tightest muscles. I like this length for targeting the muscles of one leg at a time, but it’s also available in a twice-as-long, 26-inch size if you want a longer roller.

Available in four sizes: 12-inch, 18-inch, 24-inch, and 36-inch | Smooth texture | High-density

The deep, focused pressure of the TriggerPoint isn’t for everyone. If you’re prone to bruising or are new to rolling, you might want a simpler — but still effective — option. “The more spikes and grooves that you see, the more the muscles are stimulated,” says Keren Day, a chiropractor and co-founder of Racked Stretch stretching studio. “This may sound great, but can be painful at first and may lead to injury, so definitely ease your way in with flatter, more basic tools,” like this option from AmazonBasics. The high-density foam means you’ll still feel a lot of pressure, but it’ll be evenly distributed throughout the roller’s surface area. “I prefer the smooth rollers over textured, to evenly massage out muscles,” says Julie Cobble, a master instructor at Physique 57 barre studio, who says this model “works great.” This foam roller also comes in four sizes, up to 36 inches — the length of the standard foam rollers found in most gyms.

36 inches long | Smooth texture | Medium density

There are times when you’ll want a slightly softer foam roller, like when you’re using a roller for more therapeutic massage. Jan Lefkowitz, a chiropractor at Body in Balance Chiropractic, recommends lying down with a medium-density foam roller (like the OPTP LoRox) underneath your back to improve your posture. “Think of what your middle and upper back look like when you slouch and you are essentially doing the opposite with this stretch,” he says. Vanessa Chu, co-founder and COO of the stretching studio Stretch*d, agrees. She says this roller has a just-right density for warming up and relaxing muscles before stretching. (It also comes in a smaller, travel-friendly 12-inch size.)

13 inches long | Bumpy texture | High density | 3-speed vibration 

On the other hand, if you want something that provides an even deeper release than your standard high-density rollers, check out the extra-firm, vibrating Vyper. Both in his practice and in his own personal use, Lefkowitz “has found that vibrational technology does some pretty amazing things in terms of decreasing pain and muscle recovery.” He told us the Vyper can bring powerful relief to the IT band area (the outsides of your thighs), as well as the quads and glutes. Celebrity personal trainer Danny Musico says, “It gets deeper into muscles than any other foam roller I’ve used,” and Barry’s Bootcamp CEO Joey Gonzalez once called it “the Tesla of foam rollers.” The Vyper has three speed settings for mixing up the intensity of your massage. Christina Nassaney, an athletic trainer at NJ Spine and Wellness, also likes that the Vyper’s vibrating foam helps break up adhesions in the muscles. (We recommended the Vyper 2.0 — the older version of the Vyper 3 — in our gift guide for dads with sore necks and backs.)

6.5 inches long | Bumpy texture | High density | 4 modes of vibration

This smaller vibrating device doesn’t have the plush feel of other rollers on this list, but it is the most portable vibrating model of the bunch. Strategist writer Jeremy Rellosa has used the Sidekick Fuse since 2019 to knead out sore leg and back muscles. “I like that the Fuse has a dip between the two main pressure points so my spine doesn’t feel crushed when I roll out my back,” he says. “And the added vibration is a relaxing touch when massaging out tired legs after long runs.”

(Sidekick also makes a simpler, smooth, non-vibrating version of this two-ball model, which is essentially two lacrosse balls fused together.)

14.5 inches long | Nubby texture | High density | Collapses flat

This collapsible foam roller comes recommended by both Chu and celebrity personal trainer Gunnar Peterson, who loves it because “it’s portable and amazing to travel with.” Chu adds that it’s “the perfect density (not too hard, not too soft) to work out tight hip flexors and glutes from travel.” When folded, the foam roller is only two inches high, so it’s easy to pack in a carry-on. The Brazyn Morph comes in two styles: The Alpha, pictured here, is made from high-density foam and features a nubby surface for intense release. Its cousin the Bravo is more of a medium-density foam roller with a smooth surface for a more mild experience.

Photo: Chirp

Available in 6-, 10-, and 12-inch diameters | Rubber texture | Medium firmness

Comedian Gina Yashere, the co-creator and co-star of the sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola, told us that the Chirp Wheel gave her the height and surface area she needed to stretch out her back. “From the moment I rolled out on one — and heard my back crack like a sheet of bubble wrap — I was hooked,” she writes. The Chirp Wheel’s design fits perfectly between her shoulder blades: “Using them is more or less like using a foam roller,” she says. “Lie on the (surprisingly comfortable) padding that surrounds the wheel and then line up your spine with the groove in that padding, which circumnavigates the wheel (the brand calls this groove a spinal canal). The pressure is concentrated on whatever area of your spine is in the groove and the few inches of muscle on either side of it.”

Strategist editor Winnie Yang also approves of the Chirp Wheel. “It does work much better for stretching out your back than a regular foam roller,” she says. “The narrower rolling surface the wheels have can require a little more attention to position them properly and to maintain your balance, but the shape also makes these easier to store.”

Chirp offers models in different diameters: The 12-inch diameter offers low pressure, while the six-inch wheel provides deep pressure to knotty muscles.

• Vanessa Chu, Stretch*d co-founder and COO
• Julie Cobble, Physique 57 master instructor
• Christina Nassaney, athletic trainer at NJ Spine and Wellness
• Keren Day, chiropractor and co-founder of Racked Stretch
• Joey Gonzalez, Barry’s Bootcamp CEO
• Jan Lefkowitz, chiropractor at Body in Balance Chiropractic
Danny Musico, personal trainer
Gunnar Peterson, personal trainer
• Alain Saint-Dic, former head of training and development at Stretch Relief
• Radan Sturm, Liftonic founder
• Alice Toyonaga, Modo Yoga co-founder
• Kika Wise, Kika Stretch Studios founder
• Winnie Yang, Strategist senior editor
Gina Yashere, comedian, co-creator and co-star of the sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola, and Strategist contributor

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