It seems that wherever you turn around today, another professional athlete or athlete would champion the benefits of the Foam Roller . It's one of the more accessible recovery tools in an overflowing marketplace with expensive high-tech devices that are said to help you heal from a workout faster and get back stronger and better. It also has promising potential benefits, which is why physiotherapists and sports physicians often recommend it to their patients.
The thing is, there are so many possibilities. And we do not just talk about colors and sizes. You can buy foam rollers with different shapes, densities and surface structures. You can even buy those that vibrate.
Having options is always a good thing, but in many cases too many options can be overwhelming. Foam rolls is basically just a form of self-massage that you perform with a foam tube on your living room floor. It should not be complicated.
To make things a little easier for you, I asked experts how to choose the right foam roller for your specific needs. Here are the best tips for shopping for your first foam roller.
First, consider the density.
"If you do not yet know foam rolling, start with something gentler," Elizabeth Barachi, sports medical specialist at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. If you are not used to exerting pressure and rolling on tense muscles and tissues, you will probably be very sensitive at first. "They must build tolerance for it," says David Reavy, P.T., a certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physiotherapy and founder of React Physical Therapy in Chicago. As with anything else, you must slowly familiarize your body with the foam rollers so that it can get used to the new sensation.
This is the easiest way to choose a low density roller, which means it's a bit softer to give something. Most rolls made of solid foam like this one from OPTP will be softer and less dense. Rolls that are hollow and made of plastic with a foam layer like this one from TriggerPoint will be harder and denser. In general, the harder and denser a roller is, the deeper it can get into your sores, says Reavy.
Remember: Hardener is not always better.
To determine if the density is right for you, think about your pain as you roll on a scale of 1-10. "If you're foaming at 5 or more, that's too much," says Laura Miranda DPT, MSPT, CSCS, a New York City-based trainer and creator of the Pursuits workout program. "Hardening is not always better." This is because some of the foam rolling releases tension and helps the target area to relax and loosen up. If you have too much pain, it will probably be more tense and you are doing the opposite of what you want to achieve.
If you have bruising, you will probably be too hard. Baraco not only looks so tasty, but may also exaggerate your current condition if you go overboard. "It's possible to overdo it," she says. If you bang hard at a certain point, it is possible to work so far that you will eventually break down the tissue and form scar tissue. "It's not a permanent problem, but it can exacerbate an existing problem – if you're already too tight and working too long in one place, it can take longer to get better," says Barachi.
Once you have experience, you will find that different densities are better for different body parts, says Miranda. For example, your glutes may be softer and more painful than your quads or calves. However, if you're just starting out, and especially if you're very tight or have significant mobility issues in certain areas, it's best to use a lower density roller. You can put more and more pressure on reaching the areas where it can be tolerated – it's harder to readjust the pressure when the tool is really tight.
Take a look at the surface texture.
Nobs, ridges, notches and spines. You will find foam rollers with these and other surface structures. But what is the meaning of these variations? They add more pressure points and can help you reach muscles from different angles, says Miranda. A smooth roller provides a large, flat surface for unrolling, and the pressure from the roller is distributed to some adjacent muscles. A reddish or prickly role, however, is aimed at more specific sites of greater intensity.
This can be a good thing if you are trying to reach deeper muscles like those in the hips and around the scapula. "Theoretically, buttons can get into some muscle groups better," says Barachi. Think about massaging a place with your whole palm, explains Miranda. They can not be too specific or contoured. However, digging in the same spot with only your thumb can really apply intense, direct pressure. When a device is smaller, it's usually much easier to get it into a specific column.
Think about where you will use it.
If you're traveling a lot, it's worth having a compact roller you can take with you, says Reavy. You can purchase this pretty, collapsible foam roll or just one that's really short and can fit in your luggage, like this 4-inch roll .
A Note on Length: A shorter role requires more stability and body awareness. "Depending on what you are rolling, this may require a bit of upper body strength," says Miranda. "You need to be really focused on your roll technology."
If you only buy one roller that you want to keep at home, stick to a longer roller – 12 to 18 inches (12 to 18 inches) that you use in gyms You can move while unrolling without having to worry about slipping.
What about these cool vibratory rollers?
The idea behind vibrating foam rollers and other electronic massagers is that the vibrations can help change our perception of pain. Reavy is based on a medical idea known as Gate Control Theory . It basically suggests that the painless stimulation at a site that is injured may temporarily prevent the blocking of pain signals (or "closing the gates") to your target brain.
The thing is, there is still high-quality research to be done on these devices so that experts can not say if it actually proves that they work better than traditional, old ones. Barachi says that there is no solid evidence of vibrating foam rollers, "if it feels good, then move on."
One limitation, however, is that it is even more important to listen to your body when you use it a more intense device that can inhibit the perception of pain. It can be easier to go overboard. That does not mean that you can not use them, but you should just be more attentive and choose back when things feel too intense. Forcing the muscles into submission is a good way to experience more pain or bruising – the opposite of why you're dealing with foam rollers at all.
Finally, you should consider rolling with a ball for certain spots.
"A ball is the same concept as spikes on wheels," says Miranda. "Sometimes a ball is actually better." A spiky role may be "more akin to an aggressive punch in the muscle," whereas a "ball provides a softer release of that muscle," she says. A ball can also be easier to maneuver – it's so small and targeted that you can just place it right under the spot you want to let go. Lacrosse balls such as by Champion Sports are well suited for targeted self-massage devices for hard-to-reach areas on the shoulder blades and hips.
However, Miranda adds that a lacrosse ball may be too intense for some people to start – "Personally, I can not stand it on my own glutes," she says. That's why you might want to start with a tennis ball that is less dense. You can also try a small foam ball, such as this from US Toy . "It's the same idea, but not so dense and can get into areas that are inaccessible to a large, long foam roll," says Miranda. (Massage balls come in tons with different densities and textures, so you have many options .)
All SELF products are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may receive a partner commission.