There are a lot of benefits of foam rolling, including better circulation, greater range of motion, and softer soft tissue. And since you can get away with selling one made of nothing but packing foam, the profit margins can be pretty considerable — that means a lot of brands sell a lot of foam rollers of varying quality, and it can be hard to figure out which one you should buy.
It goes without saying that every body is different and which foam roller is best can depend on the type, intensity, and frequency of your activity, along with how you spend the other twenty-three hours of the day you’re not working out.
At BarBend, we were so keen on finding a versatile, multi-sport foam roller that we designed and made our own: the BarBend 2-in-1 Foam Roller. In order to maintain some objectivity, we haven’t included it in our full rankings below, though we designed this double foam roller to meet the needs of a variety of strength athletes.
We took a hard look at soft tissue and decided to see look at some of the pros and cons of the most popular brands of foam rollers. Here’s what we landed on:
Best Foam Roller Picks
Best for Beginners: Gaiam Restore Total Body Foam Roller
Best for Intermediate Athletes: TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
Best for Experienced, High Volume Athletes: RumbleRoller Deep Tissue Massage Roller
Best Handheld Foam Roller: The Stick
Best Balls for Pinpoint Myofascial Release: A Lacrosse Ball
Read further below for even more categories and picks!
Best for Beginners to Foam Rolling
Gaiam Restore Total Body Foam Roller
One of the softest rollers on the market, Gaiam’s foam roller is made from polyethylene foam and is less dense, durable, and effective than other brands. It’s also relatively expensive at $35, but it can be the perfect choice for athletes with a low pain threshold or who are just starting out their foam rolling habit.
Best For: First time foam rollers, people who experience pain when foam rolling
AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller
The AmazonBasics Foam Roller is one of the cheapest, no-frills options around. It has a slightly rough but not jagged surface texture that helps to prevent slipping, and the size (36 inches) means you can use it for a wide variety of movements, like rolling two legs at a time or lying across its length. It’s made from high-density polyethylene foam, but it’s on the softer side as far as foam rollers for athletes go.
Best For: Athletes on a budget, people who don’t exercise very intensely
Gold’s Gym 30″ Foam Roller
Despite the name tag of one of the most beloved gyms on the planet, the Gold’s Gym Foam Roller is pretty basic and inexpensive. It’s made of pretty high-density therapeutic foam and it’s a good medium-level softness, so it’s friendly to beginners. Note that you may find it warping after six months or so, depending on your weight, and it has a pretty smooth surface so it’s prone to slipping.
Best For: Rolling on broader areas like the back and legs, rather than on your side
Best Foam Rollers for Intermediate Athletes
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
A popular brand, the TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller uses a PVC pipe wrapped in ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam. Because of the PVC pipe it’s very firm, and it’s available in a wide variety of sizes. It’s more durable than most other brands, but it’s on the pricier side ($30 for 13 inches) and doesn’t get deep into the muscle’s crevices like some more advanced rollers.
Best For: Experienced athletes and heavier athletes
ProSource Sports Medicine Foam Roller
No, we didn’t repost the TriggerPoint roller — at $15 for 13 inches, the ProSource Sports Medicine foam roller is considered by many as a budget version of its more famous lookalike. It has the thick, PVC-pipe inside that will keep it from warping under a lot of weight. The orange color is the cheapest (a softer blue one will set you back 20 bucks), but there are more reports of this brand cracking under folks who weigh over 200 pounds.
Best For: Experienced athletes, athletes under 200 pounds
Best Foam Rollers Experienced, High Volume Athletes
Image via Rogue Fitness
RumbleRoller Deep Tissue Massage Roller
Covered in knob-like fingers, the RumbleRoller Deep Tissue Massage Roller is one of the most intimidating foam rollers we’ve seen — and the most highly recommended by many functional fitness athletes, including Talayna Fortunato. The fingers help it to achieve a deeper massage, but make it a bit rough for those of us with sensitive skin (or fascia tissue).
Best For: Advanced athletes, athletes with a high pain threshold
At $200, the HyperIce Vyper is is the priciest version we’ve ever seen, but there’s a reason: it vibrates. Touting itself as “the next generation of foam roller,” this gadget has three different vibration speed options that’s intended to help it provide a deeper, longer lasting effect on the soft tissue. It’s not very long and the battery doesn’t last more than a few hours, but it may provide a more effective experience.
Best For: High volume athletes, athletes with significant muscle mass
If softness is absolutely no issue, you might be able to make do with a simple barbell, or you could MacGyver a foam roller with a PVC pipe wrapped in saran wrap. For a cheap, non-bumpy option, it can get the job done.
Best Handheld Foam Rollers
Sometimes you want to roll out an area on your body but you’re not dressed, or don’t have the inclination, to bend and contort yourself on top of a foam roller. The following items are extraordinarily popular, particularly for areas like the quads, calves, and forearms, and they travel well, too.
Image via Amazon
The Stick is probably the first brand most people think of when they think of portable myofascial release — it’s the original. At seventeen inches long and $28, you hold it on both ends and push it down and along your muscles. It’s thinner and less aggressive than some of the rollers above, but it makes up for it because it’s easier to manipulate and to use all over the body part you’re targeting. It’s a little awkward to use on the hamstrings and low back.
Best For: Tight quads and calves, runners, strongman and athletes who do grip-intensive exercises.
Image via Amazon
The Tiger Tail
Available in three sizes — 11 inches for $25, 18 inches for $30, and 22 inches for $35 — the Tiger Tail is a lot like The Stick, but it’s considerably softer. Because it’s softer and smaller, you might find that it doesn’t really get into your nooks and crannies. But for beginners, and as a supplement to a softer foam roller like Gaiam or AmazonBasics, it’s great to have on hand.
Best For: Casual exercisers, newcomers to foam rolling
Best Balls for Pinpoint Myofascial Release
A Lacrosse Ball
It’s telling that the vast majority of reviews for Lacrosse Balls are from people using it for myofascial release — these balls cost about $5 to $7 each are incredibly useful for getting deep into the muscles where soft, yielding foam rollers dare not tread.
It’s worth pointing out that even if you get regular massages, these are particularly useful for the glutes, since most masseuses may not be comfortable with really digging their fingers into their clients’ posteriors.
Best For: Very deep massage for very athletes who are accustomed to aggressive foam rolling
Procircle Peanut Massage Ball
We selected the Procircle Peanut Massage Ball, but there are many companies that put out their own “peanut” roller and they’re more or less the same: two lacrosse balls that are stuck together. It’s a little like a combination foam roller and lacrosse ball in that it covers more surface area than a lacrosse ball, but what most people really like to use this for is to make sure they’re avoiding a particular bone when they’re rolling, particularly the spine. You can put the balls on either side of their spine and use it to roll problem areas, and people often use it to focus on the lower back or the neck. That said, they can be used just about anywhere.
Best For: Athletes with low back or neck pain
Still Looking for the Best Foam Roller for Your Individual Needs?
We get it: The picks and models outlined above might not be the absolute best for what you need. So we outlined even more picks below, including ones for athletes who need a foam roller for their back and IT band.
Best Foam Rollers for the Back
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
There’s a reason the TriggerPoint GRID foam roller is the biggest name in the industry: they have a wide variety of sizes and firmness levels to suit your experience level. For rolling the back, you might prefer an 18-inch roller so you can roll as much of your back as possible in one motion, but any size will do — just don’t forget to roll out the lats on your side as well.
Procircle Peanut Massage Ball
Again, the ProCircle Peanut‘s two balls stuck together mean it’s great for rolling up and down the spine without putting pressure on the spine itself. In addition, the hard balls are really able to dig deep into the broad, dense muscle of the back that soft and flat foam rollers may not be able to find.
Best Foam Rollers for IT Band
Nordic Lifting Foam Roller
The IT band is an unbelievably thick, dense piece of tissue, which is why there’s some controversy over whether or not foam rolling is beneficial for it at all. Arguments on the pro side of the debate tend to focus on the idea that some tissues adhere to the IT band, and rolling can help to loosen them up.
In any case, the Nordic Lifting roller has deep grooves but it’s not spikey, so it helps to dig into deep, tough tissue like the IT band without causing too much pain.
There you have it — our ultimate buyer’s guide for foam rollers and other myofascial release tools. Pick the product that’s best for your level of activity and experience and you’ll be well on your way to a body that moves better and experiences less muscle pain.