Beginners Guide to Foam Rollers

Ultimately, foam rollers are inexpensive for the most part, so there are a lot of ways that you can have both of the best aspects of foam rollers.

What is a Foam Roller?

If the term “foam roller” doesn’t bring anything to mind, you’ve probably seen them laying around a gym without realizing it. Foam rollers are cylindrical in shape and made of tough, high-quality foam.

The general idea is that you can use a foam roller to get the effects of a massage for your back, calves, thighs, and other areas that may feel sore or tight. Although they resemble a pool noodle, foam rollers are made of much more durable material, and are usually small enough to fit in a gym bag.

While a lot of people appreciate a smooth, simple foam roller, a lot of them have elaborate bumps, grids, and rivets aimed at hitting your hard to reach areas.


While a lot of fitness exercises, equipment, and supplements may not have research supporting their benefits, foam rollers are heavily used for medical purposes, so there have been a lot of research studies that prove their effectiveness.

The value of proper research is that it is the only true way for a product or idea to build credibility. While people will still use a product or supplement if the marketing is catchy or if people recommend it, research studies are expensive endeavors that involve multiple academics, and focus on a specific aspect of whether a product works.

For example, one peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that foam rollers had a significant impact in reducing arterial stress and stiffness and improves vascular endothelial function. The fact that numerous studies support the advantages of foam rollers adds a lot of credibility to the product.

Things to Know

Since foam rollers are closely linked to therapy and recovery, there are a few massage-related terms that will come up periodically when researching foam rollers.

Learning these few terms will help you converse with physical therapists and masseuses, and will help you understand what these products mean when they say they massage your trigger points.

Since these are frequently used in the marketing of typical foam rollers, understanding what they mean will make you better equipped to make a wise purchase.

Myoscial Release

Most foam rollers are designed for myoscial release, which essentially means to find your tight spots and massage them out. If you’ve ever gotten a massage, then you’ve experienced myoscial release, and the numerous benefits of it include the relief of pain and muscle tension.

If you don’t have access to a foam roller, you can still use self-massage to get the benefits of myoscial release, at least in the parts of the body you can reach.

Trigger Points

We’ve all had tight areas in our muscles but may not realize that those spots have a name. In massage lingo, a trigger point is a tense spot within your muscles that is tender when touched and causes pain in another area of the body. Trigger points are the reason a lot of foam rollers have protruding bumps of varying shapes and sizes.

The deep penetration they provide can have the effect of a masseuse focusing on your tightest spots, otherwise known as trigger points.

Density Zones

Density zone is the widely accepted term for the surface of the foam roller. As you peruse the top ten list, you’ll find that almost every single one of them has a different density zone, with some products having three on a single foam roller.

Through practice and experience, you’ll learn if you like one with aggressive bumps or a more flat and durable roller, but know that there are a massive variety of foam rollers on the market, some with very unique density zones.

Benefits of Foam Rolling

Below we explore some of the benefits of foam roller exercises. Whether you use it as a back roller, a muscle roller, or just as a massage roller from time to time, this little piece of workout gear has tremendous healing benefits for your body. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of doing foam rolls.

How Do They Help?

When you have a sore area in your muscles, it is often a matter of excessive tension. If you don’t have regular access to a masseuse, then self-massage is one of the earliest forms of medicine, and can do a lot to relieve these kind of trigger points.

Foam rollers can be seen as a major accessory for giving yourself a massage, with the power of the massage coming from your own body weight focused on the foam roller.

The reason this can work lies with the durability of the foam roller. Even though they appear like soft foam, foam rollers are very tough, and typically can support a weight limit of 300-500 pounds.

Who Should Use Them?

The most common places to find foam rollers are in Yoga studios, gyms, and Cross-Fit gyms.

That said, the inexpensive and compact nature of a foam roller makes them popular in gym bags and home gyms throughout the world. Physical therapists also employ foam rollers as a safe, low risk method of relieving the pain of patients.

These are a few of the common groups that can see great benefit from using a foam roller.

Athletes and Fitness Enthusiasts

The very nature of working out is brutal on the muscles. If you lift weights, your muscles are stretching and being broken down, only to be regrown with your next dose of protein. Runners often endure muscle pain in their legs and hips, while swimmers and boxers are likely to get pain in their upper bodies.

Whatever the source and cause of your pain, the right kind of foam roller can work wonders for targeting all of your sore spots.

Anyone with Pain Issues

As mentioned, the use of foam rollers goes far beyond the world of gyms, Yoga, and fitness. Doctors can recommend the use of a foam roller in combatting the pain of their patients before resorting to medication, and it’s fairly common for physical therapists to have foam rollers in their facility.

Whether you’re an executive who’s sore from traveling a lot, or a computer scientist with back issues, anyone who deals with personal pain can benefit from the use of a massage roller.

Personal Trainers

As a valuable addition to their athletic training, most personal trainers will have at least one foam roller in their fitness toolbox. There are actually a lot of different techniques for properly using a foam roller, so a personal trainer who is qualified to help you out is a valuable resource.

If you happen to be a member of a gym, it’s highly likely that someone there can assist you with using the foam roller.

Should You Get One?

If pain relief is a regular part of your life, and you have a desire to get more in depth into the art of foam rolling, then you’ll find that myofascial release is a deep rabbit hole you can delve into.

Knowing the major trigger points of the body, and how each can be best relieved with a massage roller is a good place to start, as it will provide you with a strong knowledge of the functionality of the foam roller.

More in depth knowledge will focus on how the myofascial release works, where common pain relays lead to, and how to best use the various types of foam rollers.

For those who love foam rolling and are interested in attending seminars and finding more info, then John F. Barnes is considered an industry expert, and has 50 years of experience in the field of myofascial release.

How to Use a Foam Roller

At first, you may have only one or two techniques in mind for using your new foam roller, but with a little investigation, you’ll see that there are dozens.

Both the upper and lower body can benefit greatly from using a foam roller, with key upper body spots including shoulders, upper back, upper arms, and the side of the torso.

Among the lower body areas that benefit from foam rolling are the buttocks, hips, and both upper and lower legs. If the foam roller you purchase does not come with a guide to give you a tutorial on how to use it, then supplementary books and posters are available, including this highly detailed picture poster by OPTP.

How to Pick a Good One

Aside from the widely varying density areas, there are several common ways that popular foam rollers differentiate from each other.

While using each one will be a slightly different experience because of their textures, other factors like material, design, and accessories can influence your buying decision as well.

A quick review of these major traits of foam rollers will give you a solid idea of what to expect from the top ten.


While a fair amount of foam rollers are plain black or blue, many are bright colored, and some even come in innovative designs. One example of a foam roller with a unique look is the black and blue Integrate Foam Roller by New Cell.

The 50/50 mix combined with its varying bi-directional density zones really makes it stick out above plain options. For another really cool design in a smooth foam roller, check out the OPTP PRO-ROLLER on our list above.

It’s smooth, marble white and blue, or marble white and green foam rollers are pretty stylish looking, and will do a lot to spice up your home gym. Other colors available from foam rollers on this list include lime green, tangerine, bright red, and plum, so even if getting a plain one, a lot of color options are out there.


A foam roller provides a lot of functionality and value in and of itself, but a lot of them will come with accessories. For the most part, the accessories offered by foam roller companies are of the instructional nature, and include ebooks or a quick guide to the many techniques you can use with a foam roller.

The Muscle Mauler is one such foam roller that not only comes with a cool carrying bag, but also a quick guide and ebook that details tips and suggestions for use.

For even more instructional materials, the TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller goes far beyond the rest, as they include three DVD’s that each provide a different level of instruction for their foam roller.

Deals & Warranties

Another difference to notice while comparing products on the list is that many of them come with excellent purchasing options and money back guarantees. While no one purchases a product to take it back, knowing these options are there can provide a lot of piece of mind when making the buying decision.

Luckily, the majority of the top ten foam rollers have some kind of warranty, ranging from limited lifetime warranties, to no questions asked money back guarantees.

Since foam rollers can be painful, and a particular type may or may not work for a certain customer, these money-back options are useful and can do a lot to sway someone’s choice in which foam roller to purchase.

Smooth vs. Bumpy Textures

While all foam rollers can be effective if properly used, there is a vast difference between those with flat surfaces and bumpy ones. The differences in experiences is comparable to the difference between a soft, gentle massage with a masseuse’s palms, versus a deep, hard, penetrating massage with a masseuse’s fingertips.

If you don’t have a strong preference between the two, several foam rollers on the list have both options, so you can use the density zones for a palm-like massage, or a more focused, intense one.

Ultimately, foam rollers are inexpensive for the most part, so there are a lot of ways that you can have both of the best aspects of foam rollers.

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