If you are serious about your training, you need to be serious about your recovery. What you do in your downtime, science shows, has a big influence on how well you run. Sleep and fuel, of course, are the indisputable top recovery tools. But thanks to a growing body of research, foam rolling is now up there as a must-do recovery activity for athletes who want to feel better and run stronger. To find the best tools, we shimmied and glided our achy hamstrings and calves over a variety of rollers. Check out five top picks below, and scroll deeper for more great options and buying advice.
Dozens of studies have linked foam rolling with improved range of motion, flexibility, and mobility as well as reduced soreness. Done before a run, it can act like a dynamic warmup—increasing circulation, loosening tight spots, and priming your body to move. After a workout, it can act like a sports massage—reducing muscular tension and lowering levels of the primary stress hormone, cortisol.
How to Pick the Right Roller
Now that foam rolling is a legit recovery tool that professional athletes and sports medical pros alike endorse, the market for rollers has exploded. While having lots of models to choose from is awesome, it can make it overwhelming to shop for one. There are several features you need to consider.
- Firmness: For newbies, a too-hard foam roller may seem like a torture device. Digging into sore muscles after a tough workout session takes some getting used to, which is why the firmness of a foam roller determines how much oh-so-good pain you are willing to handle. While a very firm roller will better activate deep tissue, a softer foam can be best when just starting out.
- Texture: Like firmness, the texture of a roller will determine the level of intensity. This can range from a perfectly smooth (gentler) surface, to a spiky (really intense) one.
- Portability: If you’re looking to travel with your roller during your next race, you’ll want something that fits in a standard suitcase.
- Tech Features: For an added level of muscle activation, many new foam rollers on the market now include vibration and even added heat.
How We Tested
Every piece of gear on this list has been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience working out sore muscles on these foam rollers to determine the best for your recovery. We evaluated on performance, price, added features, and convenience to come up with this list of the best options.
—BEST HEATED ROLLER—
MojiHeat Massage Roller
Do your muscles need a little extra encouragement to loosen up? The Moji Heated Roller combines firm pressure with therapeutic heat—two techniques for soothing soreness. Plus, it’s super easy to use: twist the two halves of the foam roller apart, and pop them in the microwave for three minutes or less. It stays warm for about 30 minutes after heating, but it’s pretty hot when it first comes out, so give it a minute or two to cool down until the temperature is right. Measuring 13 inches in length with a 4-inch diameter, the Moji is just long enough to hit larger muscle groups, but you can also leave the two pieces unscrewed to work smaller areas. One tester found it made tough foam roller moves (like hitting her IT band) feel almost pleasant, and loved it for both warming up before chilly winter runs, and then getting toasty again afterward.
—ULTIMATE SPINE MASSAGE—
Roll Recovery R4
The R4 is a seriously firm roller that we love for its sturdy build and smart design to get the knots out of muscles that need more pressure, like the back and hamstrings. The alignment groove at the center cradles the neck and spine for more comfort when you’re rolling out on your back, and also helps target achy, sensitive areas of the Achilles tendon. High-density EVA foam lets this roller really dig in for a foam-rolling experience that one tester said, “felt about as close to a deep-tissue massage as you can get without going to a masseuse.” That may be a little too intense for newbies—or for those who want a more relaxed feeling on tender muscles after a hard workout—but does wonders for fighting a case of the DOMS. One thing we really love about the R4 is the size. At 18 inches long and with a generous 6-inch diameter, it’s ideal for runners of all sizes and has the versatility to work out soreness in both hammies at the same time.
—TWO-IN-ONE HYDRATION ROLLER—
Even if you roll your muscles religiously, you’re not going to recover as fast or perform your best if you aren’t properly hydrated. Which is why we love the multi-tasking Mobot. It’s a water-bottle/foam-roller hybrid that’s perfect for on-the-go runners who want to maximize their recovery but minimize their packing list. The BPA-free Mobot comes in three different sizes (18 oz, 27 oz., 40 oz.) and is made from 100 percent recycled stainless steel and high-density EVA foam. It’s stylish with 10 different color options and patterns and a carrying loop so you can easily hang it from a gym or travel bag. Its small length makes it effective for targeted trigger-point release on specific areas. But it wouldn’t replace our mainstay at-home rollers, which are especially good for larger areas, like your back. We’d consider it a high-quality water bottle with a massage perk.
—BEST PRICE TAG—
LuxFit High-Density Foam Roller
If you want the benefits of a foam roller without making a big investment, give the LuxFit High-Density Foam Roller a try. It’s effective. It’s durable. It’s affordable. The high-density black foam delivers a firm pressure to provide muscle and tissue release and relief. While the foam does have a bit of give, it’s definitely on the harder side of the spectrum and may require some transition time if you are new to foam rolling. However, the smooth, even surface is less intense than rollers with nubs and grooves. It’s extremely lightweight (6.7 ounces) and comes in four lengths (12-, 18-, 24-, 36-inch). The low price might make it possible for you to invest in more than one—12-inch is great for traveling or training at the gym where you have limited space. But the 36-inch is the most versatile and a good choice if you want to be able to use your roller to stretch your back. Longer rollers also provide more stability than shorter rollers, which is a factor when you are rolling out your legs one at a time. LuxFit rollers also come with a three-year warranty and online instructional video for guidance.
Ever hear of the phrase “oldie but goodie?” This is it. If you’ve been to a physical therapist’s office, you’ve likely seen a Trigger Point. And for good reason—they last. The multi-density exterior foam covers a rigid, hollow core, which means that the roller retains its shape, even with heavy use, over many years. One of our testers has had this model for more than five years and it is in like-new condition, despite dedicated use. She’s not alone: This brand has a loyal fan club, with more than 3,000 rave reviews on Amazon. We consider this a middle ground in firmness—not too hard, not too soft—which makes it a good introductory roller. It’s available in two lengths (13- and 26-inch), and the hollow center construction also has an unintended benefit: If you are traveling, you can easily stuff your running shorts, top, and socks inside it.
—BEST MIX OF PAIN AND RELIEF—
The bumpy knobs on a RumbleRoller foam roller resemble a monster-truck tire and might give the impression that it’s a torture device. But any runner who has experienced the pleasure/pain dichotomy of a good sports massage will appreciate this roller’s unique design. The textured surface of this roller, which comes in three sizes (12-, 21-, 31-inch), features nubs that push into knots and pressure points deeper than traditional flat-surfaced foam rollers. It’s designed to mimic the hands of a massage therapist. Indeed, our testers found the roller particularly effective at finding and releasing tight spots in crevices in their shoulders and backs. It’s worth noting that while the nubs are firm, they do have some give, which enables them to move around (and not dig into) bony areas, like shoulder blades or hips. Another feature: The surface is antimicrobial, which helps prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus. Key for households where there are multiple sweaty runners.
—BEST FOR TRAVEL—
Brazyn Morph Trek Collapsible Roller
We got our first look at this unique foam roller when former NFL tight end Nate Lawrie and his business partner Tom Hopkins pitched it on ABC’s Shark Tank in late 2017. The show’s investors were so impressed with the design and concept, they fought over the opportunity to bring it to market. What makes this stand out from other foam rollers is that the Morph is collapsible: folded down it’s just 1.9 inches thick, making it easy to pack in a gym bag or in carry-on if you’re off to a destination race. The roller is also lightweight (1.5 pounds) and what the company calls “Goldilocks” in density—not too hard, not too soft. In our testing, we were impressed with how easy it is to collapse and expand it. You simply tug on two tabs to pop it out then push on the ends to close it up. Both actions require minimal effort (key because there is no energy or patience for anything inconvenient after a long run). The foam is definitely on the softer side, which makes this a good choice for new rollers or those who prefer a gentle touch.
—BEST FOR SHIN SPLINTS AND TIGHT CALVES—
This funky-looking bulbous roller is the brainchild of a marathon runner/foam-roller devotee who wanted to make his favorite recovery activity more effective and comfortable. Taggart Downare suffered from shin splits and found that rolling his shins and calves provided relief and helped him stay injury-free—but the act of rolling itself wasn’t necessarily a feel-good activity. Through lots of trial and error, including prototypes featuring Wiffle balls, super balls, socks, and rubber casings, Downare and his partners landed on this unique design. The grooves in the Rollga cradle your body and enable pressure to go where you want it (muscles and connective tissue) and bypass the areas where you don’t (hips, shins, spine). This makes it particularly effective because if you’re comfortable rolling, it means you’ll do it longer and more often. The creators have partnered with sports-medicine experts to create specific Rollga routines to help athletes overcome specific issues, like shin splints, back and neck pain, and IT band syndrome. These routines are featured on the company’s website and on Rollga’s own app (convenient for post-run rolling). Another perk is that the Rollga weighs in at just one pound and comes with a carrying strap, so it’s easy to take with you to the gym or on the go to races.
—BEST FOR VIBRATION—
Zyllion Vibrating Foam Roller
Sure, a traditional foam roller will do the job. After all, most studies praising foam rollers are done on minimalist, no-frills models. But once you try a vibrating version, you might find it hard to go back to basics. Simply put: It feels good. This cordless, rechargeable Zyllion roller has four different vibration settings. The beauty of that is that you can start out at the lowest setting and inch your way up to a more intense sensation as your circulation improves and your muscles relax. At the highest level, a charge lasts 2.5 hours; you’ll get a longer run time at the lower settings. It’s made of high-density foam, which is at the firmer end of the intensity spectrum. The high-density foam also means it’s durable, so it will retain its shape and won’t break down as quickly as softer models. It features three different types of surface textures, which further enables you to customize your experience (palm pressure, finger pressure, and fingertip pressure are available; each provides a different massage intensity). It comes with a mesh storage pouch with straps for carrying and storing. But it’s also fairly bulky and hefty (5.5 pounds). If you’re on the fence about the vibration, the company offers a 90-day money-back guarantee so you can shake things up risk-free.
—BEST FOR TARGETING KNOTS—
Phenom Vibrating Fitness Roller
While this model might be a little too much roller for newbies, veterans who like a hurts-so-good experience might just grimace with joy. The Phenom Vibrating Fitness Roller has firm gel-modeled knobs that are designed to dig into muscles and hit spots that traditional, smooth rollers might miss. Our testers found actively rolling with the vibration setting (even on the lowest setting) to be a little too much, particularly on tired, tender leg muscles fresh off a long run. However, the vibration feature got high marks by those who used it as a form of trigger-point therapy to target specific knots and kinks in the back and shoulders, areas that were a little less sensitive and could tolerate more intensity. For those who have tried a standard foam roller and thought it did nothing for them, this might be worth a try (the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee). The Phenom has a carrying handle, which makes it easy to take with you, and at 3.6 pounds, is lightweight as far as vibrating versions go. On a full charge, you can expect it to last three hours.
—BEST FOOT ROLLER—
Gaiam Restore Hot & Cold Foot Roller
If you’ve ever had plantar fasciitis, you’ve likely spent your fair share of time rolling your foot over a frozen water bottle. The classic home remedy is often prescribed as a way to gently massage the tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot while also relieving inflammation. And studies have shown its one of the most effective ways of treating the condition and preventing a relapse. While a frozen water bottle is certainly effective and inexpensive, this Gaiam Restore Foot Roller offers an affordable way to upgrade a simple recovery tool. Its textured surface enhances the massage sensation along your arch. And it’s designed to provide both cold and hot therapy (just place in a freezer or hot water before applying). All this said, it’s always best to consult with a medical professional. If you are experiencing foot pain and suspect its plantar fasciitis, talk to your doctor first to get a treatment plan.
—BEST ANYWHERE ROLLER—
Tiger Tail Classic Massage Stick
For those times when you want to work out sore quads and calves without getting down on the ground and using your body weight, the Tiger Tail is the best tool for the job. Prior to buying mine, I just used a rolling pin. But the Tiger Tail has some major advantages over the traditional kitchen tool in the battle against DOMS: It has comfy rubber grips that won’t shift in your hands as you press hard into sore muscles. It’s long and lightweight, and easy to angle into any part of the body. And the foam cover is just cushioned enough that you can really dig in without unnecessary suffering. No, you won’t be able to get the same level of pressure on your muscles as you would with a traditional on-the-floor roller. But for those of us who want to roll out muscle knots on the go or at a desk, the Tiger Tail can be a miracle worker. Check out the classic 18-inch version, which strikes a nice balance between the 11-inch “Roadster” and 22-inch “Long One” while still being able to reach all major muscle groups.
—SMALL BUT POWERFUL KNOT WORK—
TriggerPoint Charge Vibe
From the brand behind the popular Grid foam roller comes this compact vibrating version, which has two big humps to target some of runners’ main areas of soreness, like the calves, IT band, and the muscles around the spine. You can lower yourself onto it or just hold it in your hand comfortably—the shape of the tool, plus its textured ridges, make it easier to target those areas of soreness and really dig in as much as you can bear. Three vibration settings allow you to get just the right amount of tissue release, though the lightest setting is often enough for me. At less than 3 pounds, the whole roller is small and light enough to toss in your race bag so it’s ready to help you recover quickly as soon as you need it. And it’s rechargeable—the battery lasts up to two hours before you need to plug it in.