Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

From Runner’s World

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.

How We Tested

Every foam roller on this list has been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We’ve spent hours using these rollers for warming up and activating tight muscles prerun, rehabbing sore calves, targeting lingering backaches and knots, and massaging tired quads and hamstrings post-long run. In addition, we ranked each roller’s intensity on a one-to-five scale based on its firmness, which we measured by taking the average of three readings using a Shore durometer. We also considered the various textures and surface construction of each roller, taking note of rollers that provided nodules, protrusions, channels, and grooves designed specifically for deep-tissue work, and we noted any additional features, like heat or vibration. The foam rollers below are the top performers over a wide range of intensities that also received high marks for their quality, price, design, and ease of use.


OPTP Pro-Roller

Overall Intensity: 1.5 out of 5

For those just getting started with foam rolling, it’s hard to go wrong with this model from OPTP. The company makes some of the professional-grade rollers that you’ll find in a PT’s office, clinics, gyms, and yoga studios. That means they are designed to withstand constant repeated use daily from dozens of people, so rest assured that these are made of durable quality EVA that will last. Although the foam is the softest we tested, it’s not overly squishy and won’t crush or pack out as you are using it. Plus, the lightly textured surface has a tread that provides extra grip so you won’t slide around if you’re wiggling around on a slick wood floor or tile at home. We like that it comes in a variety of lengths and styles (there’s also a half-dome option) to accommodate specific movements and a wide variety of exercises and poses. Veteran rollers may want a little more intensity, but our testers still found that the OPTP offered excellent versatility for hitting more muscle groups.


MojiHeat Massage Roller

Overall Intensity: 3.5 out of 5

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.


Roll Recovery R4

Overall Intensity: 4 out of 5

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.



Overall Intensity: 3 out of 5

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.


LuxFit High-Density Foam Roller

Overall Intensity: 3.5 out of 5

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.


TriggerPoint Grid

Overall Intensity: 2.5 out of 5

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.


TriggerPoint Rush

Overall Intensity: 4 out of 5

From the brand behind the popular Grid foam roller comes this new version, which has grooves to target some of runners’ main areas of soreness, like the calves, IT band, and the muscles around the spine. (For those who have tried the Grid and thought it didn’t do enough for them, this might be worth a try.) The high, firm ridges are designed to reach and engage underlying muscle tissues more deeply—called “shearing”—to work out tightness, alleviate soreness, and boost blood flow. While it might be a bit too aggressive for those just starting out, our testers who used the roller regularly found that it did seem to help their legs feel fresher the morning after a hard workout, and thought it helped them loosen up tight hammies better before heading out on chilly morning runs before the sun. The only thing we disliked is that we would have liked some longer length options to reach larger muscle groups, like the glutes and lower back, more easily.



Overall Intensity: 4 out of 5

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.


Brazyn Morph Trek Collapsible Roller

Overall Intensity: 3 out of 5

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 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.


Rollga Standard Density Foam Roller

Overall Intensity: 3.5 out of 5

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.


Zyllion Vibrating Foam Roller

Overall Intensity: 4 out of 5

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.


Gaiam Restore Hot & Cold Foot Roller

Overall Intensity: Variable by use

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.


Tiger Tail Classic Massage Stick

Overall Intensity: Variable by use

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.

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