Are you on the lookout for a foam roller? It’s natural to think of choosing one as a simple task at first. However, be warned that there is a wide range of options available in the market. Although this may seem like a good thing at first, trying to pick a single type out of so many can really wear you down.
Here we’ll discuss everything you need to know about foam rollers, from choosing a single type for your gym to their durability and features.
The following buying guide for foam rollers discusses this product extensively. While you may call it a back roller, exercise roller, or muscle roller etc, here it’s referred to as foam roller. All information about the product has been researched and gathered by consulting experienced professionals in the foam roller industry. This can help you make an informed decision for your own fitness center.
Table of Contents
1. Foam Roller Types
1.1 Foam Roller Types by Material
Polyethylene (PE) Rollers
Being easy to locate and buy without breaking the bank, PE rollers can be a good choice as your first foam rollers. They are softer than most rollers, however, they may not last long since they get warped with time.
If you’re still new to buying foam rollers, these can be a good choice for the time being. Available in a range of lengths and diameters, PE rollers often have shorter lives than harder materials, getting flat or looking squished after some use. An advantage of such rollers is that their softness causes them to bear the weight of beginners or heavy people without much reactionary force for a more comfortable roll.
Being thermoplastic, polyethylene is eco-friendly as well. It can be recycled and does not leave any byproducts upon being burned either. While there are many kinds of polyethylene, the one used to make foam rollers is often more dense. The higher strength and stiffness means that you’ll require a hardy medium to make rolling possible on it. An important thing to note is that PE foam rollers continue to become softer with each use.
Expanded polypropylene (EPP) Rollers
Foam rollers made of EPP beads are of great quality while still being reasonably priced. Their versatility enables them to be used by different kinds of people. EPP rollers strike a good balance between durability and price, making them a great choice for beginners while being able to offer good use to pros as well.
EPP rollers are modern products with better resistance to wear and higher firmness and density. While they have excellent durability, they might feel very stiff to some people. Although they may not offer the superior durability of EVA, they’re made to last a lot longer than polyethylene foam.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA)
Other forms of foam rollers are incomparable with EVA, thanks to its superior durability. These are made to bear intense forces while being used throughout the day in places like gyms, clinics, and wellness centers for activities like pilates.
EVA rollers weigh less, absorb shock, and stay in good shape for longer periods. While they usually have average firmness, their high-density form is available too, offering extra firmness.
EVA could be your best choice for foam rollers due to its soft, elastic, and rubber-like nature. Differently manufactured EVA can be either stiff or compressible, adding to the variety of foam rollers.
1.2 Foam Roller Types by Density
An important property to know about foam rollers before choosing one is their density. Density directly influences the compressibility, firmness, and cushioning of a roller, all of which are pretty much the same. Foam rollers are classified as being soft (less dense), standard (medium density) and firm (more dense). Newbies are usually better off with softer rollers while regular exercisers can choose standard or firm ones.
Weighing the least of all rollers out there, these have greater ‘give’, which means they have the best cushioning ability. Therefore, if you’re more concerned about comfort, soft low density rollers are the ones to get. As opposed to a deep massage by more dense rollers, these are lighter on the muscles and can be ideal for sensitive people who don’t need deep muscle conditioning.
Being mostly available as white rollers, these can be found in a range of sizes. It is still recommended to recheck the roller packaging and confirm if it’s low density instead of simply relying on color coding.
Standard rollers are an intermediate choice between low and high density rollers. They’re generally blue or green, and are best used during aerobics to stabilize the core. The versatile nature of these rollers makes them suited to both massage and workouts.
Medium density rollers strike a good balance between massage depth and cushioning. These may still be painful for newbies due to their medium-intensity tissue massaging potential.
If you need the ultimate intense tissue massage, high density rollers are the way to go. These firm rollers can loosen up stiff muscles by massaging deep tissue, often helpful for hardcore exercisers and athletes. They’re known for a phenomenon called ‘myofascial release’ where they can treat the worst constrictions of the fascia (the network of fibrous sheaths surrounding your muscles).
Firm rollers are usually either black or dark in color. While they may maintain their form longer than soft and standard density rollers, they’re tougher on your tissues as well. As beginner rollers, these can be hard to use and often may cause pain for most, if not all, newbies.
2. Foam Roller Physical Properties
Hollow vs Solid Rollers
It’s not uncommon for hollow and solid rollers to feel the same. What is important to consider is the firmness of a roller. Hollow rollers may feel firmer if they have been reinforced with plastic cylinders on the inside. They’re also better suited to traveling since they occupy lesser space in bags or luggage.
Open Cell vs Closed Cell Rollers
Both open and closed-cell rollers are constructed differently. The open-cell variety, while offering the same kind of massage and exercise, isn’t that durable. That is why closed-cell rollers are recommended so that you can avail them to the max without them breaking down.
Shape & Size
Foam rollers are available in a range of sizes as well. The most commonly found rollers are full-sized cylinders, but there are other sizes – and shapes – out there as well. Below is some info about the various sizes of rollers to help you understand their different uses.
Round Foam Rollers
Standard Full-size Rollers
This is the average foam roller you’d picture at first. Such typical rollers are approximately 3 feet long with a 6”diameter. These are very versatile, being suitable for physiotherapy, working out, and massaging of large muscle groups such as those in your thighs or back.
The 36-inch length of these rollers makes them great for floor exercises such as Pilates where they are placed right underneath your spine, and other such balancing and strength training moves.
For travel-friendly rollers that can be easily carried along to any fitness center or wellness clinic, shorter ones can be the right choice. These can also be helpful when you only need to focus on specific muscle groups like your IT band area, calves, or gluteus muscles.
The thickness of the majority of such rollers is equal to that of full-sized ones (around 6 inches in diameter). They vary in length, usually being 1 or 2 feet long.
- Superior stability and versatility
- Useful for placement under the entire length of your spine
- Can target all your muscles with no extra room required
- Suitable for working specific areas like your arms or legs
- Strikes a good balance between versatility and portability, hence a good midway choice between short and long length rollers
- Best suited to minor muscle groups when you need to target a small, specific area for relief
- Suitable for use on the feet in conditions such as plantar fasciitis
- Ideal portability due to its compact nature which also allows you to use it in limited spaces
Smaller Diameter Rollers
These rollers offer better stability since they’re closer to the ground, being around 4 inches in diameter. Such rollers can work well for the elderly, people undergoing physiotherapy, or those who struggle with balancing. This is because they provide a more even, secure feel during use, and can be controlled easily as compared to thicker rollers.
- These are widely available as standard foam rollers and should be chosen if you only need to buy one roller.
- These are the most versatile, being able to be used for any kind of foam roller application.
- These work better for deeper massages on hard-to-reach areas, in comparison with the 6” ones.
- They are user-friendly and easier to control while providing stability by keeping you nearer to the floor.
Half Flattened Rollers
These are semicircular in cross section and can be ideal for balancing and core workouts. While many different shapes are available, the most common size is 3 feet long with a 3” diameter, flat on one side like a semicircle.
A range of activities are made easier with such rollers, such as yoga, physiotherapy, pilates, and Feldenkrais. Moreover, you can even massage the arches of your feet by standing up on them. Mostly all the applications of round rollers are also possible with half flattened rollers.
Another important property to consider when buying a foam roller is its surface. Here you’ll have to decide between two kinds – smooth ones, or textured rollers.
For foam roller newbies, smooth ones are the way to go. These tend to maintain a balanced pressure throughout the area being massaged. This way, the impact is not as powerful as that with textured rollers, making them suitable for first-timers to see if they can handle this much pressure before moving on to textured rollers. A further advantage is the lower cost due to the simpler manufacturing of smooth rollers.
These are available in a range of different shapes and sizes. Their bumpy surfaces actively work to trigger your muscles, making them ideal for self-massage. While various manufacturers offer different texture patterns, one thing to note is that bigger ridges and increasingly prominent points will directly influence massage intensity.
Any prominences or raised points on your roller’s surface offer deeper and intense muscle conditioning to relieve stiffness and ease soreness.
This is not as intense as wavy texture, offering more subtle relief and increasing circulation through lighter activation of muscles.
Universal color coding does exist for foam rollers of different firmness, and most brands offer rollers that conform with it.
Being the softest rollers of the lowest density, these can be good for beginners.
Medium-density rollers are usually colorful. If you need more than just light pressure, go for rollers that are blue, green, red, orange or other bright colors.
The highest-density rollers are usually black, being firm enough to offer deep self-massages.
3. Buying Tips and Traps to Avoid
- Always cross-check the density of a roller on its packaging instead of simply assuming that it follows the color code.
- Closed-cell rollers maintain their shape longer than open-celled ones which aren’t as durable.
- It is common to feel some pain, but that should resolve in half an hour or so. Pain or irritation that stays for longer is a cause for concern.
- PE foam rollers manufactured in ‘one piece’ should be preferred over those manufactured in ‘two pieces’. These can stay in good condition for a longer time. Check the ends of any PE roller, and if you notice an inner circle, it indicates two-piece construction. These become warped quite soon, aren’t much firm, and may break down due to separation of the inner and outer parts.
While choosing the kind of foam rollers to get for your gym users can be challenging, it is a necessary step. The right kind of roller will make sessions at your gym worthwhile by being effective and easy to use. If a roller isn’t good quality or simply not the right variety, it can go ignored and may even lower the morale of those trying to use it.
In case you still have any concerns about foam roller purchase, comment below and we’ll answer your queries soon.
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