Choosing the best foam roller for you

best foam rollerFoam rollers are essential. Everyone should have one, or at least have regular access to one, whatever your walk of life. Why? Because foam rollers are such inexpensive tools with massively useful application. If you’re new to foam rolling, you might not know which roller to choose, though. They come in many different materials and sizes, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Shopping by brand

When it comes to foam rolling, the material and size of the roller is what matters. Both of these details should be readily available for any foam roller product on offer. Beyond those details, brands don’t matter. As you’ll see, you can roll on a brandless piece of pipe if it’s the right density and dimensions.


Best material of foam roller

The cheapest foam rollers available are basic white foam rollers, made from polyurethrane. Which is the same kind of foam used in paint rollers. They break down easily and need replacing often, so these are not a cost effective solution.

The best type of foam roller, for general use, is one that is “closed cell”. Using expanded polypropylene, often black in colour, these are high density and therefore at the higher end of firmness. They are the best value, and mine hasn’t broken down after 5 years of extensive use. All beginners should strive to use a roller like this.

However, being quite firm, these rollers may be too touch for a total beginner with serious tissue quality problems. In this case, you might consider using an ethylene vinyl acetate foam roller, which tend to be softer than the “closed cell” variety. They won’t break down, but they also won’t give you as effective long term benefits as a denser material like expanded polypropylene.


Or you could use a pipe

For experienced users, you can graduate to something even firmer, such as a simple piece of PVC drainage pipe (approximately 4”, or 10cm, in diameter is best). Available from any good hardware store, pipes are good for experienced users on the upper legs. Beginners could also use a pipe on the lower legs, as it is difficult to get significant bodyweight through the roller the ends of your limbs.

When you can handle a roller as firm as a PVC pipe, it is the best solution. But it takes a lot of work to reach that stage.


Speciality rollers

There are a number of different styles of foam rollers out there, as well as strange and frightening variations such as the Rumble Roller. Most of these have their own merits, but for very specific uses, so the best option is to read up on each and understand why you would specifically use one.

However, for general use it is difficult to improve on the PVC pipe, if you can get used to it, or the “closed cell” roller, for its clear value and adaptability. Even if you do graduate to the pipe, there are likely some exercises that the closed cell roller will be better for, such as adductor rolling (as seen in our videos).


Best size of foam roller

The size you choose will mostly depend on how much space you have, but generally in foam rolling the longer the roller you can accommodate the better. This is because a longer roller is easier to use for upper back work and for manoeuvring. Typically the longer roller available is 36”, or 90cm, long. For those with little space, or who need a foam roller for travelling, there are many shorter lengths available, but be prepared to make adjustments when positioning for rolling. For diameter, always aim for around 6”, or 15cm, although with your PVC pipe 4”, or 10cm, is better for a greater point of pressure.

Always get a full round roller. Half foam rollers are not “rollers” as they do not roll. They have a completely different use –which we don’t require for our training.

Now you have the knowledge, purchase the best foam roller for you and get rolling.

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5 Responses to Choosing the best foam roller for you

  1. Chris, I just started a site all about foam rollers and I was wondering if I could get an interview with you. You would be a valuable addition to my “Expert Series” for everything related to knees.


  2. Pingback: Foam rolling interview: who should use a foam roller? -

  3. Foam rollers are like free massages, especially after intensive training. I like them long enough for the back work and there’s more maneuverability. I have yet to try a PVC pipe though.
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  4. JB says:

    A pipe is pretty intense I think? I’ve never tried it, but I imagine it’d be pretty painful.

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