Foam Roller Buying Guide
What should you be looking at?
Essentially, there are three types: Polyethylene EPE, EVA and molded foam rollers.
From there we get into the brand specific ones, which tend to outlast and outperform their generic counterparts: Trigger Point Performance's The Grid 2.0, the Rumble Roller and the Epitomie Fitness Accupoint Roller.
In order to select the best foam roller for your needs ask yourself the following questions:
1) How often do you plan on using it?
I primarily do my rolling at home, so my EVA has stood the test of time, but if you're using yours several times a week avoid purchasing a generic EPE or EVA. Both of these will quickly elongate and begin to oval. If you plan on using one daily, I would spend the money and purchase a higher quality one. I've used everything from The Grid, the Rumble Roller and all three types of generic rollers, the Grid remains the most versatile on the market.
2) How long have you been rolling?
Although it varies from person to person, if you've just started, chances are it hurts like hell. If you fall under this category you can start with a standard EPE. These aren't very dense and will start to break down scar tissue and lengthen your muscles. As your scar tissue breaks down so will your EPE roller, at which time you can opt to upgrade to a superior model.
3) What area are you planning on focusing on?
I use two rollers depending on which area I'm targeting. Nothing is better than the Rumble Roller for hitting hard to reach areas such as your hip flexors or your shin muscles. The grooves can target those areas far more efficiently than any of the other options on the market place. That said, it's highly ineffective for rolling large muscles, such as your IT Band, which require longer "strokes". The reason is it doesn't roll as effectively due to it's bumps, it's easier to roll with a perfectly round model.
This is an important question you need to ask yourself. Purchasing a cheap roller is significantly better than avoiding them all together. They start in the $10-$15 range and as a result it's a relatively cost effective way to experience the benefits of deep tissue massage in the comfort of your home. If you're active and can afford to spend more, you will certainly find a more expensive model, a great investment.
I decided to review the EPE, EVA and Molded foam rollers together because they're all quite similar. You can buy them in a variety of lengths and sizes, the most common being 6″ X 36″. They're relatively inexpensive and a great introduction to the practice of self-myofascial release. If you're finding that you begin rolling on a daily basis you'll quickly notice all three of these options lose shape very quickly. EPE rollers are made out of Polyethylene which is used in a variety of manufactured goods. It breaks down rather quickly, and if used consistently enough could be deformed in as little as a month (depending on your size, weight and usage of course). EVA is a fairly durable foam which allows it to keep it's shape for a longer period of time relative to EPEs. They have a glossy finish and are more aesthetically appealing than their cheaper cousins. Molded rollers are made of expanded polypropylene, which is a little more rigid and heavy duty than either the EPE or EVAs. Molded foam is a newer material being used in the industry. If you're a larger individual, these will tend to work better than their counterparts because they won't deform as much during their day to day usage.
Comes in two models, blue (original) and black (x-firm) with black being the denser of the two options. Generally speaking, the black option is too firm for most individuals. It's definitely for the more advanced users, or those who have dense muscle mass and a high tolerance to pain. It's one of the most expensive rollers on the market, but will outlast most of them as well. A key distinction is the square grooves which were designed to feel more like a massage than a conventional roller could achieve. This has added value for some applications including targeting your feet and your hips. However, I find the square grooves to be a little excessive on larger areas such as your hamstring or quadriceps. It's sold in three sizes, standard, compact and extra compact.
Provides a middle ground between the ridges that the rumble roller provides and the smoothness that a conventional roller offers. The "grid" surface varies over the length of it, which helps to target smaller hard to reach areas such as your hips. Created by Trigger Point Performance Therapy, it's quickly become one of the most popular models on the market. Trigger Point has a whole line of massage therapy tools, but the Grid is definitely they're claim to fame, and continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the industry. It's sold in a variety of sizes ranging from a conventional 6″ X 36″ down to a 5″ X 5.5″ mini roller suitable for traveling.