How many times have you seen someone at the gym using a foam roller to recover? It’s become part of the regular routine, and for good reason: Foam rollers work.
“Ideally you should get a massage every couple of days to keep your muscles healthy, particularly if you’re a runner,” says Raechel Bugner, DPT, of Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City. “No one has time for money for that, but foam rolling takes its place.”
Foam rollers are simple to use, and they’re effective in keeping muscles loose and well-hydrated. A hard knot in the muscle is a spot that’s not getting great blood flow, Bugner explains. Foam rolling compresses the muscle to direct blood flow to the area in need so the muscle can function at its best.
One tip to get the most out of your session, says Bugner: “Roll as slowly as you can.” One of the biggest misconceptions is that you need to roll back and forth quickly—and you might witness well-intentioned gym goers doing this. You’ll boost your benefits by moving in a controlled way, even if it hurts.
If you’re just getting the hang of foam rollers, you’re already a step ahead if you’re using one. But considering you can buy them in a variety of colors, with or without grids or knobs, or even ones that vibrate, it helps to have an expert in your corner giving you the 411 on the one that’s just right for you. Here are five different types to consider:
If you’re just dipping your toes (or, rather, that achy quad) in the foam rolling waters, grab a traditional white foam roller. “This is great for someone who is less active or new to foam rolling,” says Bugner. They are softer than some styles, but still firm and not flimsy.
Buy it: $5, amazon.com
Related: These Are The 4 Best Leg Exercises For People Who Want To See Serious Results
If you tense up when you use a foam roller (ugh, it hurts too much!), go for a vibrating model, like the HyperIce Vyper, which offers three speeds. “Vibration helps your muscles relax,” says Bugner. “The vibrating sensation travels to your brain faster than the pain sensation,” she explains, which makes the process more tolerable.
Buy it: $179, amazon.com
Improve flexibility and fend off injury with this yoga sequence for everyday athletes:
Look for a grid pattern, like TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller. “The grid helps get into the muscles a bit deeper,” says Bugner. Just be careful not to get one that’s too crazy-spiky, as she adds that she’s seen patients come in with bruises from overusing them. Bonus: Grids also have a plastic inner circle, ensuring it maintains its shape over time. You can also stuff running shoes and clothes into the roller when you’re on the go, she adds.
Buy it: $38, amazon.com
Related: The Truth About Whether Foam Rolling Can Get Rid Of Your Cellulite
Go for a standard black foam roller, which is a higher density version. With more firmness, you can drive more compression into tense muscles with each roll. That said, if you try one of these out and just can’t seem to relax, go back to the softer white one, Bugner advises.
Buy it: $20, bedbathandbeyond.com
Related: 7 Recovery Day Mistakes You Might Be Making
You may be tempted to pick up the shortest foam roller you can find to stuff in your suitcase, but if space is an issue, opt for a 12-inch-long roller, says Bugner. Any smaller, and it’ll be difficult to fit your quad on it. The Spri Eva Foam Roller is small enough to tote in your bag, but big enough to get the job done.
Buy it: $25, amazon.com