Foam roller : benefits & buying guide

Foam roller : benefits & buying guide

The foam roller or massage roller is a cylindrical fitness accessory used to practice self-massage, dissipate muscle-fascial tensions and to speed up recovery after a particularly intense training session, helping to prevent injuries. The foam roller is widely used by athletes in the pre and post workout , but also by non-athletes for their own well-being, practicing self-massage with the roller, in fact, improves blood circulation and can also prevent cellulite.

This fitness accessory is made of plastic covered with more or less rigid foam , it can be long, more or less thick, with more or less wide and rigid reliefs. In addition, some also have “floating points” or proprioceptive buttons to stress more painful areas, such as the cervical ( trigger points ). It is a tool that is very fashionable, inexpensive and easy to put in the bag. However, self-massaging with a foam roller requires some technique. In addition, it should be known that it can be not particularly pleasant especially in some areas of the body where for example there are accumulations of fat or after a workout as the muscles are sore.

For years, stretching has been the most effective method of decreasing muscle stiffness and improving flexibility before training or promoting recovery. However, recent studies have shown that foam roller exercises further help the body to dispose of lactic acid, relax the muscle groups and reduce the level of cortisol .

Obviously, it does not replace a decontracting massage but the roller is useful for recovery immediately after the lesson. In addition, it helps the sportsman to know his body and his sensations.

Discover the advice of fitness coach,who explains how to use the foam roller.

Foam roller: what it is

The myo-fascial roller or massage roller or foam roller in English is a plastic roller of a more or less hard density that allows you to perform deep massages thanks to the weight of the body. For example, you can position it behind the upper back in a relaxed position and rotate it back and forth using the weight of the body that presses on the roller to obtain the relaxation of the back muscles. Same thing if you want to massage calves, thighs or buttocks.

It is the weight of the body that presses the roller, causing the massage to relax the muscles in depth. Depending on the area to be treated, you can start slowly and then increase the pressure.

Why muscle recovery is important

The muscle recovery is a step often overlooked but essential in the sports program. In fact, sports recovery must be an integral part of training and must become a habit to help the body self-regenerate and become more performing. In addition to stretching, self-massage helps the athlete recover after a physical exercise.

In fact, the massage helps the sportsman to :

  • relax the muscles
  • reduce muscle pain
  • restore elasticity to the muscles.

In addition, it improves the healing of microscopic lacerations of muscle fibers caused by muscular effort that can cause soreness and pain (DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). So the self-massage with the foam roller stimulates blood circulation and promotes the elimination of toxins.

Source: adidas Runtastic

Foam roller: when and how to use it

To practice self-massage, you need to purchase a technique to master the different postures and be able to massage the various areas of the body. This requires control and knowledge of one’s body to maintain correct posture and maintain it during massage practice.

You can massage almost all muscles thanks to different positions by relaxing the different parts of the body.

The foam roller can be used before a training session to warm up the muscles but also afterwards to stretch and relax at any time of the day.

How to use it

It is important to place it in the middle of the muscular belly and not on the joints (the massage must be done only on the soft parts and not on the bones).

In addition, you must always work on one muscle group at a time with a very small range of movement i.e. small portions of muscle at a time must be massaged, seek relaxation and avoid joints.

However, it is important to position it in the middle of the muscle to make both the agonist and antagonist muscles work. For example, if you want your quadriceps to work, you need to get your ischi crural muscles working as well.

  • You must always work on a muscle group
  • seek relaxation but avoid joints.

However, once bought, it is not always easy to use it. Here are some tips to help you self-massage :

  • perform a vertical movement of back and forth on the part of the body you want to massage (back, thighs, calves, etc.)
  • use the roller on the ground or on a table
  • make small movements
  • feel the most painful point and insist several times on the stiffest part
  • 20 times repetitions for muscle groups
  • if you feel tension (muscle tense, or painful: trigger points), insist on that area.

When to use the massage roller

You can use the roller before, during and even between 2 work sessions. It is the intensity of the self-massage that is crucial. For example, before a race, the use of the foam roller must be “gentle”.

Before training

Several studies have shown that the self-massage with the foam roller has beneficial effects on joint mobility and promotes muscle warming.

Therefore, it serves to improve the amplitude of the movement but also the neuromuscular efficacy.

In addition, before training, this roller increases vascularization so the blood is sent to the muscles and facilitates muscle activation.

Discover the study on foam roller before training .

After training

It is recognized that the use of the post-workout roller promotes the restoration of lost elasticity during the effort made, decreases muscle fatigue and improves recovery. In fact, it returns the elasticity lost during the effort. It also decreases muscle fatigue and improves recovery. Finally, it helps the post-workout ‘heavy legs’ effect.

Between races

The roller could have a positive effect between 2 races when the break is long enough. For example, between 2 sprint races where the wait is about 1 hour the roller can be effective because it accelerates recovery by draining the muscles. However, on a fairly short break such as the interval of a collective sport (about 15 minutes), the benefits of the roller are not recognized.

Benefits of the foam roller

The positive effects of the foam roller are numerous but depend a lot on the model chosen and the technique. For example, using a roller with proprioceptive buttons improves blood circulation and therefore also has beneficial effects for cellulite.

In addition, the roller massage helps to decrease and prevent muscle soreness and trigger points.

This inexpensive accessory increases muscle elasticity and vascularization of tissues.

Finally, self-massage induces a feeling of relaxation after a training session but also after a day of sedentary work.

Contraindications of the foam roller

The foam roller is not recommended for those suffering from:

  • osteoporosis
  • edema
  • varices.
Foam roller: buying guide

Foam roller: buying guide

Before buying your foam roller, you need to consider 3 aspects

  • density: foam rollers are available in different densities (low, medium and high)
  • material: some rollers are smooth while others have protrusions (proprioceptive buttons) that simulate the massager’s fingers. Obviously, the smooth shape offers a more gentle massage
  • Shape and size: this choice depends on the use you want to make of it.

However, be careful because using too soft a roller can give inadequate pressure while too hard foam can cause pain and trauma.

So if you want to start using it or you want to use it for therapeutic purposes to relieve a contracture , the advice is to buy a smooth model of low / medium density because it allows a lighter massage. As your technique improves and your muscles adapt, you can decide for a high density roller or a foam roller with trigger points.

Color can also give an indication of density, in fact white is softer while black is more rigid. However, it depends on the manufacturer and the brand.

Smooth or buttoned roller?

The smooth roller ensures uniform pressure over the entire length. In addition, they are cheaper. On the other hand, the models that feature raised blocks provide a targeted massage to loosen the muscle knots. In addition, numerous models have different densities so you can find the one that best suits you.

Shape and size

There is a wide range of models with different shapes and sizes.


The long rollers (about 90 cm) are multipurpose and are an excellent choice for initial use. They are very effective for the back because they are long enough to cover the entire surface.

The important thing is to position it perpendicular to the spine. In addition, they are more stable than short rollers when massaging quadriceps, ischia crurali or other parts of the body.

Instead, the shorter ones (about 60 cm) are very effective for areas of the body such as arms and calves.

While, the smaller ones (10 to 30 cm) are very useful to carry in the bag.


Most have a diameter of 12 cm because it is a comfortable height for performing the back and forth movement. But some people choose 10 cm rollers for a deeper and more targeted massage.

1 – Semi cylinder

It looks like a massage roller cut in two. They are used to stretch legs and feet and to massage the plantar arch and in particular to relieve symptoms such as plantar fasciitis.

2 – Massage stick

It looks like a kitchen rolling pin. These rollers are very effective for massaging the legs, for relaxing the muscles and promoting blood circulation and improving cellulite. They are also suitable for massaging the upper back.

3 – Ball

They are very effective for curved areas of the body, such as the lower back and feet.

Also read our article on: Ski training to do at home

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