Let’s start with a disclaimer: Though it’s widely believed to be a great way to prepare for physical activity, reduce soreness and improve range of motion, foam rolling (soft-tissue self-massage) has yet to be scientifically proven on a mass scale to be effective. There are smaller studies that conclude it has merit, and you’ll certainly get the anecdotally backed praises from most personal trainers. But foam rolling is still somewhat of a mystery.
“I like to think of it like this: If you feel better for doing it, and you think it’s improving your flexibility or athletic performance, then it’s probably worth doing,” says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear. “People have been getting massages for centuries for general wellness. Foam rolling increases blood flow, muscle temperature and seems to help a lot of people improve their flexibility. I certainly recommend it.”
Just remember these tips if you do roll:
(1) Roll slow. You need to compress the tissue, not just roll gently over the surface.
(2) Avoid rolling over joints and the two floating ribs at the bottom of your rib cage.
(3) Don’t just roll up and down in the direction of the muscle fiber. Move diagonally and side to side when possible.
And if you’re in the market for a quality self-massage tool, here are a few of the best foam rollers we’ve found to consider.
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Technically, this is not a roller. Its unique teardrop shape is intended to let a user rock slightly back and forth instead of rolling, to get a deeper and more precise massage. Its three-sided shape also allowed designers to equip it with three different degrees of firmness, so you can increase intensity as your tissue becomes more accustomed to the pressure.
Available at trxtraining.com
This roller offers two degrees of firmness (half the surface is smooth and the other is grooved), but what separates it from its competition is that it vibrates. A 40-watt motor inside helps give you a stronger massage, even when you’re not rolling back and forth.
Available at hyperice.com
Some parts of the body are really hard to work with a large foam roller, such as the upper part of your quadriceps or the flexors in your forearms. And if you’re traveling, you’re probably not going to take a roller with you. That’s where a massage stick comes in handy. This portable tool has a three-dimensional surface and the right texture to hit those spots neglected by a roller.
Available at triggerpoint.com