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The best foam rollers for runners

Give your muscles and joints some TLC with one of these self-massage devices

best foam rollers for runners

Walk into any runner's bedroom or living room and you'll likely spot a foam roller lying on the floor. These nifty (if often rather pain-inducing) devices not only make you look like a pro – but are actually one of the most useful pieces of kit you can own as a runner.

Foam rolling can reduce pre- and post-workout muscle soreness, and improve your range of motion, as shown by multiple studies. It's therefore a great way to recover post run – bringing a great sense of relief to achy muscles and joints – and can also help you limber up before heading out the door.

What is the benefit of foam rolling?

Foam rolling increases your range of motion by helping to stretch muscles and fascia (the tissue that surrounds your muscle fibres) that have become shortened. It does this by breaking down scar tissue within the muscle and working into the fascia that has become stiff and tight, to separate the tissue and make it more flexible.

As the shortening of muscles and fascia can cause painful trigger points – or knots – this stretching and lengthening process can help to alleviate pain after your run, while also increasing blood flow, providing your muscles with more nutrients and oxygen to help them repair.

Is a bumpy or smooth foam roller better?

Some rollers are textured – featuring a variety of surface textures and patterns to mimic the feeling of palms, fingers and fingertips during a massage. These are designed specifically for deep-tissue work, pushing into knots and pressure points more deeply than traditional flat-surfaced foam rollers.

For this reason, flat-surfaced foam rollers are less intense and so are a good option for those who are new to foam rolling, or want a more relaxed feeling on tender muscles after a hard workout.

Which foam roller is best?

In recent years there has been an explosion in the range of foam rollers for runners. Here's what to consider when selecting yours.

Firmness: The firmer the roller, the more intense the pressure, so it's worth looking at the density of the roller before buying. Digging into sore muscles after a tough run can involve some initial discomfort and it takes some getting used to, so beginners might want to opt for a softer foam roller, at least at first.

Texture: As with firmness, the texture of a roller will determine the level of intensity. This can range from a smooth (gentler) surface, to a knobbly or ridged (really intense) one. Those with a knobbly surface get deeper into the fascia and are great at really working into those trigger points.

Size/portability: If you simply can’t do without your roller at your next destination race or on holiday, you'll want something that fits in a suitcase or backpack. Stick rollers and massage balls are also good options in this respect, with the latter being particularly effective at getting into smaller, more localised tight spots. Larger rollers, however, are markedly better at working larger areas, such as the back.

Vibration: Some foam rollers on the market now include vibration, which is said to make them more effective at boosting circulation and penetrating deep into muscles. The vibration effect is also thought to minimise pain.

What are the best foam rollers for runners?

Decathlon Domyos

Best for: Value

Massage and Mobility Roller - Soft
Domyos decathlon.co.uk
£14.99

There are no bells or whistles here, just a solidly made roller for a bargain price. It features dual textures – larger knobbles running down the centre for broad pressure across large muscles; and smaller, diamond-shaped bits along each side, should you need to go a bit deeper to target kinks in tighter muscles. Comes in a choice of firmness – soft or hard.


TriggerPoint Grid

Best for: Durability

    Grid Foam Roller
    Triggerpoint amazon.co.uk
    £33.99

    A classic design that has remained the same for years – a sign that the makers got this bestselling roller right from the get-go. The different zones are designed to act like different parts of the hand – ranging from low and flat areas to spread pressure like the palm; to tubular ridges like the fingers; and higher, smaller knobbles that act like the fingertips for more targeted pressure. It’s a relatively firm roller, so all zones are good for getting stuck into those pesky tight spots. One of our testers has had this model for more than five years and it is still in like-new condition, despite dedicated use.


    Theragun Wave

    Best for: Smartphone-controlled vibration

    Theragun Waveroller Smart Foam Roller
    Therabody selfridges.com
    £99.00

    Adding vibration to foam rolling is thought to cause certain proprioceptors (sensors in the muscle) to allow tissues to relax and loosen, enabling deeper muscle stimulation and increased range of motion. It also helps to boost blood flow, which can help warm up beforehand and boost recovery after a run. This vibrating foam roller is controlled by a smartphone app, linked via Bluetooth, and features five speed/intensity settings to cover all your bases, from a gentle tingle up to full muscle trembler. The app also comes complete with a variety of exercise programmes and can guide you through each move. Offers three hours of battery life on a full charge.


    Brazyn Morph Collapsible Foam Roller

    Best for: Travel

    Morph Foam Roller
    Brazyn amazon.co.uk
    £59.00


    Super handy for taking on the road to destination races, or just to keep you loose while on holiday, this ingenious roller packs flat to less than two inches in height and weighs only 680g, meaning it’s easily stowed in a suitcase or even a backpack. Pull strings at each end to lock it into its expanded form, which can support almost 160kg in weight. It’s 36.8cm long, so big enough for legs and back. When you’re finished, you just push firmly on the discs at the ends of the roller to pack it back down.


    Lululemon Double Roller

    Best for: Versatility

    Double roller
    Lululemon lululemon.co.uk
    £39.00

    With this neatly designed roller, you get two for the price of one. The exterior tube, featuring wave-patterned ridges, is ideal for applying broader pressure across larger muscles such as your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes. Nestling inside the outer tube is a more aggressively textured roller, with defined ridges that are perfect for targeting knots and tighter spots - if you’re feeling brave enough.


    Pulseroll Vibrating Foam Roller

    Best for: Targeting larger muscle groups

    Vibrating Foam Roller
    Pulseroll pulseroll.com
    £104.00

    In addition to helping muscles relax, vibration – when combined with rolling – can help raise the temperature of the fascia and muscles, further loosening up the tissues and joints. This extremely powerful vibrating roller from Pulseroll has five power settings – the lowest working well on tired and tender muscles and the highest providing the most intensive treatment (don't use this mode straight away!). It's longer than a lot of foam rollers (8cm longer than Pulseroll's classic foam roller), so works well when used on the upper back and also means you can roll both quads at the same time. It also comes with a handheld remote, so when you've gotten yourself into a nice position you don't need to extract yourself out of it just to adjust the vibration level.


    The Stick

    Best for: Convenience

    The Stick - 17 and 20"
    The Stick amazon.co.uk
    £137.52

    For those times when you want to work on your sore quads without getting down on the ground - if you are sitting at a desk, for example - a stick roller can be a handy addition to your rehab toolbox – and it’ll certainly do a better job than the rolling pin from your kitchen. It has textured grips that won’t shift in your hands as you press hard into sore muscles, while the central section features eight rotating spindles that roll independently over the muscle. It’s also got a bit of bend, meaning you can exert just the right amount of pressure. It comes in multiple sizes - from 17" (which is great for travel) through to 30".


    Rumble Roller

    Best for: Targeting knots and tight spots

    RumbleRoller Textured Muscle Foam Roller
    RumbleRoller amazon.co.uk
    £97.00

    It might look like a monster truck tyre crossed with a medieval torture device, but the aggressive knobbles of the Rumble Roller are designed to push into knots and tight spots deeper than traditional flat-surfaced rollers. While this will certainly turn up the pain/pleasure dial further than other options, it’s worth noting that while the nubs are firm, they do have some give, which enables them to move round, and not dig into, bony areas. It's available in a range of sizes – from 12" to 31".


    Rollga

    Best for: Reaching specific areas

    Rollga Foam Roller – Hard, 45cm
    Rollga amazon.co.uk
    £41.32

    The unique design of this roller has a purpose beyond looking different from standard tubes – the grooves in the Rollga are designed to enable pressure to go where you want it (muscles and connective tissue) and bypass the areas where you don’t (bones and tendons). The central indentation, for example, is designed to nestle your spine while you’re rolling your back muscles. This makes it particularly effective, because if you’re comfortable rolling, you’ll do it longer and more often. This is the hard version, but there's also a softer version available, for a less intense massage experience.


    Best foot rollers and massage balls


    Gaiam Restore hot & cold foot roller

    Best for: Plantar fasciitis and tired feet

    Gaiam Restore Unisex's Hot and Cold Foot Massage Roller-Grey, One Size
    Gaiam amazon.co.uk
    £22.81

    Ideal for providing relief from plantar fasciitis, or just to massage tired feet after a long run, the textured surface of this foot roller – featuring both an undulating surface to fit into the arch and small raised dots to provide a kneading effect – enhances the massage sensation. It’s designed to provide both cold and hot therapy (just place in a freezer or hot water before applying), with the roller maintaining temperature for up to 30 minutes.


    Riixo Ice Ball

    Best for: Cool relief

    Riixo Recovery Ice and Heat Ball
    Riixo amazon.co.uk
    £32.00

    A steel ball with a liquid core, housed inside a silicone hand grip. Stick this in the freezer while you’re out on your long run and feel the bliss when you roll out those sore spots on your return. Or place the ball in hot water for five to 10 minutes for some toasty heat therapy on cold toes.


    Meglio spiky massage balls

    Best for: Getting into trigger points

    Spikey Massage Balls, Set of 3
    Meglio johnlewis.com
    £7.50

    Each one of these balls has a different density, so you can use them on different parts of the body. The spiky surface gets deep into the muscle fascia, effectively releasing tightness and stiffness, and they work well for use on the back and shoulders.


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