How to Choose a Foam Roller – Best Picks For Fascia Release

My wish for each and every one of us is that we learn to trust our body, listen to its messages and in doing so become unstoppable.

I love that word – unstoppable – because to me it means that no matter what, we are committed to feeling our best and doing what we love. It does NOT mean being reckless or stupid and pushing our body past its limits only to become sidelined for months. It does not mean we are so superhuman we never have pain.

Being unstoppable means we’re committed to doing what we love, and when pain does rear its head, we know how to figure out what is going on and give our body what it needs as quickly as possible so we can get back out there to our trails, ski slopes, mountaintops or the simple joys of playing with the kids in our lives without worry.

One of your secret weapons against all those aches, pains and injuries is going to be your trusty foam roller.

The question I’ve been asked the most is:

“What kind of foam roller should I buy?”

This episode is for all of you struggling to decide which one is right for you.

If you’ve already figured out the best foam roller for yourself but you know someone else wondering what to buy…share this post and help a friend out.

It’s all right there in the video, but if you want a little more help in deciding…

Torture with a side of torture? Just say “NO!”

Like I mention in the video, first of all…forget about all those fancy looking torture devices with the grooves and knobs. My understanding is they are intended to “melt” trigger points or otherwise really “dig in” to your muscle tissue (or fascia), in order to “loosen it up.” I’m using quotations because I don’t believe any of those things are a) possible, or b) helpful.

Most people I know (including myself), get on those rollers and shriek because it hurts so much. Spend a few minutes on them and you might get really sore and/or bruised. Some people say this is ok, even a good sign that you’re “breaking up the tissues.” I am NOT one of those people.

In any case, these rollers are NOT going to be good for my style of “pin and stretch” rolling. Yikes. OUCH. Nope. Don’t do it!

There is “GOOD” torture and “BAD” torture. Know the difference!

I believe the healthiest methods of fascial release will leave you feeling instantly BETTER than before, without ADDING any more “suckiness” to your body. These GOOD methods of torture might suck big time WHILE you’re doing them, but they will NOT leave you sore and bruised. (My clients often say they hate me during a session, but then they hug me after; and they rarely get sore).

Soreness and bruising is a sign of mild damage being created in the tissues, so even IF you are doing some good, you are also causing a bit of damage.

This is my personal and professional opinion, and I’m sure a lot of people out there will disagree with me. I know a lot of people that LOVE and swear by those deep tissue massages that leave them sore for days (not me). To that I say: whatever floats your boat! If you love it, keep it. That goes for those grooved and knobby rollers. But if you’ve been waiting for permission to stop torturing yourself, then here it is: I hereby give you permission to say “NO” to the “bad” kind of torture. (The “good” kind is bad enough!)

If you happen to get sore using a soft roller, you may be overdoing it, or if it’s really intense you might be tensing up your muscles in response, in which case your muscles are fighting what’s happening, and that can cause soreness. So if you get sore…back off the weight, the amount of time on the roller, don’t hang out on one spot too long and as necessary, modify what you’re doing.

If you’re NEW to foam rolling, or new to using rollers for fascial release:

softrollerI recommend buying the softest roller to start with. You can always work your way up to a harder one.

I also recommend this one for upper body techniques such as the lat release. If you’re putting weight on sensitive areas like your ribs, or you want to roll your upper back, then I recommend this one (I NEVER ever recommend rolling the low back by the way, and I shudder at the idea of rolling it out with a hard roller or god forbid, a knobby one).

I also recommend this one if you’re specifically going to use it for the calf crushing technique to relieve plantar fasciitis, shin splits etc.

Click to buy on Amazon (These are affiliate links)

If you’ve been using a soft roller and want to upgrade to a harder one:

I recommend this standard, original black foam roller for most beginners and those who started on a soft roller and want to upgrade.

If you ARE a beginner and you plan to use your foam roller for upper body techniques AND/or specifically for the calf crush technique for relieving plantar fasciitis, heel pain etc, then I recommend starting with the SOFT roller.

Otherwise…this one is great for all leg techniques, and you can certainly use it for the lat release – just be forewarned that if you’re new to that technique and are really tight and/or have very sensitive ribs, you’ll have to modify that one until you can handle the harder roller.

Click to buy on Amazon

My top choice for the hardest roller:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an online source for the exact roller I show you in the video. But I found something that looks like very similar. (Click here for a link to purchase).

I like this one because it’s super hard but has just a little bit of give.

If you’ve completely mastered the soft roller and it doesn’t hurt AT ALL anymore (or on most techniques anyway), you could probably skip the middle roller and add this one to your toolbox.

You may end up – like me – using the soft roller for the upper body and calf crusher, and the hard roller for quads, regular calf release, IT Band etc.

The main REASON for choosing a harder roller:

My opinion is probably going to be different than what you’ll hear from most other people. Most of the time, talk of harder foam rollers has to do with the idea of “crushing” your tissue and forcing it to soften up as quickly as possible, even if it sucks way more and bruising happens in the process. I don’t subscribe to that philosophy.

Choosing a harder foam roller for self fascial release has to do with compression force: the less your weight – when applied to a roller – is absorbed by the roller, then the more compression force you can generate, and the better the release. So, the softer the roller, the more it will absorb your weight and thus offer less compression force.

It’s important that, whatever foam roller you decide on, you can PIN yourself to the roller and not slide around on it. For this reason I do NOT recommend PVC pipes, unless you cover it in a tape that allows for some grip.

Another important thing to consider: make sure you buy a foam roller that you will ACTUALLY USE. If you buy a harder one thinking you’re tough, but it sucks so much you can barely bring yourself to use it – then it’s not doing much good! So…start wherever you are, and work your way up when you’re ready.

I hope this has been helpful!

As always, if you have questions or comments then I’d love to hear from you.

And if you found this helpful, then please “like” and share it!

Do you have any New Year intentions for your body and/or life? I’d love to hear them!

Mine are:

To move my body every day, doing things that bring me joy and FEEL FUN. I want to try aerial dance or aerial yoga. And…

To discover and/or create the most cutting edge methods in the world for feeling unstoppable. To that end, I’ll be seeking out experts leading innovations in the realm of fascial release, neuropsychology and neurobiology, movement and re-patterning in all these realms. I’ll be reporting to you everything I discover. And I want to teach my first group of students, so more people who need expert help can get out of pain fast. It’s going to be a great year!

If you liked this post please “like” and share it!

  • Nathalie says:

    Glad to find your channels – thanks! Your link to the hardest roller is dead. Would you have another suggestion?

  • kathy says:

    HI Elisha, all the physical issues you have itemized I have been suffering through the hip, fasia, quad, groin ,abductor, my knee ,all stemming from a sciatic I have been trying to work through this for over a year. I do see and have treatment by a chiropractor but it has been a struggle. advil gives relief but I worry of its consequences. your website is the only one I have researched where I feel you understand the body and know that one pain triggers another! I would love to try and begin with the roller but where do I purchase? lets begin there thank you and looking forward to hearing from you kathy

  • Emily says:

    I love your site! How often to you recommend foam rolling and other fascia release work you show here?

    • Hi Emily! Thanks, glad you like the site! Foam rolling is no different than say exercise or diet, in terms of how often or which areas you should target. It can be pretty individual, but generally I recommend working your whole body over one week. So you could spend 5-10 minutes one day on some upper body, and another day on lower body, or if you want to do it like me…if you go to a gym, use these techniques before you workout 1-3x/week and call it good. Happy foam rolling, let me know if I can help out any further!

  • Hi Trisha – it’s difficult to tell you what to do without knowing more. Is there PAIN at the ischial tuberosity? If so, have you tried the quad/hip flexor release? I have an adductor release coming out in a couple weeks, that would also be something I’d recommend. Stay tuned for that! If you give me a little more info I might be able to help further. And I’m available to do Skype consults if you want a detailed program for this cilent’s specific issues. If this person has a lazy glute or glutes, that’s definitely something that needs to be addressed. The glutes may be inhibited due to tight hip flexors, and if so…all the glute exercises in the world won’t do much good until the quad is released, because it will likely try to work for the glute through things like squats, lunges, step ups etc. Good luck!

  • Trisha Donnelly says:

    Great tips. I have a question, what stretch/foam roller release would work around the ischial tuberosity. And yes the client has a lazy glute.

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