If someone hasn’t told you that you need to roll out your IT Band you probably haven’t been to the gym lately. Something that has been gaining momentum over the past few years is the prevalence of foam rolling, or in ‘trainer speak’, self-myofascial release (SMR). SMR aids in the breakdown of soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue that are the result of repetitive stress.

SMR has become an integral part of the warm-up and precedes everything else. Reducing tissue density will improve tissue quality and improve the response to joint mobility work. Essentially, SMR gets rid of the knots in your muscles so that you can take advantage of stretching and open up the body to move well prior to starting a training session. SMR work goes against the convention because it is good to experience moderate to heavy discomfort while rolling. In fact, if you are not feeling some discomfort you probably aren’t getting any benefit.

Here’s a guide of the most commonly used foam rollers on the market:

EVA Roller

EVA is the foam that is used in running shoes and is fairly resistant to breakdown. In a commercial setting, EVA rollers can maintain integrity for years while getting frequent use. This foam tends to be just firm enough to benefit those that need dense work but is more forgiving than both the Grid and Travel Roller. If you are experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and attempting to roll out, this should be your ‘go to’ roller. Rolling on something denser while experiencing DOMS will turn you off from doing SMR altogether. This roller is available at lengths of one and three feet. Clients will appreciate the stability of a three-foot foam roll.

Economy Roller

These rollers are less expensive to purchase. However for any regular SMR, the economy foam roll does not hold up. These foam rollers start off at a similar density to EVA but the foam breaks down quickly, and thus the benefit of continuing SMR is negated. If you are using one for home, use once a day and expect to replace your roller every two to three months. Economy rollers are also available at one and three-foot lengths. These can commonly be found in the stretching corners of big box gyms, but are typically already broken down.

Grid Roller

The Trigger Point Performance Grid Roller is quite versatile and a close comparison to EVA foam, though slightly denser. The construction is of a 6″ wide PVC with a foam “Grid” layered over top. At 12 inches in length and a hollow interior the Grid Roller is very portable, and makes it a good traveling tool for SMR. The “Grid” is a great feature of the roller as it will give you access to three areas of varying myofascial penetration for those body parts that you need to get a little deeper. This roller will maintain it’s integrity long term, and thus is an excellent option at the same price point as an EVA foam roll. The 12-inch length can be somewhat harder to balance on compared to rolling on a 3-foot length EVA or economy roller, but the learning curve is relatively short.

Travel Roller

The Travel Roller is the densest of the rollers, and will maintain integrity long term. The small diameter PVC core will ensure that you get deeper than other rollers. Newer versions of the Travel Roller are equipped with removable layers so that you can increase the depth of penetration with the same roller. This is definitely not a beginner’s roller, it is a roller to progress to when you have the need to get deeper into the fascial layers. It is a nice roller to use on days that you are not experiencing DOMS. As with the Grid Roller, the Travel Roller is of 12″ length making it easy to transport. There is also an option to purchase the Travel Roller with a set of differing density myofascial release balls. The balls are quite useful for SMR where you need a more direct focal point such as the chest, shoulder, and calves.

Conclusion

All rollers are not created equally. There are different rollers for different people, and even different rollers for the same person at different times. If you go to purchase a roller don’t let sales staff pitch you on why you should purchase roller ‘x’. Be informed and get the right roller for you.

Till next time. Train Right,

Steve.