If you’re like me, when you exit the gym after an intense BJJ training session you often feel like you were hit by a truck.
You need the kind of therapeutic intensive care only a foam roller can provide.
Foam rollers are self-administered therapy that can be used to address both general and specific areas of the body.
They’re available in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures and can be employed effectively with only minimal practice.
Also known as “muscle rollers” or “back rollers” foam rollers are designed to soothe sore aching muscles, restore flexibility and shorten recovery time. That’s exactly what the best foam roller for BJJ will do.
Below I’ve brought together what I consider the best foam rollers on the market today. Before we dive into the list, let’s take a close look at foam rollers so you have a better idea of the product, its strengths and its limitations.
Review: Let’s start with this classic EPP foam roller from OPTP. This is a wide, smooth roller that’s ideal for the large areas of the torso. Its 36 inch width also allows you to address both of your upper legs at once. You should find it particularly useful rolling out knots in your quads where the firmness of the roller really demonstrates its value. The Black Axis is fashioned from two half-round sections, which isn’t ideal but is to be expected at this price point.
For a two piece roller the balance here is first rate. If you didn’t know how it was made you’d bet it was a single piece. While the standard Black Axis is 36 inches in length OPTP also offers 12 and 18 inch variants that are better suited to more targeted work. After a rough BJJ training session the Black Axis provides welcome relief for your sore aching muscles. It may well be the only roller you’ll ever need.
Your standard, firm EPP roller.
Does a great job on large areas like the torso.
Unlike knobby rollers it’s a breeze to clean.
It’s way too large to travel with.
It’s not good for targeting specific muscles.
Cheap. Hard. Good size. What’s not to like about this roller?!
Review: The Gaiam Restore is fashioned from a single piece of medium density EVA foam. I found it ideal for loosening up tired, overstressed muscles after a couple of hours of grappling or submission wrestling. You’re not going to get the type of targeted relief you’ll get with a firm, knobby roller. But if you emerge from the dojo feeling like a wrinkled shirt this roller should do a good job ironing out most of the kinks.
As we mentioned this roller is fashioned from medium density EVA foam which makes it a good choice for both beginners and more advanced rollers. At 36 inches long it’s too big to travel with but yoga devotees may also find it useful in helping to achieve various challenging poses. The Restore includes a 15 minute instructional video which is nice. However, the quality of the instruction is wanting to say the least. My recommendation would be to give it a pass and check out a YouTube video like this one instead. It will get you off on the right foot with foam rollers and you can later adjust your roller routine to suit your specific needs.
Its medium density foam is good for everybody.
Comes with a 15 minute instructional video.
6 inch diameter allows for slow relaxing massage.
It’s harder than I expected it to be.
The instructional video could be a lot better.
Good for beginner rollers and advanced guys alike. Includes instructional video, so that’s nice. No good for taking it with you when you travel though.
Review: The vibrating foam roller tends to be a black or white proposition. That is, they’re either the best thing since sliced bread or they’re a pulsating mess that will make you feel like they’ve jarred loose a kidney. The Omega 3-Speed Vibrating Foam Roller is definitely the former. It offers 3 vibration settings and all of them seem as though they were calibrated with actual human physiology in mind. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides 2 hours of operation at max output and recharges reasonably quickly so you can use it every day.
The Omega 3-Speed is not for the timid or the novice. It’s a genuine therapeutic device that reaches deep into the muscle tissue and effectively ferrets out the most stubborn knots. I found that it cut recovery time substantially. And that when set on low it provided a very pleasing, relaxing sensation that I’ve never experienced with a plain foam roller. Vibrating foam rollers like this aren’t exactly cheap. And they aren’t for everyone, because they wrest a certain amount of control from the user. Nonetheless, you might find the Omega 3-Speed causes you to re-evaluate your relationship to your regular massage therapist.
Effectively penetrates to the muscle core.
3 vibration settings.
Lasts up to 2 hours on a full charge.
100% money back satisfaction guarantee.
Can be a little noisy.
Might cause the folks downstairs to complain.
Batteries. Rolling. Vibrating rolling. Recharges fast so no worries there. Great for relaxing your tense muscles after a hard rolling session.
Review: Earlier I talked about how hollow foam rollers can provide firmness and forgiveness at the same time. And the TriggerPoint Carbon Deep Tissue Foam Roller is a perfect example. The “carbon” refers to the makeup of the interior tube. It’s tough as nails and won’t buckle even under 500 pounds of pressure. That’s what provides the firmness. The forgiveness is provided by the high-density EVA foam blanket with its geometric knobs. It needs to be stated though that, because this is high-density EVA laid over a rock-solid tube, that any forgiveness is going to be minimal.
That said, should you emerge from the training center with a knot in your back the size of a grapefruit from a breakfall gone wrong the TriggerPoint Carbon should effectively get after it. Another thing I liked about this foam roller is its portability. It’s only 13 inches long so it should fit pretty easily in your checked bag. And there’s enough space inside the tube to stuff all kinds of clothes from socks to t-shirts and rolled up pants. And best of all, because it’s hollow it weighs a scant 1.9 pounds. Advanced users are going to find a lot to like with the TriggerPoint Carbon. I found it to be nearly as effective as the Omega 3-Speed at digging out knots. And that’s saying something.
Really digs into the muscle tissue.
It’s a good size to take with you traveling.
With a 500 pound weight limit it will work for virtually everyone.
Beginners will want something more forgiving.
Not really great for large areas like the back.
This is my favorite when I need to hit the pain points back… with some more pain! I feel like a newborn the next day!
Review: While the topic of vibrating foam rollers is fresh in our minds we need to mention the generally excellent 4-Speed Vibrating roller from LifePro. I found this roller to be less punishing than most standard EPP rollers while at the same time being more effective. With 4 vibration settings you cover the gamut from a gentle, rejuvenating spa-massage type experience to an aggressive massage that makes traditional high impact Thai massage pale in comparison.
The LifePro 4-Speed comes with an instructional manual in the form of an ebook. There is also access to the company’s online library of video tutes. If their server isn’t down. Which seems to happen an inordinate amount of time. The roller itself is not without its faults either. One of the most glaring is the fact that the L-i battery doesn’t charge nearly as fast as you’d expect. Although, to be fair, the company doesn’t claim it will set any recharging records. On the whole however, I found the 4-Speed to be an effective tool for resetting overworked muscles and making me forget about that nasty tap out.
A good choice for those new to vibrating rollers.
2+ hours of use from a full charge.
More vibration options than most.
Customer service is not what it should be.
The battery tends to charge slower than you expect.
Good roller. Useless gimmicky cut outs…
Cheap Option - LuxFit Premium High Density Foam Roller
Review: Not everybody has a hundred bucks or so to drop on a high end foam roller. The good news is that you don’t have to choose between eating and getting relief for your poor, overworked muscles. The LuxFit Premium High Density roller does a great job returning muscles to their intended shape. It’s likely that some beginners will find it too stiff. But I’d urge them to hang in there because with a little practice you’re going to start to appreciate what that stiffness can do for overtaxed muscles in your back and legs.
There’s nothing complicated about this piece of equipment. It’s really just a matter of getting used to the size and firmness and finding a way to make both work to your advantage. And while it’s fashioned from two equal-sized halves it’s nonetheless well-balanced. I was never aware of the seam at any time while putting it through the motions. Which is more than I can say for some other two piece foam rollers.
Great for working large areas like the back.
It’s destined to last a good long time.
A heavy, stable foam roller.
The slick surface takes some getting used to.
Doesn’t provide instructions for beginners.
Good one if you’re just trying out foam rolling and don’t want to spend a pretty penny.
Review: The TriggerPoint GRID 2.0 is another one of the company’s hollow core rollers. This one though is far more forgiving than the Carbon Deep Tissue roller I discussed a little bit earlier. There are no punitive, hard geometric knobs like on the Carbon. Here the lugs are shallower, with rounded edges and distributed between large flat areas that mitigate their penetrative ability. The result is a hollow core foam roller that addresses your tired muscles without bludgeoning you in the process.
This is not such a great travel roller, however. Mostly because it’s relatively long and narrow with only minimal space in the core for storing items. And if I’m listing grievances I should also point out that the instructions are not very instructive either. On the whole however, I feel the TriggerPoint Grid 2.0 does a better job fulfilling the promise of the hollow core roller than its larger, more punishing cousin. Although they’re both quality products.
Comes with useful instructional videos.
Rigid hollow core provides extra firmness.
Large enough for any part of the body.
Not the cheapest foam roller out there.
Too hard for beginners.
Quality stuff, but not my choice for rolling.
Rolling With It Professional Grade Premium EVA Foam Roller
Review: The last item on our list of best BJJ foam rollers is this ultra-simple roller from Rolling With it. This is a medium density EVA roller that more or less occupies a middle ground between being too soft and too hard. Although it leans toward firm. It comes in 3 different lengths so you can choose whether you want it to address big picture issues like your back or to conduct touch ups on your calves, lats or forearms.
In spite of the marketing you won’t experience a new level of comfort from this roller. But it will provide moderate levels of relief for all but the gnarliest, deep-seeded knots. Because it tends more toward the firm end of the scale beginners will want to take their time getting used to it. But it’s an investment I’m pretty sure will pay off for you in the long run. If there’s a downside here (and there always is) it’s a fairly minor one. That being that the two half-rollers used to produce it don’t match up as perfectly as I’d like to see. But if you don’t mind visible seams you’re likely to find it gets the job done.
Good for those experienced with foam rollers.
Uniform firmness end to end.
Not made from a single piece of foam.
Considering build quality it seems a bit pricey.
If this is your first foam roller, do yourself a favor and pass on this one. Take my word for it. If you’re experienced – go for it. On the harder side of rollers, for sure!
Things to Look for in a Foam Roller: Materials
Foam rollers are typically fashioned from one of three types of synthetic foam. Let’s take a quick look at each:
EPP – Expanded Polypropylene or EPP is considered to be top-of-the-line material for creating foam rollers. It’s relatively new to the market, features a smooth exterior finish and occupies the firm end of the foam roller scale. You’ll find EPP foam rollers in gyms, BJJ training centers and in the offices of some physical therapists. The EPP roller is designed to bring relief deep into into muscle tissue.
EVA – Ethylene Vinyl Acetate or EVA is typically very light, wears well and lasts a long time. It’s intended for long term use and is slightly more forgiving than EPP. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons it’s the most popular foam roller material. If you’re looking for something between the standard EVA roller and an EPP roller there’s high-density EVA. It enables you to bring relief to deeper tissue. Although it’s still not as punishing as EPP.
PE – Polyethylene or PE rollers tend to be the softest foam rollers. That’s the good news for those averse to the slightly punitive nature of EPP or high-density EVA. The bad news is that PE rollers are also the least durable type of roller. PE foam rollers are the most affordable type of rollers. Although close inspection usually reveals why. Whereas EPP and EVA rollers are comprised of a single piece of foam, PE rollers are often two or more pieces glued together. These pieces have a tendency to separate over time. Which is why we say they’re not very durable.
All About Foam Roller Textures
There are a couple of things you’ll notice right away about foam rollers. The first is that they come in a variety of sizes and shapes and the other is that they exhibit a variety of surface textures. We’ll get into the sizes and shapes in a moment. But first, let’s take a look at what those different shapes are used for.
Foam roller textures fall into two general categories: knobby and smooth. Within each category are a number of variations on the theme.
Knobby rollers – Different manufacturers endow their rollers with knobs of different sizes and depths. But they’re all intended to serve the same purpose: to mimic the fingers of the masseuse. If you’re looking for a roller to provide deep tissue relief you’ll want one that’s pretty firm and has large, deep knobs. If you just want to give all the muscles in a particular area a moderately intense going-over choose smaller knobs and a more forgiving texture.
Smooth rollers – The smooth roller is designed to give everything a nice once-over and enhance blood circulation after your BJJ workout. If you are just getting into foam rollers I suggest that you start with a smooth roller. This will enable you to practice your mechanics without running the risk of digging too deep and maybe causing a problem.
Confused About Foam Roller Shapes and Sizes?
Most manufacturers produce their foam rollers in different lengths. This is true of even the most affordable rollers. You may find yourself asking what’s going on with all the different lengths and shapes. So here’s what you need to know.
Long rollers – Some foam rollers are as much as 36 inches long. These are good for large areas like the front and back of your torso. Long rollers are also more stable than shorter rollers. And this makes them a good idea for the beginner.
Short rollers – Short rollers are typically used to address the quads, hammies and the sides of the torso. Some rollers are as short as 6 – 12 inches. People typically purchase these to take with them on the road. Or to use in tight workout areas.
Hollow rollers – Hollow cores are often paired with medium density outer material like EVA or PE foam. This combination of a firm tube and a forgiving surface allows for better penetration than you’d get if the roller were soft all the way through. But it’s not as punishing as an EPP roller. In a way it’s the best of both worlds.
Roller diameters – The majority of foam rollers are 5 or 6 inches in diameter. This type of roller is good for providing gentle, all over relief. If you want something more targeted choose a firm, knobby roller that’s 3 or 4 inches in diameter instead.
Vibrating rollers – A relatively new addition to the foam roller lineup is the vibrating roller. These take the notion of being massage standins one step further by actively working the muscles whether you are moving or not. There are a lot of people who won’t use any other kind. I find them a mixed bag since they remove a certain amount of control from the user.
For my money the best foam roller for BJJ on the market at the moment is the TriggerPoint GRID 2.0. And I’ll explain why.
While I have the deepest affection for the two vibrating foam rollers on this list (the Omega 3-Speed and the LifePro 4-Speed) and would not hesitate to use either, they do tend to wrest a modicum of control away from the user. To my way of thinking that defeats one of the main selling points of the foam roller. That being your ability to set your own pace and choose your own level of therapeutic intervention.
The Trigger Point GRID 2.0 Foam Roller on the other hand provides plenty of firmness for addressing deep-seeded tangles in your musculature. While at the same time it provides much needed relief to the surrounding tissue. Just the kind of relief I need after limping home from a training session. As such, it provides the kind of wide-ranging benefits I laid out for hollow core rollers in the “Shapes and Sizes” section near the start of this best foam roller for BJJ guide.