Yes, this is a story for runners (all athletes, really!), specifically for warm-up and recovery. A trip to the recent Idea World Fitness Convention in Los Angeles showed how foam rolling is seriously growing in popularity. Initially promoted for injured athletes, foam rollers are now being touted as the best way for everyone to recover as well as warm up. They come in all shapes and sizes, and some fitness pros see them becoming as ubiquitous as gym bags or even running shoes.
With this growing potential, makers of foam rollers are getting creative. For example, the GoRoll has a strap and a water-tight compartment inside the roller, so you can take it with you and have a place to lock up your wallet and phone when you go to the gym—and with your own roller on-hand, you don’t have the use the sweaty smushed one available for everyone.
But another foam roller really caught our attention—and when we looked into it, we found it’s not the only one! Vibrating foam rollers. Yes, this is happening.
The objective of foam rollers is to help your muscles, whether you want to loosen up before a run or help prevent soreness afterward, and foam rolling can hurt as it breaks up the fascia, the fibrous tissue that encloses muscles. There seem to be two main reasons vibrating can bring a foam roller to a new level: improved circulation and reduced pain (or perhaps you could say increased pleasure!).
HyperIce, which makes products that help athletes ice different parts of their bodies, came out with the Vyper foam roller at the end of last year. No ice involved, this is the big daddy of vibrating foam rollers with three speeds and a built-in rechargeable battery.
At first, level 1 seems like a lot of vibration (and noise), and it takes some practice to keep the Vyper from rolling away. But as you become comfortable, you’ll figure out that levels 2 and 3 feel better in terms of getting at a muscle. The surface of the Vyper is a ridged foam that give a little bit, so it actually works well as a regular foam roller if it’s not on.
In our search for the truth about vibrating foam rollers, we took the Vyper along to a physical therapy appointment, where many of the employees and interns tried it out. Indeed we found that every body is different, but most thought it was cool, though the $200 price tag turned most of them off.
Anthony Katz, the founder and president of Hyperice, explains the technology and engineering involved to deliver this kind of power needs to come at a cost. He suggests the potential for the Vyper to replace massages, which definitely seems realistic based on our testing. It is kind of difficult to tell how well the Vyper is getting at your muscles; Katz explains the vibration stimulates the muscle and causes almost a numbing effect, which distracts the pain receptors in the brain. Because of this feeling, my physical therapist suggested people should use the Vyper longer than a regular foam roller, while Katz says you need less time to get the results you’d see without vibrations. Either way, it’s going to vary based on the person.
From my personal experience, I was impressed that you can actually stand on the vibrating foam roller, and not only do your feet get an amazing massage, but you can also feel the vibrations up through your body. I also have migraines from time to time, and I rested my neck and head on the Vyper while trying to get rid of a migraine and it helped immensely (interesting because normally I feel as if it could give me a headache). Overall, I’d recommend the Vyper for people who want a real massage via a foam roller.
Our second test was with the VibraRoll from Perform Better. Given the $55 price tag (about the same as many non-vibrating foam rollers), we weren’t surprised to find that you have to use standard batteries and there’s only one speed, which is lower than the Vyper’s Level 1. The foam on the roller is a little squishier too, so overall this is a light vibration.
Again we enlisted the guinea pigs at physical therapy to put the roller to the test. For people who wanted a lighter vibration, they really liked this model. For those who appreciated the more aggressive nature of the Vyper, the VibraRoll seemed too weak. Any way you look at it, it’s weaker than the Vyper, but it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing.
The third vibrating “foam roller” we found isn’t in the traditional tubular shape that you can roll around on. It’s more like a car buffer. A regular at race expos nationwide, the BFF wins runners over with it’s massaging and other uses. With either one or multiple speeds, the BFF spins flat on your muscles or you can get deeper by pressing the side into your thigh, for example. The product comes with different covers, so you can also use it as an exfoliator or hair remover and to apply moisturizer.
We found that the BFF is a little difficult to use with small hands, so it might be best if you have a human BFF to help with this massage. At prices ranging from $250 to $300 depending on color and speeds, you’ll be happy to know the massage from the BFF is more on the intense side of the scale, like the Vyper.
Related: Foam Roll To Stay Injury Free
Our very unscientific testing of each of these items was based mostly on where runners tend to need attention: thighs, IT bands, hamstrings, calves and feet. While you could definitely dabble in other regions, we’ll leave that to your own personal testing.