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The following is a complete review of near everything on the market as of the date of this post. See Part 2 for a very comprehensive explaination of how to properly perform self myofascial release which includes in-depth videos.

The first time I saw self myofascial release being done was about 4 years ago and it went a little like this:

Athletic looking dude who I knew was strong as an ox as I’d seen him training in the gym I worked at for a while, was on the floor at 6am with his basketball getting mighty “fresh” with it. I mean he was face down, legs and arms sprawled way out like Spiderman, grinding his inner thigh and groin area away with a basketball and making some rather disturbing moaning, groaning and grunting noises. I can only imagine the look of shock on my face.


But this same freak could do chin ups with three 45lbs plates hanging off him. Hell, his girlfriend would do chin ups while wearing a backpack that she would shove a 25lb plate into!! These weren’t muscle monsters, this was a couple who were healthy, normal and athletic looking.

Was I missing something?

The short answer was yes! Although I had no idea at the time just how important it would become and how it would shape the way I approach injuries, injury prevention, and everything else to do with performance and recovery in my job.

It’s become one of those things I just do now. I make everyone do it at the start of their workout. I brush my teeth. I drink lots of water. I do self myofascial release (herein referred to as SMR). It’s just how I roll.

Being that this is a two part article I’m going to start with the fun stuff first: product reviews. In the second part I will discuss further why you should be doing SMR as well as show you on video how to do it. I’ve already shown a practical application here: here: and here:


Product Reviews

I will preface this by saying that I think all myofascial release tools can work well if you know what you’re doing. However, some are better than others. Some are better at specific tasks than others. I will cover every major player in the current fitness equipment market below. First we begin with the various “rollers” out there:

Generation 1: The Original – Foam Rollers

Foam rollers are made of, you guessed it: foam. Generally speaking different color rollers mean different densities (hardness) and various types of foam are used. EVA foam is the best. As for density it usually increases like this (white being the softest): white, red, blue and finally black (being firmest). They generally come in 18” or 36” lengths and can come cut in half for various other uses. A 36” blue foam roller is where I started and I think most should. They run about $20-$30.

Pros: Cheap. Easy and effective to start learning SMR techniques on (especially the 36” length as the movements can be clumsy at first) and it’s generally not too aggressive for the general population. If it gets banged up, who cares, it was cheap. When you’ve gotten your use out of it, then upgrade to a Generation 3 roller (reviews further down page).

Cons: Size (try packing a 36” roller to the gym or on vacation). Longevity of these rollers is very low (The more dense they are {meaning black is best; white is worst} the longer they will last. EVA foam also last longer than most other closed cell foams) so it will require frequent replacement. Personally, for myself and my small business I burned through a dozen or more rollers before I wised up. Hygiene: bacteria can collect on these easily, especially as they breakdown. I would spray cleaner on mine all the time, but still I would never go near one in any other gym that was meant for use by all members. Gross.


Generation 2: Enter the PVC Pipe

People who were foam rolling often (including myself) were finding the foam roller, regardless of density, stopped doing the trick. We needed something firmer, more aggressive to get into those trigger points. Some people resorted to using cheap PVC pipe:

Or worse: rolling pins (yes, the ones used for baking)

But along came a viable product that offered a hardness us SMR junkies were looking for:


The Travel Roller

Basically, it’s just a plastic pipe (as I’ve show by pulling back the sleeves a little) covered by a thin pad and then a soft foam “skin.” This double covering of the plastic pipe makes a substantial difference offering just the right amount of firmness but making it friendly enough to use daily. The product also comes with a DVD (and poster) which has some excellent information on it and shows how to get the most out of the product. If you’re going to buy a “fancy” roller I sure as hell hope it would come with instructional materials to explain how to properly use it. I’d go so far to say that if you were going to purchase only one of the generation 2 or 3 rollers, this would be the best system to use (between the roller and the acupressure balls) especially when you take the DVD’s instructions to heart.

Pros: It’s far more hygienic than typical foam rollers as the sleeve can be taken off and washed. It will last a long time even with frequent personal or clinical usage. It’s hard enough to really dig at those trigger points but skin friendly enough to not feel too torturous. It contains no PVC, no latex, nor any rubber. As for the acupressure balls, I first thought that I could meet the same needs with other balls much cheaper to purchase (as their site asks $30 for a set) however, upon using these balls instead of my hockey, tennis and lacrosse balls I quickly realized the quality of the balls. They’re built to last a very long time even with heavy usage. Another serious perk is that the product is designed (via drawstring closure as show in above picture) to store the balls between sessions AND I can also fit my dual tennis balls (shown later in article) which makes this the perfect tool to pack to the gym! 

Cons: Cost $50-80. I hate to say the cost is a con as it’s more than worth the money but it’s not as cheap as generation 1 foam rollers are. I wouldn’t purchase the acupressure balls on their own, even if I wanted another set, I would rather purchase a 2nd Travel Roller complete kit as they come with the balls. The only con I see, which I’ve brought up with the owner of the company for future production considerations, is that the acupressure balls could use some more tack. When I’m using the balls in my post-workout SMR and I’m sweaty they can slip around a bit. But that’s just being nit-picky.


The Trigger Point Therapy Ultimate 6 System

When I first saw this product I quickly realized two things: 1) the design was very intentional and 2) it was damned pricey. This product is heavily marketed to the running and triathlete world and with good sense as it may just be the best product out there for those involved in those sports (running, swimming, biking). This product offers some unique rollers such as the Quadballer which is a firm pipe with two large rollerblade-type wheels and a cloth covering. It works very effectively for the quads, IT band, hamstrings, and adductors. The Footballer is a smaller version of Quadballer and it used for the feet and calves. Lastly they produced what is called the TP Massage Ball which is essentially a lacrosse ball which is covered in a cloth material.

Pros: Effectiveness: this product is incredibly effective when used as the DVD prescribes and their website offers a great deal of videos and information on how to use the product properly. Again, for runners or triathletes, this may be the best product on the market for you when you follow “the Ultimate 6 system.” The products are very well made (except for two problems I’ll list below) and will last a long time for personal use.

Cons: Cost. The Ultimate 6 system will run you anywhere from $150-200! In my opinion, buying the separate components of this product (which you can do somewhat) for cheaper, is useless. If you’re going to use this system, get  the whole thing or check my other options later in this article. From a hygiene standpoint all the products are covered in a cloth material which cannot be removed and washed. This makes it the wrong choice for clinical or multi-person use (save for couples who swap germs all the time anyway). Also, the Trigger Point (TP) Massage Ball is stupid. Where they had to sew the cloth together over this hard ball makes the product lumpy and uncomfortable. Other balls work better. Lastly, if you are a larger person, this product may not work either. If you have giant quads you’ll find the Quadballer product too small and may pinch the skin or hair with the wheels.


Generation 3 – Enter the Bumps & Grooves

We all know massage therapy is great. It’s great because you get to relax (or try to in the case of deep tissue massage) while someone DIGS at your muscles and trigger points. And that’s what was missing in the self myofascial release equation the whole time: accuracy. See all generation 1 & 2 rollers shown above are blunt instruments, they’re flat, and have no contours to deal with the different types of tissue you have in your body such as muscle, tendon, and bone. And it’s here that two major players stepped up.


The Grid (by the Trigger Point Company)

The Grid played on the Travel Roller’s intention of being firmer and longer lasting (plastic pipe covered in foam) but added bumps and grooves meant to mimic the palm, finger and fingertip/thumb precision found in massage therapy. When you learn to use the various surfaces of The Grid you get an exceptional SMR experience and effective results from the roller. It’s the first one I teach others how to foam roll on. I’ll keep clients on this roller until they are ready for the Travel Roller. That’s why I bought two (for tandem or group sessions).

Pros: On top of what’s mentioned above this product is very well made. The foam is EVA which has for the past 8 months on my first purchase (my black roller) been used 2-10x a day! Compared to my 2nd purchase (the orange roller) there is maybe at most been a 15% degrade in firmness over those 8 months. Trust me you wouldn’t notice unless I pointed it out. Cost: this product’s cost, which is about $55 I will put in the pro category as the value is incredible. As mentioned I had previously spent around $250 in regular foam rollers in the same time frame as these ones have lasted me. Hygiene wise, they don’t absorb bacteria though they can harbor it on top which is why I regularly clean mine.

Cons: The Grid’s “digging” ability is on the lacking side comparative to the Travel Roller (above) and to the Rumble Roller (below). Once you’ve used the Travel Roller you quickly realize The Grid is a little on the soft side as well as the diameter can be a little large for some jobs but better for others like the inner thigh and stretches like thoracic extension:

The Rumble Roller

I just call this thing the Tenderizer now. When I first saw it I was quickly reminded of two things:
A meat tenderizer & My collectible Hellraiser movie statue replica

Neither of which I would ever use for self-massage, both torturous (you’d have to see the movie to understand), yet here I am in ownership of a Rumble Roller. In a one sentence quote: No doubt about it, for self myofascial release connoisseurs, the Rumble Roller is the best product on the market!

Like The Grid, the raised bumps do an excellent job digging at trigger points. As it looks, the Rumble Roller is far more aggressive than The Grid and for those daring they offer a black version which is even denser. In my opinion the blue version is challenging enough. The point of SMR is to be able to relax the muscle when you put these tools on a trigger point. The Rumble Roller is FAR too aggressive for those just starting out on the SMR journey. And I will say most would do very well stopping at The Grid. But when you want more precision, pressure and release, the Rumble Roller is the answer. I love this thing!

Pros: It’s aggressive nature. You can target, dig, work at and lessen trigger points extremely well with this product. It will last forever. It has a build in anti-microbial agent built into the foam so it stays hygienic (even though I still clean mine). And on places of the body like the upper back, it actually feels really good! As mentioned it does come in different sizes and densities:

Cons: Cost. At about the same price as The Grid which is $55 for the smaller version (they make a 36” version which is $80) I think most people other than us SMR connoisseurs won’t be able to handle the bumps all the time. I sometimes can’t when I’m dealing with post workout muscle soreness. I have to downgrade to The Grid or Travel Roller when a trigger point hurts too much. So it’s a lack of versatility we’re talking about. In a clinical setting, the rumble roller again is not the place where people start so you’re forced to buy an “easier” version of a roller for newbies.


The following Product Reviews fall outside the foam rolling category and are more specific-use self myofascial release tools:

The Stick (yep, that’s as imaginative as they could come up with for a product name)

The Stick comes in various sizes. Other companies make similar products (such as the Tiger Tail) but this one is the best in its category. This product is great for really targeting muscles in the legs in a way you don’t have to be all over the ground (like you do with a roller) and anyone who’s tried rolling their calves on a foam roller knows it’s more of an arm and abdominal workout than we signed up for. The stick has its place in the toolbox.

Pros: The stick does wonders on the hamstrings (which are an area that foam rollers aren’t great at), the calves and the quads. The design at first had me worried. Thoughts of the spaces between the white cylinders tearing my leg hair out or pinching the skin crossed my mind. But that doesn’t happen. It’s very user-friendly. They come in various lengths for things like rolling pre-run or travelling.  I think every marathoner should be carrying this to their pre-race warm up area.

Cons: Cost: about $50. While it will last forever the product has limited uses. I’ve seen some interesting ways of using it on the forearms, back, etc. but c’mon, there are better products out there for that. Just because something can work a certain way doesn’t mean it is ideal.


The Trigger Wheel

This small tool (about 6”) is a miracle worker. Have you ever woken up with a stiff neck from sleeping in some contortionists style position? How about wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome? Ever see someone who does too much bicep work or sits at a desk all day? Their forearms tend to look shortened, as if they can’t let them hang or straighten. T-Rex anyone? The trigger wheel is the most precision based tool for getting at a trigger point, especially in areas that are not doable or not easily doable with other devices: such as the forearms, wrists, neck, and calves. If you have a partner they can even go at your knots in your back effectively. They advertise this tool as the “tireless thumb.”

Pros: For loosening up the neck muscles, nothing comes close unless you wanna beg your spouse or pay someone $50+ to massage it for you. If you’re dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome this is also effective at loosening the muscles of the wrist to ease strain. Cost: at $25 you can never go wrong. Made of plastic and nylon it will last forever.

Cons: This tool has very limited albeit important functions. It’s not the best for large muscles (such as the quads).


The Backnobber

I am disturbed by the frequency and epidemic nature of mid-back trigger points and knots. I will be covering this topic in the future but I will say, I have yet to meet a person I could not find a knot in their mid-back. Never. For those that exercise, just like those that sit at a desk, or even fetal position/side sleepers these knots can be very painful and cause some serious dysfunction. To alleviate myself of the degree of pain these back knots where causing me I bought me a Backnobber. There is another product on the market called the Theracane which would do the same job.

Pros: Used correctly you can pinpoint specific areas of the back very effectively to relieve tension. It’s relatively easy to use and to show others how to use. The Backnobber 2 comes apart in the middle for easy travel, a definite plus!

Cons: Cost, at around $45-65 this nifty piece of plastic is overpriced in my opinion. But maybe not when you consider how much pain back tension can cause. It’s limited to that one function: digging out areas of the back (for traps and mid back it’s very effective, not so much for lower back as it tends to slip off).


Other – Dual Tennis Balls

I got this from Coach Nick Tumminello’s Warm Up Progression SMR DVD. Who knew two tennis balls and some packing tape could be a life changer. Essentially you use this product by going up the columns of muscles that run right beside the spine. By taping two tennis balls together properly you will see there is a groove left between them where the spine can sit and therefore won’t have pressure placed on it. For the mid back, with arms across chest to expose muscles between shoulder blades which frequently develop trigger points, this set up feels so damn gooooooood!

While this is not a specific product review, I will say this: buy good tennis balls. Buy “hard court” balls as they will last a great deal longer than the cheap ones. When they get too soft (I get about a month’s usage for 2-10 people/day), do chuck them out and rebuild a new pair. Don’t forget to RELAX and BREATHE when doing this!


Other Balls

Golf, lacrosse, tennis, hockey and softballs or baseballs can all work wonders for really pinpointing various trigger point areas in the body. It is here I feel each size of ball and hardness makes a big difference. For example, nothing quite gets at the TFL area (dress pant pocket line of body) like a softball (big green one in pic above) which is a very common area of tension, especially for us guys. A softball is also large enough to work on the chest against a wall, another area most everyone should be addressing! A lacrosse ball is magical for glutes (key areas being top outside corner and mid glute) and shoulders (key areas being mid shoulder and rear armpit area). A golf ball can really help you target a knot in your back if you lay on it right. Tennis or hockey balls (the bright orange one above) are much softer than others and can be good for areas that are very tender or if you’re just starting out. The point is, once you’ve been shown how to use these balls in specific areas of the body you’ll want one of each to get the job done.


Summary and Selections

Confused as to which tool(s) are right for you? I know I would be! Because I own or have at least tried all the above tools I find it tough to say I could do without any of them. But again, I’m a self myofascial release junkie. The only way to decide is to pick a category that best fits your situation and go from there.

For runners and triathletes who already dedicate a large amount of time to their sport and don’t want to add too much more, I very highly suggest The Trigger Point Company’s Ultimate 6 System as it was designed for your functions and it does a very good job of that so long as you use it regularly.

For newbies who’ve never done SMR, start at a white or at the least a 36? blue generation 1 foam roller as well as dual tennis balls (taped up as in the article above), a single tennis ball and a lacrosse ball (for pinpointing trigger points which rollers don’t do well). When it’s time to progress I would suggest the Travel Roller (complete kit with acupressure balls).

For those that will be using SMR infrequently (1-3x/week) I think you’re going to find your trigger points may stay in check but you’ll never see much relief unless being more diligent (4+ times/week). However, doing some is better than none and in this case, The Grid is your best option (as it’s a bit softer than the Travel Roller and Rumble Roller) along with dual tennis balls (taped up as in the article above), a single tennis ball and a lacrosse ball. My next purchase would definitely be the Trigger Wheel for small jobs like the neck and forearms.

For athletes, workout-enthusiasts and those who take SMR seriously (see part 2 for how and why one should) I would suggest first the Travel Roller (complete kit as it comes with acupressure balls which will take care of your soft, medium and firm density pinpointing needs), along with dual tennis balls (taped up as in the article above), the Trigger Wheel for small jobs and for those most serious, add in a Rumble Roller. I know that’s quite an investment but all of these products are extremely well made and will last a long time. For a $200 total investment you’re going to be able to cover all your self massage, recovery and pain management needs very effectively!

Still confused? If I had one and only one to pick go with the Travel Roller complete kit (which has acupressure balls). Follow the DVD’s instructions and you’ll see excellent results.

Adrian Crowe is not your typical personal trainer. With 10+ years of his own training and now over 5000 personal training sessions with a huge variety of ages (8-83 years old), goals (figure competition to general weight loss) and fitness levels (sedentary to professional MMA fighters) there is no challenge he's not up for. His experience and passion for helping people reach their goals, one step at a time is unparalleled.  Visit his website at



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Self Myofascial Release (SMR) – Part 2 – How To, Why To by Adrian Crowe | Fitness Town Health and Fitness Blog
Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 at 12:49PM
[...] you’ve not already checked out Part 1 to this article where I review the entire self myofascial release (foam rollers, etc) [...]
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