Foam Roller Sizes: What Do You Need?

A foam roller on a wooden floor

As soon as your workout ends, your recovery begins. By focusing on your recovery, you can heal quickly and able to go out and give your next workout or run your best effort. Contrary to popular belief, recovery is an active process, and the best part of the recovery process is the use of a foam roller. A foam roller (regular or electric) can contribute a variety of excellent uses should you begin to incorporate it into your recovery routine, such as:

  • an increase in flexibility and range of motion
  • a relief from chronic back pain1, as well as injury prevention and
  • an increase in more restful sleep
  • reduction of arterial stiffness and improve vascular function2

With all of these excellent effects, it is essential that you pick the correct foam roller for you! Below we will break down the pros and cons of each size.

If you are in a hurry, check the next table where we sum up the advantages and disadvantages of every size.

SizePros +Cons
6″Easier for traveling, Can focus on one area Difficult to use on your back & on handling hamstring and thigh issues
12″ Provides comfort to the back without being too largeChallenging to use it vertically on the back
18″Excellent for use on the arms Similarly to 12″, small to run perpendicular to your back
24″Best all-around choice : Back massage, both vertical & horizontalDifficult to store it on a closet
36″Ideal for athletes, can be used along your spine, excellent for stresses in your legs.Nearly impossible to store it somewhere in your room

6-Inch Foam Roller

The smallest size

Pros
  • Save space
  • Great for trips/ holidays
Cons
  • Difficult to use on your back
  • Should be more focused toward handling hamstring and thigh issues

Detailed advantages & disadvantages of 6-inch

Don’t take up a lot of room in your gym or running bag and grab yourself one of the smallest rollers on the market! The six-inch roller fits in any gym bag and can be used at the gym following a tough workout or in the infield grass of your local track after a hard day’s cardio.

The pros of a foam roller in this size are that they can be used anywhere and at any time. You won’t take up a lot of space, whether this is at the gym or home. If you don’t have the space to use a larger foam roller, this is an excellent alternative. The cons of a roller this size being that it will be challenging to use on your back and should be more focused toward handling hamstring and thigh issues.

Diameter of 6″ foam rollers

A smaller diameter of 3-4 inches would give you the best bang for your buck, but a 5-6 inch diameter would provide more stabilization.

12-Inch Foam Roller

Comfort & Good Portability

Pros
  • Good Portability
  • Provides comfort to the back without being to large
Cons
  • Challenging to run perpendicular to the back when reliving issues

Detailed advantages & disadvantages of 12-inch

The 12-inch foam roller is just about the largest roller you can freely bring with you in your bags and that excel in portability. With double the size of the smallest version, this gym bag friendly roller can help you recover efficiently from your workout. If you have purchased the six-inch roller and find yourself needing a little more coverage or you have a bit of room on the floor or the mat at the gym than you thought you would, this next size up may be just what the doctor ordered.

One of the biggest pros of this roller is that it is portable and is the smallest size that can provide a level of comfort to the athlete’s back. Besides, if you have tight hamstrings or sore calf muscles, this size of foam roller is easy to use and could work wonders. Foam rollers can be essential to helping with back pain. The con of this size is that it isn’t large enough to run perpendicular to the back when reliving issues.

Diameter of 12″ foam rollers

A smaller diameter will make your roller more gym bag friendly and give you a deeper roll. A larger diameter will provide you better stability as you roll your back.

18-Inch Foam Roller

Great for the Arms

Pros
  • Use on the arms
  • Large but can be placed in a corner or closet without much fuss
Cons
  • Too big to fit in your gym bag
  • Too small to run perpendicular to your back

Detailed advantages & disadvantages of 18-inch

The smallest of what we would call the home only foam roller size. This size is about as small as you can go and still have an excellent roller in working on your arms and calves, which require a medium-length roller like this.

The pros of this roller include its use on the arms as well as keeping a home only roller size that is also compact enough to save space in your workout room or be placed in a corner or closet without much fuss. A con of this size is that it’s just too big to fit in your gym bag but too small to run perpendicular to your back and really get into the areas that can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort in your back.

Diameter of 18″ foam rollers

When it comes to diameter, a 5-6 inch diameter will provide for more stability when going over your arms, which may be more useful if this is your first large roller. A 3-4 inch foam roller size will provide a deeper massage of the tissue.

24-Inch Foam Roller

The Best All-Around

Pros
  • Great for beginners
  • Better with back issues than the 18-inch foam roller size
  • The best all-around choice
Cons
  • It needs some space in your room. Difficult to store it on a closet

Detailed advantages & disadvantages of 24-inch

The 24-inch foam roller size is almost the Goldilocks of the larger foam roller sizes. If you don’t have room for a three-foot long foam roller that is great for beginners, but also want a size that can better contribute to your back issues than the 18-inch foam roller size, this is the perfect roller for you. This roller works excellent on all problem areas and is a full foot shorter than the 36-inch, which makes it much easier to store.

Diameter of 24″ foam rollers

Here, a 3-4 inch diameter will provide a deep roll, while the 5-6 inch diameter will provide more stability when rolling through your back.

36-Inch Foam Roller

The standard size

Detailed advantages & disadvantages of 36-inch

Pros
  • Ideal size for athletes
  • Match up perfectly along your spine
  • More stable, excellent for stresses in your legs.
Cons
  • You need to be sure that you have enough space in your room

If you are looking for the best possible roller for beginners, this is the size for you. The 36-inch foam roller is also one of the ideal sizes for athletes who are having issues with their backs.

The pros of this size are that they can match up perfectly along your spine as you work to get all of the kinks out of your stiff back. Additionally, longer rollers are more stable, and that can be beneficial when working out stresses in your legs. One of the cons of a foam roller of this size can be that this is the largest foam roller size on the market, so you need to be sure that you have the room to roll out any issues you are having properly. If you are short on space, perhaps a smaller size would do more for you.

Diameter of 36″ foam rollers

The typical diameter for 36-inch rollers can be between 5-6 inches, or if you are looking for a deeper roll can have a diameter of just 3-4 inches.

How to use the foam roller

Ok! So you have probably choose what size is the best for you. You can see now a very comprehensive video from Adidas Runtastic about how you can use them.

References:

  1. 3 Easy Tips to Enhance D.I.Y. Back Massage, https://www.spine-health.com/blog/3-easy-tips-enhance-diy-back-massage
  2. Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23575360
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