The popularity of self-myofascial release (SMR)—which involves applying pressure to a muscle and its surrounding tissue helping to improve range of motion, correct imbalances, and even decrease pain—has skyrocketed over the past decade, and so have the tools for doing it. Foam rollers, rubber balls, and even PVC pipes can be used. Now some athletes are turning to a high-tech gadget: a vibrating foam roller.
Besides the feel-good factor (think of a vibrating massage chair), the pulsing may increase the benefits of rollers. “In order for athletes to execute fast movements, all proprioceptors and muscle spindles have to be activated,” says Mubarak “Bar” Malik, the director of performance for the New York Knicks. “The vibrating foam roller helps jump start the players' warm-up process by immediately activating all the neurosensory components.”
The shaking sensation works like this: “Vibration increases blood flow, quickly warming up an area,” says Rachel Mariotti, a tier 3+ trainer at Equinox 50th Street in New York City. But the prepping power comes from more than just an uptake in circulation. Vibration activates Pacinian corpuscles, mechanoreptors in your skin that attach to fascia. “That innervates fast-acting signals up and down the chain, leading to more effective soft tissue preparation,” says Malik. In other words, the shaking acts like an alarm, telling the proprioceptors and muscles in a kinetic chain that it’s go-time.
Vibration also aids in recovery. “It may help prevent fluids from being flushed out, so muscles can recover and you won’t feel as sore,” says Mariotti. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that applying 50 HZ–force vibration (comparable to settings on all three of the rollers below) to an area for five minutes before lifting, significantly reduced muscle soreness 24 to 72 hours after the strength session.
Before your workout, Mariotti suggests using a vibrating foam roller on your hips, glutes, back, and shoulders. (Here’s how.) “This will help warm up all the complexes you use during typical strength exercises,” she says. (If you have time, repeat the rollout after your session—but Mariotti and Malik agree it’s most beneficial pre-workout. Just as you would with a traditional foam roller, slowly move back and forth on the vibrating roller until you feel a tight spot, and then hold that position for 30 to 60 seconds. While the pulsing sensation may feel odd at first, using a vibrating roller should never be painful. Beginners should start on the lowest setting (if the roller has multiple levels) and stick to only 30 seconds per area. Never use a vibrating roller on your head and neck, and if you have an injury, get your doctor’s okay before trying one. Here are three high-tech rollers to consider.
A rechargeable lithium battery delivers long-lasting and strong power. The Vyper’s lowest setting is more forceful than the Vibe, and for athletes who really want to get in there, there are two higher levels. The Vyper has a six-inch diameter, which is ideal for larger muscle groups.
The Vibe has only one vibration setting, but its three different foam surfaces help you customize the pressure. At just 3.5 inches around, the narrow diameter may be more comfortable for petite people—and it makes it easier to roll out smaller spots. Combine the slim profile with a weight of just 2.5 pounds, and this is the most travel-friendly pick.
The Gladiator may be low-budget, but it packs a surprisingly powerful punch: Its lowest vibration level (there are three) is as forceful as the GRID Vibe, and the highest matches the middle level of the Vyper. Although this tool has a storage compartment, at 18.6 inches long and weighing in at more than three pounds, it’s unlikely you’ll take this roller with you.