Foam roller vs massage gun

What is the best tool to relax your tense muscles after a workout?

Both foam rollers and massage guns are great tools to help you relieve the tension in your muscles. Let’s go over their pros and cons and find out which one is best for you.

Runner stretching

Why do I need a foam roller or massage gun?

If you ever did an intense workout before, you might have noticed that the day after, your muscles can feel very sore. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

DOMS can be counteracted by massaging and relaxing your muscles before and after a workout. As we all know, a great way to relax your muscles is by having a massage. Sadly, as most of us don’t have access (or the budget) for a masseur before or after each run, we will have to do it ourselves. A foam roller or a massage gun helps you perform your own deep tissue massage without putting too much effort in it.

This will stimulate the blood circulation around those muscles. As a result, this will reduce the risk of injury and improve muscle recovery. Which should make you have less muscle pain the day after.

What is a Foam roller?

A foam roller is, like the name implies, a cylindrical roll made out of compressed foam. You use it by rolling your muscles over it. The rolling motion will compress and relax your muscles just like a massage would. By using your own body weight you can make the massage intense. 

Foam rollers come in all kinds of sizes and colors. Most foam rollers have small spikes or groves in the foam. This is used to mimic the feeling of a deep tissue massage even better.

How do I use a Foam roller?

You use a foam roller by using your own body weight and rolling your muscles over the roll. For runners the calves, tights, glutes and hamstrings are the muscle groups to focus on. You put your muscles on top of the roller and roll gently from one side of the muscle group, to the other. Do this for 30 seconds. You might feel that one particular spot feels very sore. You can relieve the pain by putting pressure on only that spot for another 30 seconds.

Most foam rollers come with some instructions on how to treat the pain in different muscle groups.

Pros and cons of a Foam roller

As mentioned above, a Foam roller is a great tool to massage painful muscles without putting too much energy in it.

What are the advantages?

  • Most foam rollers are cheap as they generally cost less than 50 euro
  • You have a lot of choice between the hardness of the foam and the diameter and width of the roller.
  • It doesn’t require any power and doesn’t have any moving parts. a foam roller is a one time purchase that lasts a very long time.

What are the disadvantages?

  • You have to put in a little work as you will have to balance yourself on the roll to get the most out of it.

What is a Massage gun?

A massage gun is a handheld device that can mimic the effect of a deep-tissue massage. It does this by vibrating a rubber of foam attachment up and down. When you use a massage gun, the vibrating attachment will stimulate the blood circulation around a sore muscle. This will help relax that muscle and improve recovery and help ease the pain. The name “gun” comes from its exterior design. Most massage guns are cornered in a 90 degree angle with the handle and the attachment on each side, this makes it look like an oversized gun from far away. They were invented in 2007 by American chiropractor Jason Wersland to treat a back injury he sustained in a traffic accident. Today, his company, Theragun, is the market leader in massage guns. But there are a lot of other brands these days as well.

How do I use a Massage gun?

Most massage guns come with a bunch of different attachments. They all have a specific purpose and are meant to treat different muscles. Most massage guns come with instructions on how to use each attachment. 

Once you put on the right attachment you can put the “gun” to your muscles and power on the device. The vibrating motion will stimulate the blood circulation around it.

A full body massage with a massage gun can take up to an hour if you want to get the most benefits from it.

Pros and cons of a Massage gun

As you can see above, a massage gun is also a great option to massage painful muscles without putting too much energy in it.

What are the advantages?

  • Ease of use. You don’t have to put any real effort in using a massage gun.
  • It can be used to massage specific muscles individually.
  • Unlike with a foam roller, you don’t need to have much floorspace. You can use it anywhere and read a book or watch a movie while you’re using your massage gun

What are the disadvantages?

  • They are pricier. A good cheap massage gun will always be more specific than a top tier foam roller.
  • They can be quite noisy. Especially some of the cheaper ones or when you put it on a higher power mode.
  • Because a massage gun can massage really specific sore spots, it can be more painful to use a massage gun instead of a foam roller.

What is best for you?

What works best for you, is totally for you to decide. In the end, both a massage gun and a foam roller have the same purpose: help you massage your muscles and stimulate the blood flow to help with your recovery and to decrease the chances of muscle soreness.

In this table, I have summarized everything we have discussed above:

Foam rollerMassage gun
PriceCheaperMore expensive
EffectivenessMuscle groupsMuscle groups and specific muscles
Ease of useSome light body weight fitness is neededCan be used anywhere. Even while you do something else.
Time needed for a full body massageLess than half an hourUp to an hour

What do I recommend?

Foam roller: Triggerpoint The Grid

Foam roller
Triggerpoint The Grid

It’s a more expensive option but the dense foam and the variable surface make it a great option to treat different muscle groups with a different intensity.

I’ve had it for over 2 year now and it still looks like the first day I had it.

Massage gun: Unbranded 80 euro option from Amazon

Massage Gun Amazon
Unbranded Amazon Massage gun

As I already had a good foam roller, I couldn’t get myself to pay more than 200 euro for a great, branded massage gun. So I looked for one that cost less than a hundred euros and had good reviews on Amazon. I found one that had good reviews (with videos and photos) and decided on that one. I can’t find the specific one I bought any more, but I will link a few alternative options.