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Best Muscle Roller of 2021

We went to town with muscle rollers from The Stick, Gaiam, TheraBand, and more to determine which ones are best at working out your body's kinks
Friday November 26, 2021
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Are you looking for the best muscle roller stick to relieve tight muscles? We researched over 30 different options before purchasing 10 for inclusion in our comparative, side-by-side review. Our expert runners and athletes put these roller sticks to the test both before and after workouts to discover which ones worked best to loosen up tight muscles and tissues and relieve persistent soreness. We graded each based on four different metrics, including texture on the skin, friction over clothing, how smoothly they roll, and how easy it is to target your massaging pressure exactly where you need it.


1

Best Overall Muscle Roller Stick


The Stick Travel Stick


Bead type: 8 small smooth plastic beads | Axle Material: Semi-flexible plastic
No friction allows for easy rolling on the skin and over clothes
Small beads target specific spots
Pricier than most
Semi-flexible design makes it difficult to push super hard when needed

If you want the top-of-the-line muscle roller stick, look no further than the original — The Stick. It comes in many different lengths, and we tested the most portable option: the Travel Stick. It includes eight smooth white plastic beads loosely surrounding a semi-rigid plastic spindle. We found this design simple and smooth to use, mostly because the loose design allows for less natural friction. With The Stick, you will have your muscles warmed up for a workout in no time, and the small beads can focus on any specific areas that may need more attention than others.

The Stick has a unique semi-flexible spindle design that helps it contour around muscles for better coverage, unlike any other we tested. This design, however, means that when you really want to bear down on a persistent knot, it can be hard to achieve the same force that can come easily with some other models. We found this to be an issue when we used The Stick for body parts where we had less leverage, like the neck or back. On top of that, it is more expensive, but we feel that the performance meets the price tag, and it lives up to its reputation. The Stick is a great choice for any runner or athlete looking for a self-massage tool, especially one that caters to the legs.

The best overall according to our testers is The Stick, which...
The best overall according to our testers is The Stick, which features a semi-flexible plastic spindle and loose, smooth beads for the easiest rolling over bare skin or clothes.

2

Best Bang for the Buck


Supremus Sports Top Rated


Bead type: 8 large plastic beads w/ small grooves | Axle Material: Stainless steel
Very affordable
Smooth beads feel great against the skin
Easy to target pressure
Beads squeak when rolling

If you are looking for a solid muscle roller stick for the lowest possible price, look no further than the Supremus Sports Top Rated Muscle Roller Massage Stick. This affordable roller costs no more than a couple of protein shakes and does an effective job, whether you desire a muscle relaxer or want to apply maximum pressure to break up deep tissues. It features rather large, rounded beads with little grooves that add grip as you roll, but they thankfully don't catch skin, hair, or clothes. To top it off, the rigid stainless steel axle allows you to push hard to achieve the deepest possible massage, which is nice if you're trying to relieve knots in pesky tight quads or loosen up a problematic IT band.

However, compared to the higher-priced roller sticks, this one feels slightly on the cheaper quality side, and ours squeaked annoyingly as we used it. The beads are also close together with minimal play between them, creating more built-in friction than you would find with The Stick. Although it isn't the top-performing option, it still serves well for all purposes and comes at a hard-to-beat price.

The large smooth beads on the Supremus Sports roller have little...
The large smooth beads on the Supremus Sports roller have little friction and slide over the skin fairly easily, and it is also easy to target pressure with it. While it wasn't the highest ranked, it provides excellent value.

3

Best for Applying Targeted Pressure


The Original Tiger Tail


Bead type: Single, foam cushioned | Axle Material: Rigid plastic
Single foam-covered roller is comfortable against the skin and smooth over clothes
Rigid design allows for maximum pressure when desired
Works well on multiple body parts
Pricey
Doesn't roll quite as smoothly as The Stick

The Tiger Tail is our other clear favorite in the testing fleet and serves as an excellent alternative to The Stick. This design is unique in our testing because, unlike the others, it doesn't have several independently rotating beads but rather a singular rigid foam roller attached to a stick. The lack of inherent friction in this design gave us the ability to focus on stubborn knots and press hard to reach deep muscle and tissue levels with the highest amount of direct pressure. The roller's foam texture feels great against your skin and doesn't snag on hairs. We found this to be the best roller stick for nailing other areas of the body besides the legs — in particular, we loved it for massaging the forearms or upper arms by pinning one end into our hip and using it one-handed. It comes with a handy pamphlet that gives you lots of guidance for potential positions.

On the downside, this muscle roller stick is one of the most expensive we tested. To be clear, we aren't talking budget-breaking prices here, but simply pointing out that it costs more than the others. Another thing to consider is that it doesn't roll as evenly as the The Stick, which means it takes more effort to get the warm-up action from the natural friction. It's best used on bare skin or workout clothes to avoid the enhanced grip getting caught up on heavy or oversized clothing. If you want a foam roller stick that can rival the amount of pressure from using a foam roller on the ground, then the Tiger Tail is the one for you.

The Tiger Tail is one of our testers' favorite choices, especially...
The Tiger Tail is one of our testers' favorite choices, especially when it comes to applying intense amounts of pressure for deep tissue massage. It has a single roller, instead of many different independently moving beads like most designs, and is covered in a comfortable firm foam.

4

Best Balance of Rigidity and Cushioning


TheraBand Roller Massager+


Bead type: Single, rubber cushioned | Axle Material: Rigid plastic
Smooth-rolling over bare skin or clothing
Rubber surface provides a balance of comfort and rigidity
Easy to target pressure
Large, not very portable

The TheraBand Roller Massager + offers a more rigid alternative to the Tiger Tail or The Stick. Its hard plastic inner tube, large handles, and semi-rigid rubber outer material allowed us to target as much pressure as we could stand. It offers a great balance of comfort and support and was favored by our testers for how easy it was to roll over just about any surface. It also worked well for other parts of the body, including forearms, hips, and glutes. What really set this massage stick apart from others was how the single plastic tube and rod structure worked with the supportive rubber outer. The single moving part offers minimal resistance, while the rubber outer is just supportive enough to be comfortable on bare skin.

One downside to this muscle roller stick is its size. At 22 inches long and 2 inches wide, it is one of the largest rollers we tested. While it is worth noting that one handle is removable, this probably isn't the best massage roller stick for those who want something small to take on the go. It's also among the more expensive rollers we tested. But for athletes who want a little bit more versatility and rigidity than The Stick, we think the TheraBand Roller is well worth the price.

We love the Theraband for its easy rolling and rigid internal...
We love the Theraband for its easy rolling and rigid internal structure, which allows us to target pressure. Its large handles and wide radius also make it a surprisingly suitable alternative to a foam roller for hips, IT bands, and glutes.

5

Great for Forearms and Ligaments


MZDXJ Trigger Point Muscle Roller


Bead type: 4 knobbed rubber beads | Axle Material: Rigid plastic clamshell
Clamshell shape is excellent for forearms
Rolls easily over clothing or bare skin
Cumbersome to target pressure on the lower leg
May not work for all body shapes and sizes

The clamshell structure of the MZDXJ Trigger Point Muscle Roller offers an alternative to the classic massage stick that works well on smaller and hard-to-reach parts of the body such as the forearms and neck. Especially after workouts involving lifting and hanging, we found the MZDXJ to relieve tendon pain in the elbows and forearms. The handles make it easy to adjust pressure, and the four knobbed beads are great for targeting specific areas. Climbers and those seeking to relieve tension in small muscles, tendons, and ligaments; look no further.

Unfortunately, this massage roller is not as effective for large muscle groups. We found it to work well when positioned laterally on the leg to roll the IT band and smaller muscles of the lower leg, but positioning it with the knobs in front and back was awkward. On the lower leg, the front knobs rolled over our shin bones (not ideal), and on the upper leg, we found that it was hard to sustain the amount of pressure needed to relieve deeper tissues in the quads or hamstrings.

The MZDXJ is an excellent tool for targeting pressure on small...
The MZDXJ is an excellent tool for targeting pressure on small muscles, tendons and ligaments. We find it works best when positioned laterally on the legs, to avoid contact with our shin bones.

6

Best Knobby Option


Kamileo Muscle Roller


Bead type: 10 large plastic beads w/ large ridges | Axle Material: Stainless steel
Rolls smoothly
Affordable
Durable design
Can be painful on bare skin
Difficult to target pressure

Among massage rollers with beads, the Kamileo Muscle Roller stands out for its particularly rigid structure. This roller is the stiffest we tested, with ten cog-shaped plastic beads resting on a stainless steel axle. The beads roll smoothly without any pinching or snagging, and the knobs are great for quickly warming up large muscle groups. It's also quite affordable, and it comes with a handy instruction pamphlet of exercises.

The large, textured beads and metal axle make it difficult to target specific areas, though. The ease with which the beads roll over the axle means they slip and slide while you're trying to bear down on a knot, especially compared to models that feature a single moving cylinder. The Kamileo is also somewhat painful to use for sustained sessions. We recommend a barrier of clothing while using this roller since we found it abrasive on bare skin.

The knobbed roller is the stiffest structure we tested. The cog...
The knobbed roller is the stiffest structure we tested. The cog shaped beads roll smoothly over clothing, which we preferred over bare skin since the rigid plastic can be abrasive.

7

Economical, but not Enjoyable


Idson Muscle Roller


Bead type: 9 large plastic beads w/ deep grooves | Axle Material: Stainless steel
Low price
Able to apply targeted pressure easily
Doesn't roll smoothly
Beads have deep grooves that catch hairs
Snags on clothes

The IDSON Massage Roller Stick for Athletes is another top contender for most affordable. It sports large round beads with deeper grooves than the Supremus Sports roller stick for added grip. Its stainless-steel axle design allows you to apply as much pressure as you desire.

Compared to the competition, however, we didn't find this one to be that enjoyable to use. There is a ton of friction, so it doesn't roll smoothly, especially if you are trying to roll over your clothes. Meanwhile, the grooves catch everything from hairs to fabric too easily to make it very versatile. There is little reason to consider this one over the better-performing options.

The IDSON has large beads with deep grooves, and while it is...
The IDSON has large beads with deep grooves, and while it is economically priced, we don't find it to be very comfortable against the skin. You can see the marks it leaves after passage in this photo, and it also has a lot of built in friction.

8

A Downsized Foam Roller


TriggerPoint GRID STK


Bead type: Single, semi-rigid foam | Axle Material: Single metal axle
Comfortable, semi rigid foam material
Rubber handles are great for targeting pressure
Expensive
Large ridges and knobs inhibit smooth rolling

If you're a fan of Triggerpoint Performance's Grid Foam Roller, you'll be familiar with the design features of the STK Handheld Foam Roller, which is essentially a scaled-down version of the beloved Grid Foam Roller. If you're looking for a massage stick that works well for warming up large muscle groups, this muscle roller stick is a great option. The Handheld Foam Roller is less cold and abrasive on bare skin than models with hard plastic beads, and its wide radius and large knobs are efficient for superficial massaging. Unlike other models we tested, the handles also feature rubber knobs that work well for breaking up knots and for targeting pressure.

Compared to other massage sticks in our lineup, though, this one is unfortunately far less versatile. While we liked it for rolling large muscle groups before workouts, we found that the downsides of this roller's large knobby structure tend to outweigh its benefits. The ridges are spaced such that the stick has a "lurching" feel to it: Each knob grips clothing or skin before the next one grabs, which makes it difficult to target pressure using the roller. It's also the most expensive massage stick we tested, and for relieving sore IT bands, arms, and deep tissue, we found it to be a bit overbuilt.

This roller has a tendency to snag on both bare skin and clothing...
This roller has a tendency to snag on both bare skin and clothing, and is best used for warming up large muscle groups. Here you can see clothing dragging as the stick is rolled down the leg.

9

Affordable, but Doesn't Roll Smoothly


Physix Gear Muscle Roller


Bead type: 7 small thermoplastic beads w/ deep grooves | Axle Material: Stainless steel
Affordable
Very grippy handles
Doesn't roll smoothly
Uncomfortable on bare skin
A poor choice over clothes

The Physix Gear Sport Muscle Roller Leg Massager is another massaging stick that is very affordable. It features grooved beads like the IDSON, but they are much smaller by comparison. The smaller beads allowed us to focus pressure even more precisely, and the stainless-steel axle greatly aids this ability.

Once again, however, the grooved beads proved to be problematic. They grip the surface they are rolling over far too aggressively. Whether that surface is skin, hair, or clothes, the beads are prone to pulling, pinching, and snagging. The beads also have perhaps the most friction of any that we tested, meaning you can only roll this one slowly at best.

This one was one of the testers least favorite because it gripped...
This one was one of the testers least favorite because it gripped the skin too aggressively, pinching, pulling, and causing bunching, and it also doesn't roll very smoothly.

10

A Little Too Painful


Gaiam Restore


Bead type: 3 large rubberized spiky balls | Axle Material: Rigid plastic
Three balls roll smoothly
Relatively affordable
Spikey protrusions hurt
Cannot apply firm pressure
May cause bruising

The Gaiam Restore Massage Stick is perhaps the most unique roller stick we tested, and it's certainly the most eye-catching as well. Instead of a long row of rounded beads, it has three balls on a spindle covered in sharp rubber spikes. Rolling these spiky balls over yourself is certainly very stimulating and is sure to get the blood flowing. It also seems to be so effective at breaking up superficial tissues that countless online reviewers report problems with bruising.

Unfortunately, we found this device to be a bit too painful to enjoy, and despite being ultra-runners ourselves with what we thought were pretty high pain tolerances, we couldn't hang with this masochistic device. It's not built for the faint of heart. Using it on bare skin caused pain initially and left red marks and burning sensations that lasted up to an hour after use. There was no way we could push hard enough with this thing to reach deep tissues, and we couldn't target pressure on sore spots either. Overall, we find this device to be pretty ineffective as a self-massage tool, but we can assure you that it enhances blood flow, and we're positive some unique folks will actually love using this medieval torture device.

The Gaiam Restore Stick reminds us of a medieval torture device with...
The Gaiam Restore Stick reminds us of a medieval torture device with its sharp spiky balls. This one feels much better over clothing to dampen some of the impact, but we found it too painful when we pushed harder than very lightly.

Why You Should Trust Us


Tackling this review for us is Andy Wellman, a dedicated trail, mountain, and ultra-runner who has been our point man for all things trail running since 2013. He has competed in trail races around the world, from the famous Transvulcania Ultra on the Canary Islands to the nine-day long Mustang Trail Race in the Himalayas of Nepal. He's landed on the podium, or even won, trail and mountain races of every distance between 10k and 50 miles. Racing and training for years has, of course, led to many common running injuries, including shin splints, bunions, a torn meniscus, IT band syndrome, and a whole stack of wipeout-related contusions. Daily self-massage is critical to keep overuse injuries at bay as well as rehabbing from the inevitable injuries that do crop up, and for years Andy has followed a routine of roller stick for the calves and shins, golf ball for the feet, and the foam roller/lacrosse ball combo for the upper legs and back. Andy is also an avid climber, backcountry skier, and yoga practitioner and lives in the mountains of Ouray, Colorado.

Adding to our lineup is Hannah Marshall, an avid trail runner, climber, and backcountry skier based in Bozeman, Montana. When she's not testing products for OutdoorGearLab, Hannah works as an avalanche educator and mountain guide. Cross-training through trail running, weight lifting, and stability workouts are all regular parts of her injury-prevention and mountain fitness routine, and with those come lots of recovery work. Similar to Andy, Hannah typically uses a combination of stretching, foam rolling, lacrosse ball, and massage rolling stick to help with warming up and recovering from workouts and injuries. She, too, was delighted to find while working on this review that some massage sticks in our lineup competed with the lacrosse ball and foam roller, especially for glutes and IT band relief, which are her most common problem spots.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Testing took place over a period of weeks in the spring and was conducted at all times of the day, both pre- and post-runs. We used these roller sticks first thing upon waking to loosen up the body, before running to help warm up muscles and connective tissues, immediately after runs to aid with recovery and flushing out accumulated waste products, and later in the evenings to relieve sore and tight muscles. Other athletes, including professional runners, climbers, and yogis, were recruited to aid in testing and offer their opinions. We also conducted side-by-side tests, comparing each product one after the other, and graded them on four critical metrics of performance: texture on the skin, friction over clothing, the ability to apply targeted pressure, and rolling smoothness. Rest assured that the opinions and recommendations offered in this review are qualified advice from trusted experts.

Analysis and Test Results


We intensively tested each product and graded them based upon four critical metrics for their performance. The performance in each is discussed below.

Texture on Skin


During our test period, we found ourselves most frequently using the roller sticks on bare skin. If you are rolling out pre- or post-workout, you're most likely wearing shorts and a light shirt, so this makes sense. Furthermore, while it is possible to use these sticks over clothing, it feels sub-optimal to us, so we generally preferred bare skin anyway.

The Stick feels the best of all the options to roll over your bare...
The Stick feels the best of all the options to roll over your bare skin as it is very smooth, low friction, and doesn't catch hairs between beads.

The best roller sticks create almost no friction with your skin and roll comfortably and smoothly without catching or yanking on hairs, bunching up and pulling on the skin, pinching, or creating other painful sensations. Smooth beads were the best for this function, while deeply grooved beads tended to be far less comfortable.

The least comfortable roller sticks to use on skin have these deep...
The least comfortable roller sticks to use on skin have these deep grooves that you can see here, which grip the skin and cause it to bunch up. They also leave marks after rolling, and grip hair more than other options, if you have leg or body hair.

What Parts of the Body Does a Massage Stick Work For?
Massage roller sticks are designed for and work best on the legs, where you can use both hands and your arms to apply maximum pressure. They are especially useful for the calves and shins, which nothing else can target as effectively. While they can also work well on the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, you can often generate more pressure on these areas using a ground-based foam roller. Two-handed use on the neck works, and roller sticks can be used one-handed by tucking one handle into a hip for rolling out forearms and biceps/triceps. Depending on how flexible your arms and shoulders are, they can even be used on the back. Generally speaking, however, a curved point massager will work better for your upper body needs.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Without a doubt, the product that rolls over the skin the easiest is The Stick. It features small, smooth beads that roll with very little friction and aren't prone to pinching together. Testers also loved the foam-covered roller of the Tiger Tail, which doesn't pinch because there are no separate beads. The Theraband Roller Massager +, which features a single rubber-covered roller, was similarly comfortable to use on bare skin. While it features large, knobby beads, the Ameri Fitness also rolled comfortably and smoothly over the skin.

Friction Over Clothing


Whether you are rolling out in cold weather when wearing shorts or a t-shirt isn't an option, have to access parts of your body that are going to be covered in clothes no matter what, or simply want a little relief after you've already put your pajamas on at night, how much friction your roller stick creates with your clothing is important. For comparison's sake, we tested each stick on the same clothing, but we noticed that baggier, thicker clothing is harder to use in conjunction with a roller than thinner, tighter clothing.

One roller stick in particular we liked to use far better over...
One roller stick in particular we liked to use far better over clothing because that helped to dampen the sensation felt by its very spiky design.

The most egregious offenders were difficult to use at all over the top of clothing because they would grip and pull on the cloth, causing it to bunch up and interfere with a smooth roll. On the other hand, some devices that we couldn't enjoy on bare skin actually felt significantly better with clothes as a buffer, such as the Gaiam Restore Stick. We also found that the large knobs on the Kamileo Muscle Roller were more comfortable over clothing.

The most egregious offenders don't really allow you to roll out over...
The most egregious offenders don't really allow you to roll out over clothing at all because they grip too aggressively and cause the clothes to bunch up and get in the way.

Once again, the smooth, texture-less beads found on The Stick meant that it rolled over clothing better than any other. The MZDXJ roller also worked surprisingly well over clothing, likely because the clamshell shape and large handles make it easy to control and adjust. The Supremus Sports, our top budget option, has large smooth beads and also rolled over clothes relatively well.

Targeted Pressure


If all you want to do is quickly warm up cool muscles or flush out some of the accumulated toxins after a workout, then a light, smooth-rolling session to increase blood flow is the ticket. However, if you want to work out persistent knots or loosen up overly tight tissue, you will need to go deeper and slower. For this, you need to apply targeted pressure on just the spot you want, which is easier to do with some roller sticks than others.

How Hard Should You Roll?
How much pain you induce with your muscle roller stick is completely up to you. However, different levels of pressure work best for different purposes. Light and gentle pressure is optimal for increasing blood flow without damaging tissues, and this is what you should aim for when warming up or using the stick for recovery. If you are trying to relieve pain or loosen up overly sore muscles, be aware that pain and soreness indicate muscle damage, so rolling with medium pressure should work best without setting you back. For breaking up knots or scar tissue, you may need to press as hard as you can handle, but by doing so, you are likely creating tissue damage, so you may end up with soreness afterward, and a period of recovery could be needed before you notice significant improvements.

We like the Tiger Tail the best for deep tissue work because it...
We like the Tiger Tail the best for deep tissue work because it allows you to push down the hardest and more specifically, target the exact spot where you need to pressure because of its single wide roller design.

For applying targeted pressure, smooth beads work better than textured ones, and it really helps to have a rigid spindle that doesn't bend when you push down as hard as you desire. Every tester agreed that both the Tiger Tail and the Theraband Roller Massager + were equally matched as being the best for pressing hard to work out deep tissue tightness, and most said they would make one or the other their top choice for this exact reason. Depending on where you're massaging, we found that it can even perform as well as a traditional foam roller. The economical Supremus Sports is another good choice for applying pressure to the legs, but it didn't work as well for us on other parts of the body. For those seeking to get precision similar to a lacrosse or golf ball, the rounded handles of the STK Handheld Foam Roller do the trick.

The knobby handles of the STK are helpful for targeting pressure...
The knobby handles of the STK are helpful for targeting pressure, especially since the roller itself is less suitable for this purpose.

Rolling Smoothness


For optimal usage, it's nice to be able to roll your stick smoothly and quickly back and forth. Unfortunately, many of the products are designed so that there is a fair amount of built-in friction, which requires more energy to use and may prohibit you from rolling as quickly as you want. It seems to us that the plastic bead/stainless steel spindle combination creates more friction than plastic on plastic. Of course, the looser the beads fit on the spindle, the less friction. Tightly fitted beads, in contrast, create more friction.

You can see the gap between beads here, as well as the amount of...
You can see the gap between beads here, as well as the amount of space within the beads not occupied by the spindle. Both features help reduce friction and make the Stick the easiest rolling device, no matter what the conditions.

Once again, the smoothest rolling product by far is The Stick. This makes it especially effective for warming up and recovering from runs or workouts because it enables rapid action that greatly increases blood flow. In close contention with The Stick is the Theraband roller, whose plastic on plastic tube-style construction rolls effortlessly over any surface and has the added benefit of easily targeting pressure. The Kamileo Muscle Roller also rolls very smoothly. The crowd favorite Tiger Tail isn't quite as frictionless, but our testers found themselves willing to overlook this deficiency due to its benefits for targeted pressure.

Conclusion


Muscle roller sticks are a fantastic tool for self-massage and should be an important part of almost every runner's daily routine for self-maintenance and injury prevention, or for warming up various muscle groups before activity. Their use isn't limited to runners, and nearly any athlete or person who works out and experiences muscle aches can find a role for them in relieving pain and soreness, loosening tight muscles, and speeding up recovery. We hope this review has provided information and recommendations that serve you well in choosing the perfect stick for your needs.

Roller sticks work particularly well on the calves and shins, since...
Roller sticks work particularly well on the calves and shins, since these are muscles and tissues that no other self-massage device effectively targets. We like using them right after a run or workout to help flush out built up toxins and promote bloodflow for quicker recover. Taking in the view of Corbett Mountain in the San Juans post run.

Andy Wellman & Hannah Marshall

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