8 Best Foam Roller Alternatives (From A Certified Trainer)

“Foam rollers are an effective method of reducing tension and increasing muscle length,” says ACE Fitness. Not only that, but it helps boost blood flow, break down scar tissue, reduce muscle soreness, increase range of motion, and much more!  

However, not everyone has one available at their gym or home. If you're looking for an excellent foam roller alternative, then you're in the right place because we have them all right here!

We have a list of the best alternatives out there below. These have all proven to help with loosening up muscle tension and, in many cases, are even more effective than foam rollers! Many of them you may even have in your home already! 

1. Tennis Ball, Baseball, Lacrosse Ball

Virtually any ball is going to work for self-myofascial release (SMR). However, these seem to be the most efficient. They're a crowd favorite for foot pain, particularly plantar fasciitis.

Grab the ball and use it against the wall or place it on the floor so you can apply pressure against the muscles that are sore or tight. Roll over this spot for about 15 to 30 seconds. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Don't push too hard! This is the kind of exercise that should "hurt so good" but remember not to overdo it.

Related Article - Benefits Of Foam Rolling & Alternatives

8 Foam Roller Alternatives (Myofascial Release Substitutes)

2. Massage Stick or Rolling Pin

These offer more control than balls, as they come with handles on either side. This makes it easier to target and apply more pressure to your liking. Massage sticks often come with little spikes to offer a deep-tissue kind of massage. 

However, many of us already have rolling pins at home, and these work great, as well. If just the pure rolling pin is too intense for you, try wrapping a dish towel around it to make it a bit softer.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

I recommend using a massage stick along with stretching after your workout. This will greatly reduce your risk of muscle strain injuries.

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3. Barbell

Okay, we're going to preface this by saying using a barbell is definitely not for everyone in terms of removing muscle tension. They're obviously significantly heavier than a broom, but if you need additional pressure, then it's perfect.

Not only that, but it's pretty thin, too, making it great for targeting smaller spots on the body. The best way to use a barbell is to hold on to the barbell itself and roll the knurled sleeve (barbell end) over your sore muscles. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

This alternative is best for when you're in a bind and don't have anything else to use. If you can use a lighter object, such as a broom stick, that would be easier.

Read More - How To Foam Roll Your Lats

barbell for smr

4. Trigger Point Massage Ball

As we previously mentioned, balls can be very effective for SMR – particularly in smaller spots that foam rollers can't target as well. However, these massage balls are larger than a tennis or lacrosse ball and are designed exactly for this purpose.

Many even come with pressure-point spikes, which offer a deeper tissue massage for greater muscle relief. If you're just starting out with SMR, this is one of the best choices. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

This is another great option for using in tandem with a pre-workout stretching routine. If you don't stretch, you should definitely start.

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5. Hard Plastic Bottle

Most of us already have one of these at home, though they're not the most effective. They are shorter and thicker, and can be excellent for releasing tight muscles in the legs.

However, really pay attention to how durable the bottle is – we don't want you breaking it! Using a tumbler full of ice can give you a cooling effect as well.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Basically, any bottle will work. A large reusable and tough water bottle is the best option, however.

Learn More - How To Fix Tight Lats

plastic bottle as foam roller

6. TheraGun

These guns have been around for quite a while, but in recent years have really exploded in popularity! Using percussive massage therapy, muscle tension and pain are relieved through vibrations. 

The rate and strength of the vibrations can be adjusted, and the guns typically come with different types of attachments to allow for more versatility. You can use it with a more concentrated, broad, soft, or deep-tissue focus.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

You have probably seen these TheraGuns used by top-tier athletes during the Olympics! They have become very popular over the past few years and for good reason.

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7. Broomstick

This is another one that is a great option if you are on a budget or don't yet want to invest in something that you aren't sure you're going to use regularly. This, like a rolling pin, gives you more control over the pressure you apply and where exactly you use it. 

However, broomsticks are thinner than rolling pins, which means they can target smaller areas. We actually recommend a broomstick to break up scar tissue,  as well as muscle adhesions in the quads, hamstrings, and calves. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Broomsticks are also great for stretching movements. You can hold it behind your back and stretch your shoulders joints.

using a broomstick as a foam roller

PVC pipe is an excellent alternative if you don't have the other items at home and want something inexpensive. Try grabbing a piece 6-12 inches long; whatever works for you. 

You can get it at a local hardware store for easily less than 10 bucks. You'll use this pipe just as you would your average foam roller. It works particularly well on the upper back and legs. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

This exercise for SMR is similar to using a broomstick. You might find that a PVC pipe is a bit more durable, however.

pvc pipe for smr

Benefits Of Foam Roller Alternatives 

Using a foam roller alternative at home is helpful for just about anyone. They can help reduce soreness, increase range of motion, improve circulation, and much more. If you have experienced a muscle injury, you may notice more tension in that area. This is a natural response by the body to "protect" it. However, poor posture or incorrect body mechanics can also overload the fascia, making the muscles tighter. 

These alternatives will help release that tension, releasing that tightness and increasing elasticity. Using foam rolling alternatives is crucial for proper movement and for minimizing the risk of injury. You can do these at the gym or at home, but we recommend keeping your alternative at home so you can use it whenever you're watching TV or have a free moment.  

Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Foam Roller Substitutes

When using a substitute for a foam roller, there are some rules that you want to follow. Try to avoid rolling over bony spots or joints, as this can actually cause or increase inflammation. Also, take caution over the lower back and neck – or just avoid them completely. Hyperextension is a great risk here, so try a smaller tool like a tennis ball in this area.  

There will often be a kind of discomfort while rolling, but it should never be serious pain or prolonged discomfort. Tying into this point, avoid overworking an area. We recommend rolling for about 30 seconds on each spot, repeating for up to around 2 minutes.  

Frequently Asked Foam Roller Alternative Questions  

Can I use a yoga mat as a foam roller?  

Using a yoga mat as a foam roller is not going to cause you any harm, but it’s also unlikely to yield you results as it’s so soft. You need something more dense and firm so that pressure can be applied.

Can foam rolling be harmful?  

If done correctly, it’s absolutely safe to use foam rollers. However, if you have a serious injury such as a muscular tear, you need to ask your physician or physical therapist before doing anything.

Do I need very hard items to do muscular rolling?  

It shouldn’t be so soft that it’s very compressed when you apply pressure to your muscles. Tennis balls work great if you're not ready for something harder than that. They are durable but still have a little bit of flex to them.

Is stretching the same as muscle rolling?  

No, stretching is not the same as muscle rolling, however, both can help lengthen muscles and boost flexibility and range of motion. Stretching can be performed after foam rolling for best results. Stretching isn’t addressing the myofascial layer and really getting in deep to break up those connections.  


Now that you’re practically an expert regarding all foam rolling alternatives, which tool are you going to incorporate into your fitness regimen? We hope that our guide is able to guide you to the perfect tool for you! Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see you again shortly! 


Last Updated on March 20, 2023