Sunday, April 24, 2011

Foam rolling is for church moms

The foam roller is the perfect DIY project. Not only can you make it better than commercial options, you can make it for 1/3 of the price. It takes only 20 minutes, if that, and even a child possesses the necessary skills to complete it.

Cost: around $10 to $15
Project time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: If you can't manage this, wait until you start Kindergarten where you'll learn the appropriate skills, such as how to cut tape.

Materials Needed:
  • PVC pipe (roughly 2 foot length, 4 to 6 inch diameter)
  • Duct Tape
  • Pipe Insulation foam
  • Lacrosse balls (tennis balls are a poor substitute, but a substitute nonetheless)

Tools Needed:  
  • Scissors would help (or a knife)

Foam rollers are not cheap. Most of them wear down over time and lose their stiffness, making them less effective or even useless eventually. And as a bonus we'll get more than just a foam roller out of this project. If you want to spend $30 a piece on something that will eventually wear out, go for it. Or we can make one that will last forever and cost about $10.

The only way to wear this guy out is temperatures exceeding 250 degrees.
The concept of a foam roller is essentially just a cylindrical object that is hard enough to smush your muscles and tissue, to put it crudely. It doesn't even have to be foam at all. The downside of foam is that as you smash into it, it eventually loses it's rigidity over time. The common solution to this is to just use a PVC pipe instead. It will never lose it's rigidity unless you take a heat gun to it and melt it. And even then it will harden back up once it cools, though it would be quite deformed then and useless for rolling

Your local hardware store should have 4 inch diameter PVC pipe already cut into 2 foot lengths. Perfect, you don't even have to cut the pipe at all. They cost around $3 a piece.

Now you can simply use the bare pipe like this but it could present a problem that you may want to spend a few bucks to eliminate. The issue is that the pipe may have a tendency to slide across the floor rather than roll. The pipe is completely smooth and therefore does not grip well. Since your relaxed muscle tissue is squishy the pipe will grip into your body a bit, especially if you are rolling against bare skin, but depending on the floor surface it may not grip into the floor and instead the pipe will just slide across the floor. What we need it to do is roll, and to do this it has to get traction on the floor surface.

To remedy this we put foam on top of it. We don't do this to soften the pipe or make it more comfortable. We just do it to give the pipe some grip so it won't slide. If it won't slide, it has to roll, just like we want it to.

Since you'll be in the plumbing section anyway, look around for "pipe insulation". This is about a 1/4 inch thick foam tubing that you wrap around the outside of pipes. They likely won't have them for 4 inch pipes, but that's okay. Just buy whatever size they have and you can cut it into 2 foot lengths and piece them together around your larger pipe. Make sure you get enough, depending on the length of the foam and the length of your roller. You will probably need 2 or 3 packages of foam (i believe they come in 6 foot lengths).

This type of foam can be sticky backed but I'm not sure if their adhesive is enough to hold it onto your roller pipe by itself. If you try it and it works then okay, but if not, here's what I did. Use duct tape to make double sided tape by wrapping pieces into a circle with sticky side out. I think everyone should know what I'm talking about. Don't they teach you this in 1st grade art class? Stick these pieces of tape all over the the pipe. Cut the foam to the length of your pipe. Then wrap your foam around the pipe. The duct tape will hold it in place. Do this piece by piece until your whole pipe is covered. You may have to cut a smaller section of foam for the final piece. It doesn't matter how pretty it looks, you're not going to see this puzzle of foam anyway.

Once the pipe is completely wrapped in foam, wrap duct tape tightly around the entire thing, sticky side down. This will ensure that the foam won't move or come off.
Why not just use a "pool noodle?" For one, the foam is pretty thick. This would make piecing it around a 4 inch diameter pipe very difficult. We also don't need the foam to be so thick. We want the hardness of the pipe, we just need some foam to give it squish so it grips the floor. I've also heard, "why not just slide a bit of 1 inch diameter pipe into the center of the noodle?" Because then you have a foam roller that's too small in diameter. You want a 4 to 6 inch diameter roller. For general purposes foam rollers should be large like this.

That's it for the foam roller. It's strong. It will never lose it's firmness, and the outside is just squishy enough to grip so that it won't slide. This will produce a roller that is much harder than some of these foam rollers out there, but that's not a bad thing. Like famous powerlifter Jim Wendler says, as he recommends using a PVC pipe instead, "foam rollers are for church moms." At least that's what I think he said, it was kinda hard to understand him.

So, the pipe should be about $3. The duct tape is like $4 for a whole roll, of which you won't use it all, and the foam is about $1 or so per package. Go to the store and look at the yoga foam rollers and you'll pay $25. Well you won't pay anything to look at them, but if you buy them they're about $25 or more. Not only is our DIY design a much better product, it's a third of the cost.

These balls are literally going to be a pain in your ass.

Now on to the balls. It's quite simple, we just want a plain tennis ball or lacrosse ball to work more specific areas like the glutes and bottom of the feet. No modification required. Lacrosse balls are the better choice. Tennis balls are hollow, that is to say they're filled with air and therefore squishier. Lacrosse balls are solid rubber and thus harder; they don't really compress at all. Just keep that in mind when deciding which you want. I personally favor lacrosse balls, especially for things like the bottom of the feet but tennis balls are certainly more common and easier to find. If you can get lacroses balls then do so.

That's it. You can do all your foam rolling and tissue work for a one time fee of about  ten bucks.



  1. Andrew do we place the lacrosse balls do we just stick them in?and are they necessary?

    1. You didn't read the last paragraph did you?

  2. Uh, what? If you are looking for specific things to do with a lacrosse ball go over to the mwod:

  3. The MWOD is amazing. Carry on supple leopard.

  4. My dad had the brilliant idea to spray the pipe with bedliner instead of covering it in foam and duct tape. It rolls perfectly and was simpler, and I think it looks better.

  5. Anyone else on the bed liner spray stuff? I'm kind of intrigued. Would be easier and hardcore to the max on the muscles.

  6. I found this site via Reddit today and just finished making one of these cheap rollers. I tried it and my gnarled muscles groaned in relief as their sinews and fibers were massaged.

    Ain't no way I was gonna pay $30 for a piece of foam.

  7. Built this yesterday in an hour. Total cost at Home Depot was $9.26. Thanks for the idea!

  8. another idea for the foam replacement: use the foam sleeping pads found in the camping section. the cheap stuff that's about a half inch thick.

  9. Are you supposed to cut down the length of the pipe insulation foam + then stick them on as half cylinders? Or stick them on in their original full cylindrical shape, which eventually gets flattened the more your roll?

    1. Cut down the length of the pipe insulation foam, but only on one side of the cylinder. That way you're left with one piece of foam that you can open up and wrap it around the face of the PVC pipe. Most insulation foam already has this slit cut down the length of it so you can just easily break it open with your hands.

  10. Great!!! Thanks so much - I'm going to make this stat!!!!

  11. Thank you... No I have my own cheap but sturdy foam roller.. yayy.. \m/

  12. excellent post...just made me one but had to use 1/2" foam since Home Depot was out of 1/4" but it works great. Total $9.47 and 30 minutes

  13. Why do you need the foam at all? If the only purpose is to provide friction, why not just wrap it directly with duct tape and skip the foam all together?

    1. I think it depends on the surface on which you're rolling. On a hard floor you are probably right. I remember thinking the duct tape wasnt soft enough to grip well on carpet, which is how i primarilary used it at the time.

  14. I used cotton tape to cover the pipe. Normally used for taping in field hockey sticks. Works well doesn't slide. No foam.

  15. Very interesting and informative blog and about the Rollga Best Foam Roller I must appreciate your work well done keep it up.
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  16. I just stretched a lonely sock over the pipe. It was sized so that the cuff wrapped over the end and naturally inserted to the inside. My pipe is about 16". Great for traveling and doubles as a tube container.

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