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Mobility Battle: Foam Roller or Buffer?

mobility-battle-foam-roller-vs-car-polisher-buffer

Car buffer indeed. The car polisher joins the foam roller as the brand new craze in the fitness industry, taking mobility tools to the next level. Rugged sports require rugged measures to perform you might say, but when is it too much? Can these purely industrial tools actually be beneficial for sports performance and recovery?

If you are experienced using these badboys skip straight to the last section titled ‘Foam Roller or Buffer’. Alternatively, if you have no idea how these tools would be used, then do continue reading here.

 

Foam Rolling

We’ve already recommended foam rolling as one of the best ways to boost recovery. As with everything that’s good for you, it does come with a caveat however. In short, we hope you like pain, because foam rolling causes discomfort of a level you probably won’t have experienced before especially if you don’t expose yourself to rugged environment and obstacle races. There’s a lot to be said for the immense relief that follows once the pain ends…

Generally you can use a foam roller for miofascial release and rolling out the tight muscle knots, lactic acid and fascial waste. To use a foam roller correctly, you just need to use it during recovery/warmup periods by allowing your bodyweight to rest on top of it with muscles relaxed, then start rolling very slowly, feeling the teeth (trigger points) of the roller passing the painful spots in major muscle areas. That’s all there is to it! For example, you lay flat, rest the front of your quadriceps on top of the foam roller and start to roll back and forth slowly. Legs, arms, back and shoulder muscles are the ones I usually target with the foam roller at least a couple of times a week. With a race coming up, I’ll do it everyday for a week or two before it.

The best parts about it:

  • It works wonders and will make you feel like a million bucks
  • Portable and lightweight
  • Trigger points are designed to reach deep tissues

 

Cons:

  • Takes some time to roll all the spots
  • Can be extremely painful

 

Using a Car Polisher aka Buffer

I was extremely skeptical about this car-mechanic-shop-meets-fitness-industry tool, and you might well be too. I’d not used one before and so I wasn’t sure if it would be dangerous to use a buffer on your limbs because of its rapid movement and vibrations. Unsurprisingly, it’s these two factors that make the buffer do wonders by polishing your soft and deep muscle tissues really well.

For best effect, you should aim to get an orbital buffer with at least 3000 /min speed in no-load conditions. But won’t this hurt my skin, you might ask? This tool is actually not that powerful and, when put into contact with a harder surface, it stops to spin. This is when the magic happens – because of the insertion, the buffer generates strong vibrations which are absorbed by your soft tissues. We would recommend using the buffer as follows: warm the muscles up placing the buffer flat against your body, then turn it at an angle so that the edge of the buffer is vibrating against your skin, targeting and ‘squeezing’ more tender spots. This doesn’t hurt at all. Rather, it creates a strong massage sensation.

I’ve been using the buffer right before going for a run and sometimes in the evening after long days of chair-tied office work. Even after a lot of walking, my legs feel too much like jello, and using the buffer warms them up, releasing the tightness and even making you break a sweat. The good kind of sweat, not the cold sweat that comes with the pain of using a foam roller.

The best parts about it:

  • It works wonders and will make you feel like a million bucks
  • Perfect to warm up the muscle before hitting the road
  • It’s a short routine
  • Strong vibrations reach deep tissues without pain or major discomfort

 

Cons:

  • Requires electricity to work
  • Clunky and not mobile
  • Can be fairly loud

 

So – Foam Roller or Buffer?

I was debating over purchasing the buffer for some time. The issue was that I wasn’t convinced that introducing the buffer into my routine would give me more benefit than I was already getting from using a foam roller regularly.

During one of the longer Tough Mudder races last year, which I was ill-prepared for, my ligaments were damaged to such an extent that I couldn’t run for a few months after. Foam rolling was a lifesaver then. It relieved a lot of the pressure and helped lengthen extremely tight muscles, which weren’t allowing the ligaments to heal. My runner’s knee pain went away in record time.

The best bit about using a foam roller is its portability. Despite the pain, there is something relaxing about rolling that muscle tightness away. Using a buffer, on the other hand, is loud and does require some dexterity. It’s also not very portable so you’re unlikely to be able to take it with you to a race weekend. Unless of course you have a power generator handy…

Both tools are undoubtedly fantastic at helping to boost your recovery and improve your mobility, thus reducing your chance of injury. They might even take away almost a minute off your mile, I’ve found, and generally make your movements feel more fluid. For me the best compromise will be to use the buffer for warmups and at-home practice, while allocating the foam roller for right before a race or when I just feel like reaching pain-induced catharsis.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are some hybrid alternatives to both tools, like the hyper-ice vibrating foam roller. Less brutal than a car buffer yet mimicking its movements, this is probably the closest the fitness industry will get to selling power tools. We have no affiliation with this brand, it’s just the only example of low tech meets high tech in the market. If you have one, we’d love to hear how it’s worked for you and if it’s worth the price.

 

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