Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Triathlete On Budget : DIY Foam Roller

Fancy a Foam Roller but find that the price is just too...exorbitant? A typical foam roller will cost anything from RM100 to RM250 depending on make and fanci-ness. As I am an athlete with limited budget, i decided to find inspiration to make my own and a buddy Isaac Loo gave me a few idea I could improvise on. Thank You Buddy. 
What triggers me to seek this additional tool was the underlying condition that could still be hiding under my muscle as i am writing this. Many of you following this blog would know about my Sciatica and how it has went away after practicing Yoga for a few months. To put what foam rolling bluntly, allow me to quote and unquote Wikipedia on Foam Rolling.

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. This form of stretching utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle.
This technique can be effective for many muscles, including: gastrocnemius, latissimus dorsi, piriformis, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, thoracic spine (trapezius and rhomboids), and TFL*. It is accomplished by rolling the foam roller under each muscle group until a tender area is found, and maintaining pressure on the tender area for 30–60 seconds.
*TFL is  tensor fasciae latae (layman term : thigh muscle)
Some of you that know me from eons ago would know i am quite a DIY chap. I've fabricated even an Oil Catch Tank from uPVC pipes for my old Kancil. It worked wonderfully (and giving the extra Butt Dyno-ed 5hp). Working around everyday items and improvising it seems to give me joy - apart from saving money and keeping it for other purchases (which i can't DIY, like a GPS watch).
This is what you need:
DIY, Homemade, Triathlon
You got to be joking right Stupe?
1. One plastic pipe. Typical Foam Roller is 6 inches in diameter. I could not get anything 6 inches that is thick enough and not flex when under weight and i settled for a 3 inches uPVC pipe. Moreover, a more popular foam roller utilises smaller diameter too. As they say, good things come in small packages (most of the time). You will need about 30cm to 45cm of this 3 inch pipe. Wash the pipes to clear it from dust, grease or oil.
You can smooth out the jagged edges due to the sawing too. i did not bother. It will be covered up by the foam.
2. Non-slip mat. This will give traction on the surface and prevent the pipe from slipping. Also, non-slip mat is typically 3mm in thickness, which gives pretty sweet cushioning. Isaac uses the dotted non-slip mat, typical of those you can see used in automobiles. I went for something a bit fancier - with stripes. After all, if I am going to suffer (with the SMR) , might as well look good doing it.
3. Double sided tape. Any varieties will do. I wasn't sure what i needed so i got the typical EVA (or foam) type and an arcyclic (plastic) type. A roll would be sufficient.
4. Scissors you can find at home. Or if you are like me, i use my razor sharp CRKT EveryDay Carry (EDC) Foldies.
5. Some imagination.
This is how you do it:
1. First, you decide if you want the roller to have how many layer of foam. More foam will give you a softer feel while less foam layer, a harder feel (and thus, more deep penetrative SMR). I am going for 2 layers. You can either use the pipe to roll the non-slip mat up to get a gauge of the length needed; or you can be a maths whizz by doing the calculation to get the circumference of the mat required.
Nice stripes or not?
2. Next, you roll the double sided tape on the pipe. I intend to simulate "The Grid" foam and thus started by laying (almost) equally spaced tape along the circumference.
Almost equal distance. Almost.
3. I then remove the backing of the tape and start to roll the foam onto the pipe - keeping a firm pressure on the pipe and ensuring the mat stays in tension. 
4. Once that was done, i laid double sided tape diagonally across length wise. Logic tells me that once this folds along with the tape laid along the circumference, i will get a "box" like indention all over. Smart eh?
Since i had that plastic tape...might as well use it.
5. Repeat step 3. Ensuring that the mat stays tout.
6. Almost done.
I failed to align the stripes on the first roller
7. Fold in the extra into the pipe. This part need some thinking to "clean it up". But if you ask me, it doesn't bother me.
8. Now, you have your own foam roller!
You have to agree it looked better than most Foam Rollers in the market, isn't it?
How to use the foam roller for SMR.
I am currently learning to use it via a book and will share in the near future. Else, you can always Google or YouTube it up. Suffice to say, the first test after "producing" the DIY Foam Roller was pretty impressive.
One for the TFL
Doesn't look as professional, but hey, i got a limited edition that none of the manufacturer (or you) has.
Total Cost:
1. Pipe - the 3 inches uPVC cost me RM5/feet at a local hardware store. Just be nice to the owner and give them the puppy eye look. Don't bother explaining what you want to do with ONE 30cm worth of pipe. They won't understand. I got 2x30cm = RM10.00
2. Industrial double sided tape - I got mine at a bargain. 90sen/4meters. I shall exclude the arcyclic tape, as it wasn't actually needed to start with. The one roll of 4m is enough to make two roller.
3. Non-slip Mat - again, at a bargain. 45cmx125cm at RM7.50 - with stripe some more. Again, this is enough to make two roller. 
Total cost : RM10+RM0.90+RM7.50=RM18.80 for TWO roller. It works out to be RM7.90 RM9.40 (sorry, my maths is that bad) for EACH roller. 
Can't complain. At almost 90% cheaper than a nicely packaged roller, it functions the same.
One for the Lats.


  1. Steady La bro, glad you have made your own and yes its way cheaper to DIY as well as have our own design.

    Roll our pains away

    Train hard and Race Harder

  2. Excellent idea Stupe! I think you may need a slightly bigger pipe for your back.
    Never crossed my mind to actually make one myself.

  3. Good point Andrew. Problem is finding a strong enough pipe (thicker) to withstand the weight. Short of going the steel direction which is indestructable, plastic 3 inches or 4 inches would be best IMHO. I planning to make one that is a meter long so i can use it for core work. :)

  4. Hey I like your blog, this article is the kind of stuff I'm looking for! I write a blog about doing triathlons witout much money if you want to check it out... http://trionthecheap.blogspot.co.uk/

  5. Edward - nice knowing another triathlete! Hello from Malaysia! Page visited and bookmarked!

  6. Hey bro, where can you get those non slip mat as mentioned? Thanks.

    1. Jimmy bro - hardware shop usually has them, else go check at Mr. DIY in ss2 mall ;-)

  7. Thanks a lot man!!!

  8. My doctor recommended a golf ball muscle roller, it has really helped my muscles recover.


    1. :D Works too. I have a golf ball, a tennis ball and a set of softball!

  9. Ingenious. I am crap at DIY, so, the next time you make anything, just do it in twos. One for me and one for you!

  10. But...however....for you LK, can!