Here’s my review of two awesome recovery products– the R8 by Roll Recovery and the Vyper vibrating foam roller by Hyperice. If you’re serious about recovery, this post may help you decide which product is right for you. Sadly, I could keep only one.
I recently committed myself to doing something about the knots and bands of tight muscles in my lower body as these areas have seen more than their fair share of injuries. Plus, increasingly range of movement and freeing up muscles to move better means more power. In other words, “free speed.” A quick review of the web revealed two products– the R8 by Roll Recovery and the Vyper by Hyperice— as two great devices for this problem. Getting serious means committing a bit more cash than buying a $20 foam roller– and both of these products cost more than $100. The Hyperice roller is available on Amazon Prime and Roll Recovery offers a great return policy on the R8 if ordered from their website. So, apart from the cost of return shipping, it was a pretty risk-free trial. They are both great products, but there was no way I was going to spend over $300 for the combined price of both of them.
First up is the Hyperice Vyper vibrating roller. This product was recommended to me by one of my physical therapists who absolutely loves it. When you pull it out of the box, it’s clear that some serious marketing dollars went into the design and packaging.
Getting past the marketing and packaging, however, the device itself reminds me of a small thermonuclear warhead that you might see in a Mission Impossible movie. It’s dark and cylindrical with a set of ominous glowing blue LEDs are one end. The foam itself looks very industrial, as if designed to MIL-SPEC criteria. The marketing material tells you that the foam is specially made in Germany and engineered to transfer vibrations and with carefully designed ridges. Whatever. That’s not what you’re paying for in this $200 (yes, $200!) foam roller. Instead, it’s the vibrating core in the center of the roller. It has three power settings of low, medium, and high. It’s probably better to describe those settings as explosive, thermonuclear, and apocalyptic. Yes, it is an extremely intense vibrating core.
So how does it work? Well, after charging forever, you turn it on using a slide switch at one end. Then you press a button on the other end for it to start vibrating. That same push button cycles low–>medium–>high–>off. I really like the dual switch design because it makes it almost impossible to turn on accidentally.
The Vyper does an amazing job at working on muscles. The vibrations causes even tight knots and bands of muscles to relax a little bit, allowing your body weight and the roller to dig in a little bit more. I was really surprised by how well vibrations and rolling worked together. If you enjoy using a foam roller, the Vyper offers all of the same benefits as static rolling (if you don’t turn the power on, it’s a regular foam roller) plus an entirely new dimension with the vibrations.
As amazing as it is, I sent it back to Amazon within a week of getting it. Why? Because it’s still rolling– and if you don’t like using a foam roller, the Vyper isn’t going to make you into a convert. In my review of the web, I’ve noticed that foam rolling creates more polarized views than politics. On the one hand, there are folks who love foam rolling. They roll whenever they can and don’t mind the fact that it’s a fair amount of work to contort yourself into weird positions to roll. On the other hand, there are people who hate foam rolling. These people think of foam rolling as work and not relaxation. I suspect that most of this latter group have wimpy upper bodies because it takes a good amount of arm and shoulder work to support your body as you roll. If so, I’m definitely in the second group. I have the upper body strength of an emaciated 8-year old girl. I also want my recovery work to be relaxing. My attitude is that the hard work goes into training– if I still have energy to devote to recovery, I just didn’t go hard enough. Sure, the Vyper made foam rolling much better and infinitely more effective but it was still foam rolling.
There are some other inconveniences with the Vyper. First, those super-effective vibrations come at a cost. If you live in a building with bad sound dampening, the Vyper will not make you popular with your neighbors– it probably makes about as much noise as a powerful vacuum cleaner. Not something you want to do at 11:00pm at night. Also, it can wiggle away from you more easily than a standard foam roller because of those vibrations. The online demonstration videos have models using the Vyper on thickly-padded area rugs– a really good idea when using this device. I originally used it directly on a hardwood floor and it was challenging getting it to stay in place long enough for me to get on top of it. The second set of inconveniences come from the inherent nature of rolling and the limitations of the human body. For instance, if you are rolling out your hamstrings, you can’t help but bend at the hip. That immediately pulls on your hamstrings. So right from the start, your position is somewhat compromised for getting at your hamstrings. And third, there’s the weight. The Vyper comes in at a hefty 1.175 kg (2.6 pounds) because of the vibrating core and its heavy battery. Compare that with the weight of a standard foam roller cut to the same length at 175 grams (0.4 pounds)
These are all minor inconveniences compared to the benefits. While I’m not a foam rolling fan, my friends who are absolutely loved the idea of the Vyper and many of them already have one or went out and bought one after seeing mine. And that’s pretty much my recommendation– if you like foam rolling now, get one of these things and you’ll be in heaven. But if you don’t like foam rolling, don’t expect it to change your mind.
R8 Roll Recovery
If the Vyper is like an upgraded foam roller, the R8 is a like a self-driving massage stick. The R8 looks like a giant plastic C-clamp with roller blade wheels. It works a bit like that but uses two strong springs to clamp down on your muscles. If you have ever used a massage stick (e.g. The Stick), you’ll know that they are great at really digging into muscles but they are still hard work. The R8 uses a powerful set of springs and mostly does all the work for you while you just effortless slide it up and down.
If you dig around the web, you’ll notice that the R8 has a bit of a cult-like following. I suspect it’s mostly folks like me who don’t want to work hard when they’re recovering. With the R8, I lean back and relax on the couch while rolling it effortless up and down. It does a killer job on the IT band– an area that is a real pain to work on with a foam roller. It also gets at areas that are impossible to get to on a foam roller. For instance, while I was working on my IT band, I noticed that the inside of my thigh (my hip adductors) had some nasty tight spots in them which my R8 targeted perfectly. Try rolling those out with a foam roller! This last example points to another benefit of the R8– because it clamps on two sides, it works on opposite muscle groups at the same time. Leigh over at the Athletes Treating Athletes blog (if you don’t follow this blog, you should– it gives a PT’s perspective on being an athlete and treating them) has a great review of the R8 and highlights this aspect as a key feature of the R8 roller. Leigh also gives great advice on targeting the medial hamstrings and calves, two traditional hot spots for runners. But the best takeaway from her review is how she uses different rollers to either flush muscles out or target tiny areas for intense focus. I also like her idea about using the R8 over the entire lower leg, something else that’s hard to do with a foam roller but key to ankle and foot mobility and strength.
I now use the R8 every day while my wife and I are relaxing after dinner watching the TV. I start with my upper leg and start with a gentle flush for a minute or so. This gets a bit of blood flowing, identifies the tight spots and trigger points, and desensitizes the muscles for the more intense stuff to follow. Then I start to bear down on the tight/tender spots. I’ll do this by using the inner-most wheels (as recommends by Leigh) to really focus on the tight spots. If they are really bad, I’ll get out my Knobble massage tool (other people prefer a lacrosse ball) and do a classic “tack and floss” a few times on the area (bear down on tight spot and then gently stretch the muscle). For recalcitrant knots in big muscles, I’ll also angle the R8 and hit the muscle against the grain of the muscle. This cross-friction massage is devastatingly effective and also next to impossible with a foam roller or even a stick. Then, once I’ve hit all the areas, I’ll reverse the process and go back to a some gentle flushing. Before moving on to the next area, I’ll compare it the other (untreated) side– always a night-and-day difference! The lower legs get special attention from the ankles all the way up. While you’re never supposed to roll over bony areas, you can still get a lot of focused work done near the ankles. But the one area of my body that has benefited the most from the R8 are my calves. Since my teenage years, I’ve had two giant knots in my medial calves and they are finally loosening up with R8 and Knobble.
I love the R8 as a daily recovery device. Compared to other forms of recovery (EMS, recovery boots, compression gear, etc), the R8 is more focused on permanent changes and therapeutic benefits in getting at underlying injuries. On the other hand, the R8 isn’t as “refreshing” as those other forms of recovery. In other words, I’m more likely to use those other forms of recovery over an R8 if my goal is a race tomorrow. But the ideal form of recovery is both– for instance, using an R8 followed by some compression is heaven on earth.
Like the Vyper, the R8 isn’t for everyone. If you’re not used to a hard plastic roller on your skin, the R8 can be a little ticklish at first. I have one friend who couldn’t help but giggle every time she tried it. It also is useless for back and shoulder issues– an area where the foam roller still rules. Also, because you can’t roll over bony area, it’s hard to hit the lateral calf separately (although you can get it my squeezing the whole calf– lateral and medial heads– between the rollers). Lastly, it’s not cheap ($119 on their website) or lightweight (1.1 kilograms or 2.4 pounds). But, despite it’s awkward shape, it fits nicely in my carry-on bag and I love using it on a plane.
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