Chirp Wheel Review
Many of us have suffered with back ache at some point, whether it’s chronic or temporary, irritating or debilitating, caused by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle or from overexertion. Some people experience it as a matter of course and have to take full-time measures. Some people simply need relief from spinal compression and muscular tension after a hard training session.
Either way, relief is indeed needed, and massage can be a godsend.
However, we can’t all afford massages. It’s impractical to get them daily, which is often needed. This is where self-massage come into their own.
The Chirp Wheel is a back massager – a fantastic tool for self-massage that you can use whenever you need it. In fact, it’s one of the best. It is designed to bring both instant and longer term relief to your back, as daily knots are worked out and blood flow is improved to the relevant muscles.
There is a broad spectrum of back-massagers on the market, including the trusty old foam roller (one of my favorites, though I’ll go into this in more detail below). However, they all work by similar means and elicit similar benefits.
When looking into back massagers, there are a few things to bear in mind – fundamentals that will make or break your relief.
First off, firmness is a big deal. How firm you want a product depends in small part on personal preference and in large part on the use to which you will be putting your massager.
If you like a more tender massage, you will want a softer massager. If you will be using the massager as part of a warm up or warm down, or to work your back in full, you will also want a softer massager.
If you like a stronger massage, go firmer. If you will be using your massager to bring relief to specific pain points, go firmer.
With this in mind, texture will also be important. A massager with detailing and protrusions will be perfect for working deep into muscle tissue, tackling those pain points, whilst a smoother, non-textured one will be better for more global use. Size will also make a difference. The larger the massager, the harder it will be to target specific points, but the easier it will be to work the full back all at once. If you want to target areas in isolation, go with smaller models.
Finally, durability is an issue. I’ve had foam rollers that have simply snapped through overuse (I’ll admit I’m on the heavy side, but so are many people who lift weights, and they should all be foam rolling regularly!) A good back massager will be made from EVA foam or injection molded industrial plastic and should be able to take 500 pounds of resistance.
The Chirp Wheel
Well, in short, very well indeed. It’s a good quality, very useful tool, good at doing what it does.
It’s the latest incarnation of the Plexus Wheel, a Kickstarter venture that really took off, now renamed to the Chirp Wheel.
You get a series of three 5-inch wide wheels of different diameters, designed to relieve back pain by giving a high-quality deep tissue massage to the muscles surrounding the spine, without putting too much pressure into the spine itself.
The three wheels can all be bought separately, but honestly, they all serve a purpose, are all useful, so I would recommend getting them all together.
Using The Chirp Wheel
If you’re used to using a foam roller, the first thing you will notice about using Chirp Wheels, is how slim they are. They are only five inches wide, which seems a little counter-intuitive compared to a larger roller that can take in the whole back.
Don’t let this put you off – it’s actually a very good thing. This width allows the Chirp Wheel to fit comfortably between your shoulder blades. The result is a fantastic concentration of force. Though you will be working less muscle mass overall, the increased force going into the muscles you are working will help to release their tension far more effectively.
In fitting between the shoulder blades, rather than over them, the Chirp Wheel is also working the muscles of your back, rather than simply rolling over the bones of the scapulae.
In addition, the Chirp Wheel is designed with a patented spinal canal. This helps to further stretch out your muscles, molding them to the wheel’s shape, delivering a more intense stretch, and generally making the experience more efficient and rewarding.
- 6 inches for a deep tissue massage
- 10 inches for a medium level of massage
- 12 inches for a gentle massage
I particularly liked the six inch post workout, with the other two being very useful (and more bearable!) on my recovery days. I think the twelve inch, in particular, will work well for daily use for anyone suffering with back pain or tightness.
The claim is that the wheels deliver a more focused, deeper tissue massage than a conventional foam roller. I don’t know how the science pans out on this – it’s a relatively new innovation, yet to be too rigorously tested – but I would have to agree. I love foam rollers for working my full back, including the wings of my lats, but they don’t seem as intense as a Chirp Wheel massage. Each wheel is built with a central groove designed to deliver a deeper stretch of the muscles of the back. The focused size you get with a Chirp Wheel really did leave my spinal erectors and inner back muscles feeling fantastic.
I do sometimes worry about fitness products – as mentioned above, I have a bit of a tendency to break flimsier ones. Generally, if I like something that I’ve lived with for any amount of time, it is tough as nails and can withstand a lot! The Chirp Wheel gave me no cause for concern at all. It has been strength tested to withstand 500 pounds of pressure and feels like it, giving you a firm, stable surface on which to lay your bodyweight.
However, it’s clever as well as tough. The Chirp Wheel is coated in compression sensitive padding. Sometimes, tougher rollers can simply bruise you, putting all of the pressure into your skin. The Chirp Wheel’s compression sensitive padding takes the pressure where it is needed – deep into the muscle tissue. It is useful, comfortable, and leaves you feeling refreshed, not battered about.
Another common issue I face is sweat – the stuff pours off me after a heavy workout! Then I find myself having to navigate a foam roller, covering it in sweat and potentially sliding all over the place. The Chirp Wheel came into its own again here. It has a sweat-resistant outer padding, which stops you slipping – meaning you can keep the pressure into the pain point you need to focus on – and the foam is completely odorless as a bit of an added bonus.
The Chirp Wheel will also help you to develop strength, flexibility and balance through your back – much as a yoga wheel would. I personally found this incredibly helpful pre- and post- bench press. It allowed me to get a slightly deeper, stronger arch through my lower back, giving me better stability. I noticed the difference after just a couple of sessions. My recovery was also faster using it, as I got far less tightness and pinching through my lower back.
I’m going to write this as an ‘alternatives’ section, but this is perhaps a little insincere. Rather, there are a couple of things you may want to get in addition to a Chirp Wheel. Get these alongside your Chirp Wheel, use them all regularly, and you should be able to cover pretty much any deficit going, getting the best back massage – and the best out of your back health – that you are able.
First up, you will still want a foam roller of some description. I would personally go with a trigger point foam roller, which will have a multidimensional surface designed to give you a range of textures. It will allow you to start off your back massage globally, involving your lats and rhomboids far more than the Chirp Wheel will do.
Secondly, I would go with a lacrosse or physio ball. You will want to use this after the Chirp Wheel, resting your weight on it, focused on any particularly tight or hot pain points. This will be unpleasant but very useful! It will allow you to really zero in on your trouble areas.
This, for me, is a winning trinity. Begin big, go down a size with a Chirp Wheel, then finish off extra targeted with a ball. I tried it and my back has never felt so good!
In a nutshell, what makes the Chirp Wheel so great, and what would I like to see improvements on? Well, there are a few things in both camps.
If you suffer with back pain in any way, you will likely benefit from regular massages. As above, the price and inconvenience involved with going to a proper masseuse is often prohibitive to long-term use, especially if you’re looking at multiple visits per week.
Back massagers are the next best thing. They can work wonders.
The Chirp Wheel is one of the best examples of a back massager I’ve had the pleasure to work with. It serves an important function, allows for amazing spinal mobility and full back relaxation, and complements regular foam roller work incredibly well.
Though they are priced far more expensively than regular foam rollers, the quality and extras you get are fantastic. The three sizes are well thought out, the materials are incredibly comfortable and pleasant to use, and their solidity is reassuring.
Buy them. Buy a cheap foam roller. Spend a few dollars on a couple of lacrosse balls. This will be all you will ever need to maintain fantastic back health well into old age, or to overcome any amount of training induced cramp or spinal compression.