Using foam rollers can help you warm up for a workout, ease sore muscles and prevent injuries, but their utility goes beyond myofascial release. You can also use them to build muscle and challenge your body. So grab a long foam roller and try these moves to work your body from head to toe.
Add any of these moves to your current workout or do them all together. If you combine them, do timed sets — 25 seconds of work and 12 seconds of rest — to keep a good brisk pace, says Jonathan Ross, an award-winning certified fitness professional.
“This variation brings dynamic stability, making it more beneficial and more interesting than a motionless plank,” Ross explains.
The move: Come to a forearm plank with your forearms on the foam roller. Then gently shift your body backward and forward by either moving your ankles or by rolling the foam roller up and down your forearms. The forward position (roller near your elbows) is hardest on your core, while the backward position (roller near your wrists) is hardest on your arms.
If you find stability ball hamstring curls quite challenging, Ross suggests trying this version. The roller is more stable than a ball, so it’s a little easier.
The move: Lie faceup on the floor with a foam roller under your ankles. Lift your hips as your feet move in toward your body. (It’s like a glute bridge with your feet on the roller.) Then slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.
“The asymmetry of the hands and the instability of the roller make this a challenging variation on an already challenging exercise,” Ross explains. “The farther apart your hands are, the harder the exercise will be, so experiment with different spacing to give you a good challenge, but still a feeling of success.”
The move: Place a foam roller longways on the floor in front of you. Place your hands one in front of the other on the roller and place your toes on the floor so you are in a modified plank position with your legs straight. Jump both feet to the right of the roller, then back to the starting position. Then jump both feet to the left of the roller and back to the starting position. Continue alternating sides.
“Planking can be overlooked as a passive, static core exercise,” says Colette Nguyen, a certified personal trainer at Crunch 59th Street in New York City. “Performing this variation allows you to recruit the glutes and adductors of the legs to activate your deep core and lower abdominals. The total-body tension directly improves the performance of fundamental compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pushups and pullups.”
The move: Squeeze and hold a half-length foam roller between your inner thighs as you hold a plank. Be sure to squeeze, tuck and clench your glutes as well.
“This is much harder than a regular pushup due to the asymmetry in the hand positions and the instability provided by the hands positioned on top of a roller,” Ross says.
How to do it: Come to a pushup position with your hands on the ends of a foam roller, fingers pointing toward the floor. Do a pushup. Step your right foot toward the roller and do another pushup. Move the roller away, take a step toward it with your left foot and do another pushup. Continue until time is up. As this becomes easy, shift to doing the pushup with both legs extended (rather than one knee bent).