Foam rollers are an inexpensive, super-versatile piece of equipment that can help you with everything from working out the knots in your muscles to sculpting an incredible set of abs faster (more about that later). In other words, if you aren't already using one, you're missing out on some serious benefits!
Check out these 5 easy ways to start working a foam roller into your routine. And if you can't find one at your gym (or simply want your own at home), check out Amazon.com's broad selection of foam rollers to find the best one to suit your needs.
1. Massage your muscles (AKA self-myofascial release): Using a foam roller is essentially a more affordable way to give yourself a deep tissue massage. By slowing rolling over various areas of your body, you'll help break up adhesions and scar tissue and speed up the healing and recovery process after your workout.
Use it to loosen up common areas of tightness such as your outer thigh (iliotibial band, ITB), quadriceps, or upper back. Here's how: Position yourself on top of the roll and use the weight of your body to slowly roll back and forth over it (as if you're using a rolling pin to roll out some dough). Try not to use your arms for support, but allow your bodyweight to relax (as much as possible) over the roll. Click here to see it in action and for more detailed instructions on how to perform self-myofascial release techniques.
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2. Strengthen your core: Take your abs workout to the next level! By adding a foam roller, you'll force your core to work harder to help balance your body on the unstable surface.
Try this marching crunch exercise: Lie on the roller (it should line the length of your spine), with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Clasp your hands behind your head, elbows out [as shown]. Lift your head and shoulders off the roller, and slowly try to lift your right foot slightly off the floor. Step it back down and switch to the left. Continue marching your feet, alternating legs each time, for a total of 10 reps.
Tip: Try to keep your pelvic floor muscles engaged the entire time. The easiest way to do? Imagine that you really need to pee but have to hold it in.
Click here for another challenging core exercise called 90 90 butterfly.
3. Build your balance: Similar to training tools such as balance boards and discs, foam rollers can also be used for a variety of different balance drills and exercises. Take advantage of the roller's cylindrical shape (and it's ability to move with you) and use it for exercises like this rolling lunge: In a split stance, place your back foot on top of the roller . Bend your front knee and extend your back leg out straight as you lower into a lunge, sliding your shin over top of the roller. Slowly rise up out of the lunge, drawing the roller in towards you as you stand.
4. Add some proprioception power to your strength routine: Proprioception (your body and brain's signaling system) training can help you improve your balance, reaction time, and overall performance both in and out of the gym. The 'proprioceptors' located in your joints, ligaments, and muscles act as sensors that provide your body with information needed to determine the best reaction to certain movements or situations. Doing exercises that deliberately work to engage this system can help improve your reaction time.
Try incorporating the roller into some basic strength training moves. For example, place it under your back foot during a lunge and row combo [as shown], lie on top of it during chest presses, or try a bridge on it.
RELATED: 8 Stretches that Also Strengthen
5. Extend your stretch: The softness and gentle give of a foam roller makes it a perfect prop for stretching. You can increase your range of motion in a hamstring stretch by propping your foot up on the roller [top image]. Or do the same thing with your arm to deepen this stretch for your lats [middle].
You can also use it as extra support in poses like this hip flexor stretch [bottom]. Slide the roller under the front of your thigh as you lunge forward with your opposite leg and sink your hips down the floor.
For more great ways to use a foam roller, click here!