10 Creative Ways to Use a Foam Roller (Besides Rolling Out Sore Muscles)

Woman Using Foam Roller
Photo: Getty Images

This one recovery tool can help relieve muscle pain, release tightness, improve flexibility, and so much more.

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Why You Need a Foam Roller

Why You Need a Foam Roller

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 strengthening 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 how to use a foam roller with these 10 easy exercises. 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.

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Massage Your Muscles (AKA Self-Myofascial Release)

woman using a foam roller to massage outer leg muscles (give a 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, or ITB), quadriceps, or upper back.

Here's how:

A. 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).

B. Try not to use your arms for support, but allow your bodyweight to relax (as much as possible) over the roll.

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woman using a foam roller to perform self-accupressure under shoulders and back

Foam rollers work by using the body's natural response to pressure. As you roll over tight spots or trigger points, the muscle relaxes. For especially tight spots, applying constant pressure might work better than rolling back and forth.

Need to work out a few knots in your upper back?

A. Place the roller under shoulder blades and cross arms over chest.

B. Lift hips off the floor and use body weight to apply pressure on the tight area [as shown].

C. Hold up to 60 seconds.

Here's a great technique to relieve tension in your neck:

A. Lie on back with the roller under neck.

B. Allow head to rest on top of the foam roller [as shown] so that you feel a gentle pressure on the neck.

C. Slowly turn head to the side, or to the side and down (aiming chin down to shoulder).

D. Hold this position for up to 60 seconds.

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Perk Up Your Plank or Pushup

woman performing a plank and pushup on foam roller

Performing exercises on an unstable surface is a surefire way to engage more core muscles and make total-body exercises like planks or pushups even more challenging.

A. Place one, or both, hands on top of a foam roller during a full plank or pushup, or slide the roller under toes during either exercise. This will force the body to work harder to stabilize.

B. To make it a little easier, start by using a half roller with a flat bottom until you're ready for the full version.

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Use it as a Yoga Prop

woman using foam roller in savasana yoga pose and triangle yoga pose

Does your lower back bother you during savasana (corpse) pose? Slip a foam roller under your knees to help relieve some pressure [as shown].

Need help holding extended triangle pose? Use a short roller (a little taller than most yoga blocks) to help you balance [as shown].

Foam rollers can be used in a variety of different yoga poses and postures and may help you balance or release your muscles more easily than a yoga block.

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Strengthen Your Core

woman doing core and abs exercises on foam roller

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:

A. Lie on the roller (it should line the length of the spine), with knees bent, feet flat on the floor.

B. Clasp hands behind head, elbows out [as shown].

C. Lift head and shoulders off the roller, and slowly try to lift right foot slightly off the floor.

D. Step it back down and switch to the left.

E. Continue marching 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.

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Extend Your Stretch

woman stretching leg, back, and hip muscles using a foam roller

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 the foot up on the roller [top image]. Or do the same thing with the arm to deepen this stretch for the 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 the thigh andlunge forward with the opposite leg and sink the hips down the floor.

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Build Your Balance

woman doing balance exercises using foam roller

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.

A. In a split stance, place back foot on top of the roller.

B. Bend front knee and extend back leg out straight and lower into a lunge, sliding shin over top of the roller.

C. Slowly rise up out of the lunge, drawing the roller in towards you as you stand.

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Rehab Your Feet

woman doing foot stretches using foam roller

After a long run or a long day at the office in high heels, your feet deserve a little TLC. Slip off your shoes and try this easy foot stretch/massage:

A. Stand with foam roller under the arch of one foot.

B. Gently apply pressure to the arch by leaning weight forward and slowly roll foot back and forth over the roller.

Want more pressure? Hold on to something sturdy for balance and stand on it with both feet and gently (and carefully) roll back and forth.

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Safely Crack Your Back

woman using a foam roller to safely crack back

Use the foam roller to give yourself at-home back relief.

A. Place foam roller on the floor and sit in front of it with knees bent, feet flat on the ground.

B. Carefully lie back and lift hips slightly off the floor.

C. Slowly roll body over the roll, pushing torso away from feet, using legs to guide you. You may feel your back crack as you roll back towards your feet.

D. Proceed with caution, and immediately stop if you feel pain. (Skip this entirely if you have any pre-existing issues with your back).

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Add Some Proprioception Power to Your Strength Routine

woman using foam roller to do proprioceptors training exercise

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.

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