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You've probably seen these cylinder-shaped items in the stretching area of your gym, but you might not be sure how to use them. We've taken the guesswork out of foam roller workouts, so you can reap the benefits.

Stretching Exercises

The foam roller is an effective tool for anyone that experiences tightness in the quads, hamstrings, or calves. "A client can complain of knee aches and in just 3 minutes of rolling out the IT band, they report greatly diminished pain," says Jackie Warner, fitness trainer and star of Personal Training with Jackie: Power Circuit Training.

If you're using the roller to release tightness in the legs, position your body over the roller and lower yourself down. Aim to hold each foam roller exercise for about 20-30 seconds. Rolling these muscles can be painful, but you'll feel much better after. "Avoid direct contact on the joints and focus more on the deep muscle and connective tissue right above or below the joints," adds Warner.

This technique shouldn't be used to treat injuries. You might cause more damage when muscles and surrounding ligaments or tissues are inflamed.

Correcting Posture

Stand taller by using the roller to correct postural imbalance. Try lying on the roller with your body in a bridge and slowly roll up and down your vertebrae. This foam roller exercise will help release tension in the muscles surrounding your spine. Many people also roll their upper backs in lieu of going to see a massage therapist.

Strength Training

You can focus on your balance and core muscles with the roller too, but it's a bit more advanced. "Some instructors use them as a balance strengthener by doing squats and kicks while standing or kneeling on rollers, but do so with a professional instructor that can help you get the most out of it," adds Warner. Looking for a more basic move? Try focusing on your triceps with this foam roller exercise.