We know foam rolling (a form of self-myofascial release or self-massage) boasts big benefits such as easing muscle soreness and aiding recovery. But the foam roller's round, unstable design also makes it a useful tool for challenging your balance and building strength. “Doing a plank on the roller or balancing your feet on it creates instability for strength-based movements, which causes you to engage more muscles to stabilize and will, in turn, make you stronger,” says Joselynne Boschen, Nike Master trainer.
We rounded up the 15 best strength moves you can do with a foam roller. Warm up by rolling out some commonly tight spots, then get down to business, focusing on keeping your core engaged and stabilized throughout. Ready to roll?
How to Use This List
Create your own workout: Pick 2 moves from each section below (upper body, lower body, and core), then do Plank Jacks as the 7th move for cardio. Do 10 to 20 reps of each move. Repeat the full circuit a total of 3 or 4 times.
Try ours: Follow Boschen's workout at the end of this list.
1. Overhead Squat
Stand with feet turned out, slightly wider than hip width. Extend arms overhead while holding roller horizontally. Squeeze palms toward each other as you draw shoulder blades together. Keep elbows in line with or behind ears to engage upper back and arms. Send hips back to sit into a deep squat. Press up through heels to return to starting position.
2. Side Rollout Push-Up
3. Table Roll
Sit upright with legs extended and ankles on foam roller. Place hands on floor behind you, fingertips facing feet. With straight legs, thrust hips up as high as you can and look toward ceiling as roller moves up calves. Keeping hips lifted, slowly swing them back between arms as roller moves to heels. Continue going back and forth in a controlled movement without letting hips touch floor.
Make it easier: Turn fingertips away from you.
4. Plank Jack
Start in plank position with hands on roller directly under shoulders. Hop feet open and closed as you would for a jumping jack, staying on toes. Keep a slight bend in knees as you land.
Make it harder: Increase speed and intensity to engage core more.
Stand on both feet and hold roller behind back with fingertips facing away. Transfer weight onto right leg and lift left leg into an airplane position (or warrior III for yogis) as chest hinges forward. Squeeze shoulder blades together and away from ears. Pulse the roller up about 3 inches toward ceiling. Keep arms as straight as possible to activate triceps, delts, and lats.
6. Hamstring Bridge
Lie faceup with palms facing down and foam roller under feet. Lift hips into a bridge position so hips, knees, and heels are in line. With control, slowly rock foam roller forward and backward. Engage hamstrings to keep roller from slipping.
Make it harder: Place palms on ground facing up.
7. Plank Leg Lift
Start on all fours with hands on roller. Lift knees to plank position and engage core. Raise right leg about 4 inches, then sweep foot out to the right, pause for 1 count, sweep leg back behind you, and lower to the floor. (Think: up, out, in, down.)
8. Single Leg Wall Squat
Lean against wall and sit so knees are at a 90-degree angle. Place roller horizontally behind back, just below shoulder blades, and extend both arms. Raise right flexed foot off ground, keeping knees in line and hips level. Push through left heel to stand about 3 inches, using roller to slide up wall, then return to starting position. Repeat on other side.
9. Inner Thigh Bridge
Lie faceup with knees bent, feet on floor, and palms up. Place foam roller between legs and flex feet to balance on heels. Lift hips off floor and squeeze roller like you're trying to break it. Hold for 45 seconds then lower back down.
10. Inner Thigh Plank
Lie facedown with roller between inner thighs. Press up into a high plank. With weight over wrists and core engaged, squeeze roller and bend knees until they hover an inch off the ground. Press back into heels to return to starting position. Keep core engaged and still throughout.
11. Alternating Heel Tap
Lie faceup with roller vertically under spine. Place fingertips on floor as you lift legs into tabletop position. Holding the 90-degree angle, tap heel to floor one at a time.
Make it harder: Tap heels faster and keep lower abs firing by pressing low back into roller.
12. Sawing Plank
Start with wrists on foam roller in a forearm plank with hands clasped together, feet hip width, and hips level. Use arms to rock back and forth slowly so roller moves from wrists to elbows, challenging your stability.
13. Side Plank Reach Through
Lie on right side. Place feet on roller like you're on a tight rope with right foot in front. Lift hips to a side plank, balancing on right forearm and sides of feet, and extend left arm to ceiling. Thread left arm under torso as you pike hips. (Imagine a claw pulling hips straight up.)
14. Walking Plank
Place roller vertically between arms and legs while you hold a high plank. Make sure shoulders are over wrists and feet are wider than hips for stability. Place right hand then left hand on roller and walk hands back to floor one at a time. Alternate the hand you start with and the hand you place in front of the other on the roller. Keep core engaged and hips steady throughout.
Make it easier: Put a towel alongside the roller to keep it from moving
15. Dead Bug
Lie faceup with roller vertically under spine. Lift legs into tabletop position. Place arms on floor in cactus position (elbows bent in line with shoulders, backs of hands on floor). As you press backs of hands into the floor and lower back into the roller, kick legs out, then bend knees to return to tabletop.
Special thanks to Joselynne Boschen, Nike Master trainer and Lifesum brand ambassador, who curated and modeled these moves for us. Boschen wears her own Nike gear and uses a TriggerPoint Performance foam roller. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.