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We know foam rolling (a form of self-massage, or self-myofascial release) can boast 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 Nike Master trainer Joselynne Boschen.
We rounded up the best strength moves you can do with a foam roller. You’ll learn some foam roller exercises for your back, shoulders, legs, and core, as well as some full-body moves.
Warm up by rolling out some commonly tight spots, and then get down to business, focusing on keeping your core engaged and stabilized throughout.
Ready to roll?
1. Overhead squat
Stand with feet slightly wider than hip width and toes turned out. 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 the starting position.
Muscles targeted: Your whole body! This move works your lower body, upper back, shoulders, and core.
2. Side roll-out push-up
Start in a modified push-up position with knees on a mat, left hand on the roller, and right hand on the floor. Slowly lower your body with right arm while left arm stays straight and roller works its way from fingertips to wrist.
Make it harder: Lift knees for a traditional push-up position.
Muscles targeted: Upper body, including spine muscles, back muscles, shoulders, chest, biceps, and triceps
3. Table roll
Sit upright with legs extended and ankles on the foam roller. Place hands on the floor behind you, with fingertips facing feet. Keeping legs straight, thrust hips up as high as you can and look toward the ceiling as the roller moves up your calves.
Keeping hips lifted, slowly swing them back between your arms as roller moves to your heels. Continue going back and forth in a controlled movement without letting hips touch the floor.
Make it easier: Turn fingertips away from you.
Muscles targeted: Core, back, shoulders, and arms
4. Plank jack
Start in plank position with hands on the roller directly under shoulders. Hop feet apart and then together 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.
Muscles targeted: All the core muscles plus hips and back — bonus cardio points too
Stand, holding roller behind back with fingertips facing away. Transfer your weight onto right leg and lift left leg behind you as chest hinges forward into an airplane position (aka Warrior III for yogis).
Squeeze shoulder blades together and away from ears. Pulse the roller up about 3 inches toward the ceiling. Keep arms as straight as possible to activate triceps, delts, and lats.
Muscles targeted: Calves, hamstrings, quads, arms, and shoulders, plus balance work!
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 floor facing up.
Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, core, and legs
7. Plank leg lift
Start on all fours with hands on the roller. Lift knees into 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.) Repeat on the other side.
Muscles targeted: Abs, glutes, quads, and shoulders
8. Single-leg wall squat
Lean against a wall and sit so your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Place the roller horizontally behind your back, just below shoulder blades, and extend both arms in front of you. Raise your flexed right foot off the floor, keeping knees in line and hips level.
Push through left heel to stand up about 3 inches, using roller to slide up the wall, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Muscles targeted: Hips, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves
9. Inner thigh bridge
Lie faceup with knees bent, feet on the floor, and arms extended with palms facing up. Place the foam roller between your legs and flex feet to balance on heels.
Lift hips off the floor and squeeze roller like you’re trying to break it. Hold for 45 seconds, then lower back down.
Muscles targeted: Core, back, glutes, and inner thighs
10. Inner thigh plank
Lie facedown with hands under shoulders and 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 floor. Press back into heels to return to the starting position. Repeat, keeping core engaged and still throughout.
Muscles targeted: Core, hips, back, and inner thighs
11. Alternating heel tap
Lie faceup with the roller vertically under your spine. Place fingertips on the floor as you lift legs into tabletop position. Holding the 90-degree angle, tap heels to the floor one at a time.
Make it harder: Tap heels faster and keep lower abs firing by pressing your low back into the roller.
Muscles targeted: Obliques (side ab muscles), glutes, and lower back
12. Sawing plank
Start in a forearm plank with wrists on the foam roller, hands clasped, feet at hip width, and hips level. Use arms to rock back and forth slowly so the roller moves from wrists to elbows, challenging your stability.
Muscles targeted: Your whole core plus upper arms
13. Side plank reach-through
Lie on right side. Place feet on roller with right foot in front, like you’re on a tightrope.
Lift hips into a side plank, balancing on right forearm and sides of feet, and extend left arm toward the ceiling. Thread left arm under torso as you pike your hips (imagine a claw pulling your hips straight up).
Muscles targeted: Primarily obliques, but your whole body will feel it
14. Walking plank
Place the roller vertically between your 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 and then left hand on roller and walk hands back to the 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.
Muscles targeted: Core, glutes, and arms — it’s a total-body move
15. Dead bug
Lie faceup with the roller vertically under your spine. Lift legs into tabletop position. Place arms on the floor in cactus position (elbows bent in line with shoulders, backs of hands on the floor).
As you press backs of hands into the floor and your lower back into the roller, kick legs out, then bend knees to return to tabletop.
Muscles targeted: Abs, lower back, and hips
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 Twitter.