3 Unusual Strength Exercises That Incorporate a Foam Roller

Foam rollers great for self-massage but can also be a useful exercise tool.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

My exercise life changed for the better when I first used a foam roller over ten years ago. The first time I rolled my quads, tears streamed down my face in pain. That’s how my love affair began. 

A foam roller is a great tool to help release tension from sore or tight muscles and give you feedback on whether you’re performing an exercise correctly. It can even groove your hip hinges. It is a must have pre and post workout recovery tool, and it comes in all shapes and sizes to get into all the nooks and crannies of your muscles.

Of course, it didn’t take long for creative coaches to come up with ways to incorporate foam rollers into their clients’ actual workouts.

These three foam roller exercises will redefine the way you use and think of foam rollers in the future.

Editor’s Note: If you decide to perform these movements, we advise doing so under the supervision of a qualified personal trainer.

Foam Roller Hip Hinge

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Here’s a sample warm-up I perform prior to squats and deadlifts. . I HATE following a laundry list of exercises and much prefer to pick 4-5 drills and just bang them out in 2-4 rounds. . That said, the drills still need to serve a purpose and help prepare me for the chaos ahead. . 1️⃣ Seated 90/90 Reach Through – I sit a fair bit from all my program and article writing, and this drill helps loosen up my hips and open up my t-spine. . 2️⃣ Upright Adductor Mobilization – I generally use a modified Sumo stance for my pulls and this drill makes gentle, passionate, borderline romance novel level love to my groin. . 3️⃣ Stationary Glute Kickback – This gets my glutes nice and juicy. Careful to watch that front knee (don’t allow it to cave in). . 4️⃣ I don’t know what to call this – This is a new one I saw my man @smittydiesel perform not too long ago, and I thought it was genius. It cues up the hip hinge, but because I’m pressing INTO the foam roller my lats also get some love. . Next time your doing a killer lower body session give some of these a try.

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There are not many deadlift warm up exercises that don’t involve a loaded barbell or a kettlebell, except for this one. Not only does this movement groove the hip hinge but it also activates the lats by pressing the foam roller against both thighs during the movement.

As a side benefit, your quads get some love too.  

Programming suggestion

This makes a great warm-up exercise when deadlifts are on the menu. 8-10 reps will do the trick.

Using it as a mobility exercise after heavy sets of deadlifts works also.

For example:

[Related: The 7 Best Foam Rollers for 2020]

Foam Roller Single Leg Deadlift

The act of pressing the foam roller down into your toes helps groove your single leg hinge. It also provides more stability and feedback to help ensure correct form is being properly maintained.

If you’re a coach, this is a great exercise to perform with clients learning single leg hinges.  

Programming suggestions

Although it may seem intuitive, foam roller single leg deadlifts act as a great warm up if you have any single leg exercises programmed. Since form should always be prioritized over workload, foam roller single leg deadlifts can be informative of how best to navigate the day’s workout — ie. it can help you figure out what’s tight and what’s inactive — so you can hone in to any areas of weakness you may have to help prevent injury. Anywhere from 6-10 reps per side should suffice.

If you’re new to this exercise, try adding it to a superset will another single leg exercise you’re more comfortable with to help stability and strength for each leg individually.

For example:

  • Foam roller single leg deadlift – 8 reps per side
  • Kettlebell single leg swap – 6 reps per side

Foam Roller Side Plank

Side planks help improve lateral stability and engages stabilizers in the upper back and shoulder area. When more instability is added to the mix via, external perturbations (see the shaking in the video) further challenges the rotator cuffs. This kind of work can be beneficial for preventing injury when performing unexpected movements outside of the gym(1).

Programming suggestions

This exercise has a certain amount of risk so please be careful. Keep the time short — between 10-20 seconds — for 3-4 sets. Preferably, this exercise should be done when you are fresh as part of your warm-up or core routine.  

Wrapping up

Using foam rollers as exercise props will add some variety to your routine and allow your body to give you valuable feedback. Give these exercises a try and you’ll never look at the foam roller the same way again.

Reference

  1. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2012 Jul;27(6):551-6. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2012.02.003. Epub 2012 Mar 4. The stabilizing role of the rotator cuff at the shoulder–responses to external perturbations. Day A1, Taylor NF, Green RA.

Feature image via Shutterstock/Just Life.

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

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