You know the foam roller as a pre-and post-workout tool that loosens your muscle fascia, speeds up muscle recovery, and allows for enhanced mobility. It is, but over the years, creative strength coaches have imagined ways to incorporate the foam roller into your workouts to optimize strength gains.
Below, we’ve curated five foam roller strength exercises that enhance an already existing exercise. Using a foam roller shifts your position and, in some cases, destabilizes you so that your core is more engaged. Without further ado, allow the foam roller to re-introduce itself.
Best Foam Roller Exercises
- Foam Roller Hip Hinge
- Foam Roller Single-Leg Deadlift
- Foam Roller Side Plank
- Foam Roller Dumbbell Pullover
- Foam Roller Rollout
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Many warm-up exercises for the deadlift included a loaded barbell or a kettlebell— at least the ones that have you replicate the specific movement itself. The foam roller hip hinge greases the groove of the deadlift motion and activates the lats (as the foam roller presses against both thighs during the movement), all without an external load. Still, by pressing your forearms into the roller and hinging forward, you’ll isometrically engage your core and lats. So, not only are you still building tension in those muscles, but you’re teaching yourself what a deadlift should feel like without the use of weights.
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Benefits of the Foam Roller Hip Hinge
- It grooves hip hinge mechanics and engages the upper back and lats.
- Teaches the lifer what upper back tightness feels like during a deadlift
How to Do the Foam Roller Hip Hinge
Place the foam roller below your pelvis and press down either side with your wrists and forearms. With an upright stance, slowly roll the foam roller down your thighs while hinging the hips back at the same time. Stop just above your knees and reverse the movement to the starting position. Reset and repeat for reps.
The act of pressing the foam roller down into your foot helps groove your single-leg hinge and provides feedback on proper hinge technique. This exercise acts as a regression to weighted single-leg deadlifts and helps dial in your form to get the best out of this exercise. And if you’re a coach, it’s a great exercise to use with clients who are learning the single-leg deadlift.
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Benefits of the Foam Roller Single Leg Deadlift
- It helps to improve your single leg balance and single-leg deadlift technique.
- This exercise is a good teaching exercise for those new to the single-leg deadlift.
How to Do the Foam Roller Single-Leg Deadlift
Place the foam roller on top of your right foot and press down with your right hand. Soften your left knee and push the foam roller back as you hinge with the left hip until the torso is slightly above parallel. Return the upright position with your right foot off slightly off the ground. Repeat for reps.
Side planks are great for strengthening stability in your obliques, upper back, and shoulders. By resting your arm on a foam roller lengthwise, you add another level of instability, which forces all of the muscles in those aforementioned areas to work hard to keep you balanced. Adding external perturbations (see the shaking in the video) further strengthens your rotator cuffs for the gym and unexpected movements outside the gym. (1)
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Benefits of the Foam Roller Side Plank
- Side planks strengthen the quadratus lumborum, a muscle that plays an important role in preventing lower back pain.
- Improves the strength and stability of the rotator cuff.
How to Do the Foam Roller Side Plank
Lie on your left or right side with your knees straight and your elbow directly underneath your shoulder on top of a horizontal foam roller. Prop your body up on your elbow and forearm, then raise your opposite hand until it’s perpendicular to your torso. Align your feet, knees, and hips and brace your core and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Hold for sets of 10 to 20 seconds.
If you train at home, a foam roller can replace a bench, allowing you to lift with a more extended range of motion. (Though, it’s not the same.) The foam roller also provides form feedback. If you arch your back — which will disengage your core — you’ll feel it more on the roller. As is typical with foam roller movements, the core will work to keep your body stable throughout the movement, too.
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Benefits of the Foam Roller Dumbbell Pullover
- Doing this exercise will less stability, helps increase core strength, and improves lifting technique.
- Builds chest, back, and serratus size and strength at the same time.
How to Do the Dumbbell Pullover on Foam Roller
Lay back on a foam roller while holding either two smaller dumbbells in each hand or one with both hands. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, press your lower back to the roller, and lower your arms straight back behind you until you feel a stretch in your lats. Return to the starting position and repeat.
The regular ab rollout has you either grip a barbell loaded with plates, an ab wheel, or lay your forearms on an exercise ball. But if you have none of these things, the foam roller is a great substitute. This is a mix between a rollout and walkout, strengthening your core and shoulder stability. The foam roller rollout strengthens you in an extended position to help improve core stability and recruits muscle fibers that would otherwise be untouched.
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The Benefits of the Foam Roller Rollout
- More abdominal muscle (or hypertrophy) control and stability.
- More strength in a lengthened (or eccentric) position is essential for a good overhead press. The extended portion of this movement looks very similar to the final phase of the overhead press.
- Strengthens shoulder stability due to walking out the foam roller one hand at a time.
How to Do the Foam Roller Rollout
Get on your knees and place your hand shoulder-width apart on the foam roller. Walk the foam roller out hand at a time while extending your hips towards the floor and let your chest sink forward toward the ground without overarching your lower back. The longer range of motion, the harder the exercise, so shorten your ROM if you’re new to the exercise. Squeeze the lat muscles and slowly walk back to the starting position.
The Benefits of the Foam Roller
Not only does the foam roller hurt so good before and after training, but foam also rolling has a few other important benefits including.
Reduces Muscle Soreness
In a study published by the Journal of Athletic Training, men who foam rolled their legs after a workout reported a decrease in their post-workout tenderness. They used a roller for 20 minutes after their workout and again 24 and 48 hours later. (2)
Improves Joint Range of Motion
When reducing muscle adhesions in the fascia, you’ll improve the muscle’s elasticity and help them return to their ideal length. This allows the joint to go through a greater range of motion before you train to help you strengthen all parts of the movement.
Helps with Pain
SMR (self-myofascial release) on a foam roller can help ease muscular pain and tension. However, it’s important to remember to avoid pain by putting your body in uncomfortable positions while rolling. If it is more than muscle pain, then it’s a signal it is too much. (3)
Provides Feedback on Form
With the hip hinges and pullover exercises above, the foam roller is a good tool to groove good form before hitting the barbell. If you lose your balance, the upper back isn’t engaged, or your lower back arches, the foam roller will tell you so.
More Foam Roller Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best foam rolling exercise for strength, you can also check out these other helpful foam rolling articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- Day A1, Taylor NF, Green RA. The stabilizing role of the rotator cuff at the shoulder–responses to external perturbations Clint Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2012 Jul;27(6):551-6. doi: 10.1016/
- Gregory E P Pearcey et al. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01. Epub 2014 Nov 21
- Aynollah Naderi 1, Mohammad Hossein Rezvani 1, Hans Degens 2 Foam Rolling and Muscle and Joint Proprioception After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. J Athl Train 2020 Jan;55(1):58-64. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-459-18. Epub 2019 Dec 19.
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