It’s a love/hate relationship we all seem to have with the notorious foam roller. Minutes of the worst pain your body can stand is followed by the most incredible release and openness, but typically you cannot attain one without the other.
However, what I’ve found in the past 5+ years of teaching Pilates is a surprisingly large group of people still in the dark about how much one can actually do with this “torture device.” Not only does this thing release knots by your hand or another’s, but it can also be used as a phenomenal chest opener, support for your lumbar spine during core exercises, and a foot massager.
Below are some of my favorite exercises and/or positions for an all-around supporting and effective workout with the foam roller. I use a high-density roller (typically very dark grey or black in color) and at least 36-inches long…
1. Chest Opener – this is typically the first thing I do when I jump on a foam roller. You will take a seat on the very edge of one end of the roller, with feet wide and planted on the floor, legs bent. Use your abdominals and palms on the floor to slowly articulate your spine onto the roller, until your head is resting on top of the roller. You may need to shift your spine/roller up or down to make sure everything is supported. From here, the options are endless…! Just lay here for 10+ minutes, and/or once you’ve found your balance with your feet and core, lift your arms up toward the ceiling and start drawing big circles – first reach both arms back toward your ears (or below, if you can), circle arms wide out to your sides, then back up toward the ceiling. Eventually, you can add light weights and/or a weighted bar. ***For those of you looking for a little bit of extension, carefully slide your spine up the roller, until your head and neck are off the roller, and you can rest your head onto the surface below. Continue your arm circles here, just be sure to slide back onto the roller and take a minute before coming up.
2. Figure-4 Glute Release – most of us by now have witnessed the IT band stretch, where we’ll choose a side of our body, place that hip on top of the roller, and use the same side arm and opposite foot to balance us while we slide back and forth on the roller to release our muscles. Once you’ve had enough of that pain, you can move to this one! Take a seat on the foam roller and place your hands behind you onto the floor for balance. Choose a leg (maybe the first side you did for the rolling) and bend the leg, placing the foot onto the opposite knee (creating a figure-4-like position). This, for most, is already a stretch and you will feel the roller digging into the bent knee side’s hip. To get a bit deeper, tip more weight onto the bent leg’s hip and start to roll back and forth on the roller. Get creative here and try to find where the pain is the most intense. Try to find a tender spot and stay there for 30+ seconds, taking deep breaths and doing your best to release your body, as it’s easy to tense up here. Make sure to switch sides!