Foam Roller…Workout?

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Usually used as a recovery tool…what if we used it for a fun, challenging workout? They are everywhere, so why not use them for (almost) everything?  This workout provides a novel, fun, harder-than-you-think it-will-be workout you can do anywhere you have a roller.

What’s That For?

Part of the fun of fitness is discovering new ways to get a challenge. Even better when you can use something you already have access to in a completely fresh way.  Whenever I encounter any piece of fitness equipment, I immediately begin brainstorming ways to use it that are outside of what you are “supposed to” use it for. 

Perhaps you’re under a time crunch, in a gym that is a bit crowded where you’re having a hard time getting access to machines or other equipment, or you just need a simple, one-piece of equipment workout you can do at home. 

Grab your foam roller and let’s get a workout!

The Workout

Equipment – one long foam roller (3-foot long; 6-inch diameter)

There is one warm-up movement, followed by a circuit of seven exercises.  The workout uses timed sets of 25 seconds of work and 12 seconds of transition to the other side or next exercise.  Perform the circuit 2-3 times and experiment with different work:rest time intervals to vary the challenge if you use this workout often.

The Exercises 

Individual exercises and videos shown in the list below or view all of them at once using the playlist link provided below.

  1. (warm-up) Supine Opposite Arm & Leg Extension – one set only: 
  2. Crawling Push-Up
  3. Skater Hop Hand Tap
  4. Single Leg Stance Quick Roller Flip
  5. Shifting Plank
  6. Hamstring Curl
  7. Offset Burpee
  8. Offset Stance Squat to Single Leg Balance

Video Playlist showing all exercises in order

Technique Tips on The Exercises 

(Warm-Up) Supine Opposite Arm & Leg Extension – 8 reps each arm and leg combination

Trainer Tips: 

  • The purpose of this movement is to prepare you for the workout by getting mobility in your shoulders and hips while getting your body ready to maintain a stable low back by warming up your core. 
  • Maintain your neutral spine through the entire exercise (slight space between low back and the roller.) Let your spine dictate your range of motion. Meaning, if you feel your low back arch start to get bigger, you have gone farther than you can stabilize. 
  • Make your arm and leg as long as possible and imagine they are moving away from each other. 

Crawling Push-Up

Trainer Tips: 

  • This is much harder than a regular push-up due to the asymmetry in the hand positions and the instability provided by the hands positioned on top of a roller.  At first, try the push-up with the foot on the same side as your “high side” arm (the one closer to your head) stepped in toward the roller. The shift of some of your weight forward will reduce the resistance a little. 
  • If you’re doing this exercise in a small space, try crawling backwards when you run out of room crawling forwards, but be ready backwards is hard!

Skater Hop Hand Tap

Trainer Tips: 

  • Using the roller as an obstacle for the skater hop delivers different elements for this common exercise.  You’ll need more height to clear the roller while the hand tap provides a consistent range of motion and ensures that the glutes will be more involved in each landing.
  • Since the roller can move easily, it forces you to have a soft touch on the hand taps, which will bring a greater focus on the quality of your landing.

Single Leg Stance Quick Roller Flip

Trainer Tips: 

  • It’s time for a little work on balance and eye-hand coordination while we let you enjoy an active break from the prior demanding exercises. The faster you flip the top end of the roller back and forth, the easier it is to keep the roller in the air so don’t be shy. 

Shifting Plank

Trainer Tips: 

  • This plank variation brings dynamic stability to a plank making it more beneficial and more interesting than a motionless plank. 
  • Option 1:  Shift by moving the ankles. 
  • Option 2:  Shift by moving the arms only.  With option two, the roller will roll along your forearm as you move your arms forward and backward.  The forward position (roller near elbows) is hardest on your core while the backward (roller near your wrists) position is hardest on your arms.

Hamstring Curl

Trainer Tips: 

  • Similar movement to the stability ball hamstring curl, but you’re a bit more stable (the roller is more stable than a ball.)  Lift your hips as your feet move in toward your body.

Offset Burpee

Trainer Tips: 

  • The asymmetry of the hands and the instability of the roller make this a challenging variation on an already challenging exercise. 
  • The farther apart your hands are, the harder the exercise will be so experiment with different spacing to give you a good challenge but still a feeling of success with the exercise.

Offset Stance Squat to Single Leg Balance

Trainer Tips: 

  • You might find that your foot on the floor lands in a slightly different spot with each rep. This is normal, natural, and part of the benefit of the exercise so if that happens, allow it to.  In life, your feet are often in asymmetrical and different positions when you squat.  
  • Keep moving fairly quickly as the goal is not to try and stand on the roller with a single leg but to simply use the asymmetry and instability to provide a unique challenge to your leg muscles. 

Give this workout a try the next time you want something time-efficient, full-body, and uses familiar tools in novel ways!

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