If you’ve taken my pilates class, you know that I’m a huge fan of using props. My personal favorite is the foam roller! When most people hear the words “foam roller”, they groan and imagine painful muscle rolling techniques. While this may be what it’s most commonly known for, I far prefer utilizing the foam roller for core strengthening exercises. By lying on top of a round surface, you create a more unstable environment thus challenging your muscles to adapt and stabilize in a different way than if you were simply lying on a flat yoga mat. All of these exercises I’m about to mention do a wonderful job of strengthening your core while simultaneously working on opening up both your chest and back.
- Femur Arcs/Dead bugs lying on top of the roam roller
Position: Lie on your back on top of the foam roller with your spine parallel to the roller. Make sure both the base of your head and your tailbone are fully supported on the roller. Your knees are bent, feet flat, and hands resting by your side.
Exercise: Inhale to lift your right leg to tabletop position (90 degrees at hip, 90 degrees at knee). Exhale to lower. Repeat with opposite leg. Continue alternating.
Tips: Maintain small natural space in low back throughout exercise. Maintain heaviness of ribs and base of head in the foam roller. You can also do a more difficult variation of this by starting with both legs in table top and alternate tapping toes down to ground (make sure to maintain knee bent to 90 degrees to avoid extra stress to lumbar spine)
- Arm Arcs lying on top of the foam roller
Position: same as Exercise 1
Exercise: Maintaining elbow straight, inhale to lift one arm overhead, trying to maintain space between the top of your shoulder and ear throughout. Exhale to lower arm by your side. Inhale to repeat with opposite arm. Continue alternating arms.
Tips: To give yourself an extra challenge, you can combine exercise 1 and 2! Make sure to lift opposite arm and leg at the same time and lower at the same time. You can also add small hand weights (2 lbs or 5 lbs) to increase difficulty of this exercise.
- Bridging on top of foam roller
Position: same as Exercise 1
Exercise: Inhale to prepare. Exhale to peel your spine off the roller, lifting your hips up towards the ceiling. Inhale at the top of your bridge. Exhale to melt back down into the foam roller starting with your breastbone and ending with your tailbone.
Tips: Focus on moving one bone at a time, articulating through the spine. Maintain pubic bone higher than bellybutton at the top of your bridge. To increase difficulty, you may lift one leg in tabletop and perform a single leg bridge.
- Swan with forearms supported on foam roller
Position: Lie face down with elbows extended and resting on top of foam roller (perpendicular to roller). Toes are pointed and your chest and forehead are touching the ground
Exercise: Maintaining elbows lengthened, inhale to lift up through your breast bone, sending your gaze forward and lightly pressing your forearms down into the foam roller.
Tips: Initially with this exercise, try to leave your lower ribs touching the floor to focus on moving through your thoracic (middle) spine rather than immediately feeling the movement in your lower back. As you improve this exercise, you can lift up higher. Lightly lift your bellybutton away from the floor throughout exercise.
- Chest opening over the foam roller
Position: Lie with spine perpendicular to foam roller, with the roller positioned at the base of your shoulder blades (bra line for ladies). Knees are bent, feet are flat, and bottom is resting on the ground. Interlace your fingers behind your head, creating a small hammock for your head to rest in.
Exercise: Inhale as you gently bend back over the foam roller, expanding your chest. Exhale to curl up through your abdominals, reaching your ribs towards your pelvis. If you find a stiff point in your back when you expand over the foam roller, you may hold this position for 15-30 seconds to help release the stiffness.
Tips: Keep your bottom touching the floor throughout this exercise to maximize thoracic extension. Make sure to support head with hands so you don’t feel that you are straining in your neck at any point of the exercise.
- Forearm plank on top of the foam roller
Position: Place your forearms on top, perpendicular to the foam roller. Lift up into a plank position.
Exercise: Gently roll the foam roller forward/backward in your plank position. Make sure the roller stays between your wrists and elbows.
Tips: Make sure to keep your breastbone reaching away from the foam roller (fill up the space between your shoulder blades!). Also feel a slight lift in your belly button, so as not to let your tummy sag down towards the floor.
So there you have it, folks! A 20-30 minute workout you can do with one measly foam roller. Come to our classes to discover even more creative and challenging ways to work out with multiple props!
Kelsey Garcia DPT, PMA®-CPT