Foam Roller: Not Just For Rolling Out
by James Camastra, MS, CSCS
The foam roller is a great piece of equipment. It is primarily used and is quite effective for rolling out the muscles and its associated fascia. At PPT we use the foam roller for self myo-fascial release, rolling out, but also for bringing instability into an exercise. Here are two great exercises we do using a foam roller. Give them a try.
Crunches: Now I know what you're thinking, "James, I read that it's not functional and you can strain your neck." This is not true if done correctly. First, never pull on your neck. Second, crunches can be part of a good overall core-strengthening program. This means incorporating them with other core exercises that fire the obliques, low back and most importantly the deep spinal stabilizers.
So, with that said, lie on your back on the roller so the roller runs along your entire spine from tailbone to the back of your head. Place your hands on top of your head and with your elbows pointing up or out at about 45 degrees. This position will prevent you from pulling on your head and will be comfortable for your arms. (If you want to make it a bit easier you can cross your arms over your chest.) Now crunch, lift your head and upper back up. Be sure to keep your eyes looking up, crunch up, not to your knees. Here is a key variable, keep your feet as close together as you can while still being able to do the exercise without falling. Don’t worry, you are only six inches off the floor. The closer your feet are to each other the more you need to activate your abdominals evenly and the more some of those spinal stabilizers and obliques will be engaged. Crunches on a foam roller works mainly the rectus abdominus, but also activates core stabilizers.
Single Leg Lift Stabilization: Lie on your back on the roller so the roller runs along your entire spine from tailbone to the back of your head. Place your hands on your abdomen with fingertips apart and your elbows close to the floor. If you tip, your elbows will catch you. Additionally, your hands on your abdomen will allow you to feel your core engage. Your feet should be a comfortable distance apart. They will end up shifting a bit anyway. Now, engage your core and decrease the curve in your low back just a little bit. Do not push your spine into the roller. The goal is to maintain a natural curve. Next, without shifting your body weight to either side, lift one foot off the floor. Do not straighten your leg, just lift your foot up off the floor. To start, hold for just one second, then switch. To increase difficulty increase the number of seconds you hold and/or decrease the number of inches you raise your foot off the floor. Single leg lift stabilization on a foam roller will work your transverse abdominus and deep core stabilizers.