"The Foam Roller is really one of the best tools for you to have in your toolbox at home or at the studio," says Wendy Foster, founder of Mamalates and a pre/postnatal specialist for Pilates Anytime. "It's fabulous for helping you get into your ideal alignment, whether or not you're expecting."
Foster notes that the Foam Roller is a versatile tool for getting into your fascia and connective tissue. It's also a good way to relieve anxiety, helping you feel calm and connected (and who couldn't use some of that right about now?). It's also highly portable and relatively affordable. For all of these reasons, Foster says, "I highly recommend that if you're looking to buy one tool, make it the Foam Roller."
Here are five variations on traditional Mat Pilates exercises that incorporate the Foam Roller. By changing the orientation of the roller under your body, you will experience instability in different areas. This instability is what makes the Roller so good for working the muscles of the core.
Lie on the Foam Roller vertically, with your head and hips supported. Knees are bent and hip-width, feet are flat on the floor. Lift arms up, in line with the shoulders, palms facing one another. On an inhale, reach your fingertips up towards the ceiling. Feel your shoulder blades widen and lift off the sides of the roller. On the exhale, hug the shoulder blades around the sides of the roller. Repeat five to eight times. This is a particularly good choice of exercise if you've been hunched over a computer or desk lately.
This exercise challenges core stability by lifting one leg off the floor. Lie on the Roller vertically, with head and hips supported. Knees are bent, feet flat on the floor. Inhale and feel your core connected to the roller. On an exhale, lift one knee towards your chest, pressing the other foot into the floor for stability. Inhale, keeping the leg in the air, and on the exhale, lower the leg. Keep your arms long at your sides and the neck long and relaxed. Repeat five to ten times, alternating legs.
While the entire Series of Five can be done with the Foam Roller placed horizontally under the sacrum, the Scissors is a nice challenge for stability and it provides a great hamstring and hip flexor stretch to boot. To begin, lie down with the Roller horizontally under your hips and sacrum. One at a time, lift the legs up to the ceiling. Reach up for the calf of one leg. Bring the leg you are grasping towards your chest while you extend the other leg away from center. Scissor the legs in the air and grasp your other calf. Repeat eight to ten times, alternating the leg closest to your chest. If it's too difficult to reach for the calf while you are up on the Roller, do this exercise with the hands pressing into the sides of the Roller for extra stability.
This take on the traditional Mat exercise Single Leg Circle uses the Foam Roller to add instability to the supporting (non-gesture) leg. Lie on your back with arms by your sides and the Roller horizontally under your ankles. Lift one leg straight up towards the ceiling so that it is in line with your hip. Inhale and bring the leg across your body, down, and around, as if you are drawing a circle on the ceiling with your big toe. Keep the circle small enough that you can maintain your form and avoid wiggling. Keep the ankle of the supporting leg pressing into the Roller, taking care not to lock the knee. Try not to lift the shoulders or hips as you move the leg. Repeat five times in each direction, then repeat the sequence on the other leg.
Try this stretch for "dessert." Sit in a comfortable position, either a Z-shape (as pictured here) or with legs crossed at the ankles. You could even sit on a yoga block or a rolled up towel if you have trouble sitting up straight. Place the Foam Roller vertically on one side of you and rest your palm on top of the Roller. Lift your other arm up by your ear and inhale to lengthen the spine. On the exhale, side bend towards the Roller, letting it roll away from you to increase the stretch. Your hand can remain gently on the Roller so it doesn't roll away. On the inhale, return to an upright position. As you exhale, lower the lifted arm. Repeat three to five times on each side.
Do you have a go-to Foam Roller exercise? Let us know in the comments below.