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September 24, 2021 4 min read

The Best Foam Roller Exercises for Functional Strength


The Foam Roller is a fantastic tool for SMR (Self-Myofascial Release – see the article here for more information on Myofascial Release) but it can also be used as a way of increasing functional strength. Exercises can be performed, using the foam roller, to reduce stability (and/or to add movement) under particular joints or muscles to increase exercise difficulty and subsequently functional strength. Below is a list of exercises that you can try with the addition of the foam roller. You’ll definitely notice and feel the difference!


Abdominal Crunches to Tuck Planche Hold – Start in a full plank with the foam roller underneath the tops of your feet, then lean your shoulders forward so that they extend in front of your wrists and then externally rotate your shoulders. Then squeeze your glutes, protract and depress your scapulae and roll the foam roller forward to tuck your knees into your elbows and hold for as long as you can then roll back to full planche plank, hold again and repeat for as many reps as you’re aiming for, for the maximum hold time.


Staggered Single Arm Press Ups – Start in a full plank with the foam roller parallel with your spine. I.e. underneath your head, going down along your centre line. Then lift yourself to one side and place one hand on the top of the roller and the other hand on it’s corresponding side. I.e. right hand on the roller, left hand on the left side of the roller on the mat or floor. Lower yourself down for a staggered press up and then power back up squeezing from the glutes and core for that pelvic tilt and squeezing from the chest. You can make this harder, and improve your push pattern plyometrics, by switching sides with each individual rep. Be careful as the roller can move, so make sure you apply enough pressure to make sure you have a firm grip and good stability when attempting this method. 


Glute Bridges – Start by lying down face up on a mat with the foam roller underneath your ankles. Now pull the foam roller back towards your ankles whilst bending your knees. Squeeze the glutes, engage your core and raise your hips as you do so. Then roll the foam roller back out and straighten your legs. Release the glutes but keep core engaged and repeat. Make sure you keep your hips elevated throughout the exercise.


Forearm roll out to Press Up – Start by lying down in an elbow plank with the foam roller underneath your forearms just above the elbow. Then roll the foam roller out along to your wrists extending your arms out from the shoulder alternately, then roll the foam roller back to the elbows. Once there plank up into a tall plank position placing your hands on the mat below your shoulders, drag the foam roller away to one side, perform a full press up then drag the foam roller to the opposing side and perform another press up. Then place the foam roller back in its starting position and repeat from the elbow plank.


Inverted Press Ups – Place your foam roller with one of the ends pointing upwards. Place the tops of your feet against the skyward end of the foam roller and then manoeuvre yourself into a tall plank position, either with wrists underneath or slightly behind the shoulders (depending on skill level). Then proceed to lower yourself down, whilst engaging your core, with your body in one line. Then when your nose is almost to the floor push back up, engaging the chest, triceps and core. Return to starting high plank position and repeat. Elevating the feet, for press ups, adds considerable difficulty so make sure you have a solid press up foundation before attempting this exercise.  


Leg raises – Start by placing the foam roller lengthways on the mat and lie on top of it with the foam roller placed against your back along your spine. Place your forearms on the ground to stabilise yourself.  Straighten out your legs with your heels flat on the ground. Then proceed to engage your core, squeeze the glutes and engage the hips to bring your legs up 90 degrees, keeping them straight, so that your heels point up to the ceiling. Then slowly lower your legs down until your heels touch the floor and repeat. The elevation from the foam roller will add a greater range of motion to the leg lifts.  


Try adding these exercises to your routine and skill days to warm up, or to help with your functional strength for push work, squats and planking. For those more advanced, these will help with you with levers, planches and pike work, adding to your compression strength too. So, go ahead and see what your made of, get that foam roller to help with those functional strength gains!


by Guy Joynson for Gravity Fitness