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​12 muscle-building moves you can do with a foam roller

Foam rollers are a ubiquitous tool at most gyms for good reason. The versatile cylinders can be used to massage out all kinds of muscle pain, from your back to your knees, either as a pre-workout warmup or a post-exercise cool down.

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Foam rollers are a ubiquitous tool at most gyms for good reason. The versatile cylinders can be used to massage out all kinds of muscle pain, from your back to your knees, either as a pre-workout warmup or a post-exercise cool down. The myofascial release foam rollers provide is an important component of maintaining healthy joints and muscles.

But that's not the tool's only potential use. If you're creative with your movements, your foam roller can also serve as a handy training aid and a resistance tool.

"I love that foam rollers can be used to make some exercises harder and other exercises easier," says Sean Garner, trainer at Anatomy 1220 in Miami.

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According to Garner, foam rollers are lightweight and make for a versatile training tool when you want to take your workout outside without bringing the entire gym. Or maybe you're sore from a heavy lift and want to perform a lighter recovery workout to get the blood flowing.

If you don't have a foam roller handy, check out this vibrating cylinder from Triggerpoint GRID, or any of these standout options.

Check out the video above for a dozen creative uses for a foam roller. Here are a few of Garner's favorites:

Pistol squat progression

This is a great way to modify this very challenging lower-body exercise for those who may not yet be ready to do it in free space. You'll need a taller roller to pull this one off.

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  • Prop the foam roller up on the ground, holding onto it on the top with your right hand for balance.
  • Lift your right foot off the ground, holding it up in front of yourself.
  • Bend your left knee to squat down as deep as you can, keeping yourself stable by leaning into the roller. Don't touch the ground with your right foot, and keep your chest upright as much as possible.
  • Stand straight back up.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Offset pushup and offset rolling pushup

These will force you to stabilize an offset load on an unstable platform, says Garner. These exercises are similar in that the offset positioning of the hands forces one arm to work harder than the other. Rolling the foam roller away from the body during the rolling pushup increases the level of difficulty as the core and pushing arm have to work harder to keep the body square.

  • Get in a pushup position, with a foam roller between your hands.
  • Put your right palm on the cylinder. Roll your hand straight out to the side, lowering your left arm down into a pushup.
  • Roll your right arm back up the cylinder into an upright position, pushing up with your left arm.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Single-leg deadlift progression

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Think of the roller as a training wheel - again, you'll need a tall one to pull this off. You can use a foam roller to help with balance as you progress to doing the move in free space. Apply less and less pressure to the roller until you no longer need it.

  • Prop the foam roller up on the ground, holding onto it on the top with your right hand for balance.
  • Hinge at the hips to lean forward, lifting your right leg of the ground behind yourself. Keeping your left knee slightly bent and squeezing your hamstrings and glutes.
  • Reverse the movement to place your foot back on the ground.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Rollout plank

The rollout plank is a twist on a core classic. Rolling the roller away from your body and back forces your abs, back, and shoulders to work overtime to prevent yourself from collapsing.

  • Get in a plank position, with your palms placed on top of the foam roller.
  • Squeeze your core and glutes throughout the movement, keeping your spine straight.
  • Rotate your wrists out to roll the cylinder out in front of you, maintaining your position.
  • Rotate your wrists back in to roll the cylinder back to your starting spot.

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