Mobility – Stability – Strength: Part 3 The Foam Roller

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by Jennifer Lynne Bearse

We have already learned that the foam roller can be used for flexibility and mobilization work, but did you know that the foam roller can be also be used for:

  • basic positioning and alignment
  • balance training
  • core stabilization
  • strength training


Foam rollers can help with basic body positioning and alignment, postural awareness, and balance training, which can benefit you in your everyday life as well as your CrossFit performance. Think about how much easier those pistols would be if your core strength, posture, and balance were improved?


Most of you know core stabilization is pretty important. Stability is actually essential as an athlete, in order to maximize power transfer within each and every movement.

Because foam rollers are inherently unstable, they are great tools for improving core stability. They force the multifidus and transversus abdominis muscles (the muscles near your spine and your deep belly muscles) to contract in order to stabilize the spine, so you are getting both a strength and stability workout at the same time.


Using a foam roller to perform strength training exercises can enhance your strength and improve your ability to balance and react to small adjustments in any dynamic environment. As a CrossFit athlete, you will see a boost in core strength when performing any movement that requires a superior level of balance and control, such as V-Sits, hollow-rocks, and many of the gymnastics movements, such as skin the cat, not to mention any of the Olympic lifts or kettlebell exercises.


Stabilization and strength work on the roller can be fairly easy, to extremely challenging, humbling even the most fit and strong athlete.  Here are some simple exercises to get you started.

The roller should be long enough to fully support your back and head (usually about 36 inches long). The short rollers are best for mobility work. Stick to the long rollers for stability and strength work.

To perform all the exercises: lie on your back on a foam roller, with the roller aligned along your spine, head supported and knees bent for stability. The closer your knees are together, the more your stability will be challenged. As you get stronger and the exercises get easier, then you can move your feet closer together. Aim for legs to be no more than hip distance apart.

Let gravity gently pull your shoulder blades around the roller. During these exercises, make sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and keep breathing.

  • To stretch out the chest, open the arms to the sides allowing the shoulders (scapula) to wrap around the roller and the front of your shoulders to stretch. As you breathe in, expand your diaphragm and as you breathe out, flatten your stomach toward the foam roller. Don’t let your ribs flare out. Repeat 5-10x.
  • To stretch the shoulder muscles, start by straightening your arms out in front of you towards the ceiling with your palms facing each other. To perform the exercise, reach fingers toward the ceiling so shoulder blades separate, then relax and allow your shoulder blades to squeeze the roller. Repeat 5-10x, inhaling towards ceiling, exhaling as you expand the shoulders around the roller.
  • To relax the shoulder muscles and increase range of motion, inhale to raise arms over head and exhale and slowly bend your elbows, pulling them down as if aiming for your back pockets, trying to keep elbows at 90-degree angles, Once you’ve pulled your elbows down as far as possible, slowly straighten and come down by your sides. Repeat 4-5x. This exercise is called chicken wings.
  • Scissors works the shoulder muscles as well as working the core muscles. To start, exhale, raise your right arm over head and put your left arm down to your side. Slowly lower your right arm down on the inhale. Keep the ribs down. Repeat 5x each side.
  • To work the core muscles, start with arms down to side and knees bent with feet flat on the floor. While keeping core muscles stabilized, slowly lift one leg off the ground about 10-15 inches, then lower back to the ground. Repeat lift with other leg. Do 2-3 sets of 10 lifts per leg.
  • Opposite arm and leg reach. Once you get good at the above exercises, you can start adding things on and challenging your stability and strengthening your core even more. Start with left foot flat and right leg bent at degrees. Reach your left arm to the sky and right arm down by your side, palm down. Inhale to begin, exhale, pull the belly button in toward the spine, flatten your low back onto the roller, and reach left are and right arm away from each other. Press through the heel of the right foot to straighten the leg away from the center. Inhale, bring the limbs back to the center, returning to start. Repeat 8x, per side.

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