Don't be fooled by its minimalist, no-frills appearance: A foam roller is one of the most valuable, inexpensive, and versatile pieces of gym equipment out there, says Lauren Borden, a certified structural integration practitioner and founder of Mind Body Manhattan in Manhattan Beach, California, USA.
It can help release tension in your connective tissues and work out kinks and knots in sore muscles (a good stand-in when a hands-on massage doesn't fit your schedule or budget). Plus, it can be used as a strength-training tool, helping to engage key muscles you want to tone, like your arms, abs, thighs, and butt. Because the foam roller is a curved, unstable surface, it can replace a BOSU trainer or stability ball in many exercises to improve your balance and fire up your core muscles. And the roller can even be used to mimic some of the same moves done on the Pilates Reformer to tone and stretch muscles and improve posture, giving you that long, lean look.
Try this total-body foam roller workout, created by Borden, three to five times a week.
Keep It Safe
You may feel discomfort — as in the hurt-so-good feeling of a deep-tissue massage. But you should never feel sharp pain (if you do, stop!), and the pain shouldn't linger into the following day (if it does, take a break from rolling for a few days). Start with light, quick motions and progress to slow, deep rolls.
Hit a tight spot? Roll directly onto it and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. This activates your muscle's proprioceptors (which monitor upticks in muscle tension) and prompts the muscle to reflexively relax, easing the pressure.