Fix Your Squats With the Anti-Rolling Foam Roller Squat
By Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
If you make it a habit of visiting my blog you’ve probably seen a trend. I’m not a huge fan of foam rolling although I do love the foam roller as there are dozens of ways to use it to improve body mechanics on a variety of basic movement patterns. The squat is no different. In fact one squat variation I’ve been using recently with great success with my clients and athletes is the anti-rolling squat on the foam roller.
While this may look like a bilateral movement it’s actually more of a unilateral or single leg movement as nearly all of the weight is being supported on one leg (the one that’s not on the foam roller). Besides providing a unique squat variation there are 10 reasons why the anti-rolling squat on the foam roller is effective not only for crushing your lower body but for cleaning up your squat pattern.
1. As previously mentioned although this visually resembles a standard bilateral squat, it’s actually as close to a single leg squat as you can get without it technically being a unilateral exercise. In essence it represents another single leg squat variation to add to your repertoire although there are unique benefits to this one that can’t be replicated with other single leg variations which I’ll list below (# 2-10). Once you perform the movement, you’ll see exactly what I mean. In fact, nearly all of your weight has to load onto the working leg (the leg on the ground). If you place even slightly too much tension on the foam roller leg, the foam roller will slide or roll out and you’ll lose control of your body. Essentially the foam roller provides “false support” as it punishes you for not placing ample tension on the working leg.
2. The ability to work the bilateral squat pattern yet emphasize one leg is a great way to both clean up the bilateral squat pattern and reap the benefits of single leg training simultaneously. Many individuals can actually perform a solid single leg squat as the difficult balance component essentially forces their body to use correct mechanics. The bilateral squat on the other hand has much greater degrees of freedom and much more room for error as the lifter is not immediately punished for faulty mechanics. As a result, many lifters perform bilateral squats (standard double leg squats) with aberrant mechanics for years because they can temporarily “get away with it” but eventually it catches up to them with ensuing injuries. This squat variation forces the lifter to clean up their bilateral squat form (which is not always an easy feat) while simultaneously addressing single leg strength and side-to side-symmetry. Read more about proper squat mechanics here.
3. This movement requires incredible motor control, core activation, and spinal rigidity. This is actually a fairly advanced exercise that both requires and builds significant levels of motor control and movement competency. Any sudden movements, excessive momentum, loss of tension, lack of proper mechanics, postural misalignment, or lapse in focus will result in immediate loss of balance. As a result the degree of constant tension from this anti-rolling squat is incredible making it a unique but effective hypertrophy stimulus for the legs.
4. This squat does wonders for fixing valgus collapse at the knees, ankles, and hips. In fact, that’s originally how I developed this exercise as I was thinking of a squat to literally force the lifter out of valgus collapse. With this anti-rolling squat, collapsing even slightly (with ankle pronation or valgus knee collapse) on the working leg will place more tension on the foam roller leg (as it shifts the weight medially causing the foam roller to slide out. In fact this is the most unforgiving squat I’ve seen when it comes to addressing valgus collapse. Even single leg skater squats don’t require this precise degree of hip, foot, and ankle alignment.
5. In contrast to the above, the anti-rolling foam roller squat also helps to eliminate excessive knee spread, which is becoming more problematic in advanced lifters from over-spreading and over-externally rotating at the hips. Although ankle pronation and valgus knee collapse (inward knee collapse) are two of the worst mistakes a lifter can make when squatting there still needs to be a balance between medial and lateral forces around the knee and hip. Essentially the knees need to be spread just enough so that the feet, ankles, knees, and hips, are more in less in-line with each other (not in or out). This squat variation helps drive that notion home as it demands the perfect amount of knee spread without overspreading. Any amount of overspreading and excessive varus forces that produce lower body misalignment will cause the foam roller to slide out laterally from the body. If you’re having trouble determining how much to spread your knees and hips on your bilateral squat, this one will inform you immediately.
6. This squat also helps eliminate excessive range of motion and collapsing. Using extreme depth and collapsing at the bottom by going beyond parallel results in unusual lateral forces onto both legs causing the foam roller to slip out. In essence this foam roller squat forces proper 90-degree/parallel squat form and punishes faulty mechanics including ATG technique.
7. When it comes to reinforcing optimal hip hinge mechanics on the squat, this anti-rolling foam roller squat is one of the most effective squat variations I’ve used. Part of this is because the hips start in an offset position thereby initiating the movement with a slight hip hinge (as one side of the pelvis is raised up and forward). In addition, unless the hips set back with ideal hip hinge technique too much force will be produced in the medial and lateral directions and there will be wasted force and energy leaks instead of force being produced perfectly vertical into the ground. As a result this produces a rolling effect on the foam roller causing the lifter to lose his or her balance and control.
8. This anti-rolling squat variation also cleans up external rotation in the foot and ankle complex almost immediately. A proper squat involves keeping the feet relatively straight yet most individuals squat with too much external rotation due to weak feet and ankles and other compensation patterns. Even slight external rotation of the feet during the anti-rolling foam roller squat will produce lateral and medial forces on the roller creating undesired deviations and loss of balance.
9. This anti-rolling squat also works unique stabilizer muscles around the hips, groin, and inner thighs. These muscles are often neglected however they’re critical for performance and lower body muscle function as well as joint health.
10. This squat variation literally forces the lifter to employ the most effective training protocol there is – eccentric isometrics. In fact if you don’t use eccentric isometrics on this variation it will feel almost impossible to dial in.
Although any squat variation including back squats, front squats, Zercher squats, and overhead squats can be employed on the anti-rolling squat, I’ve found goblet squats to be the most natural and user friendly. I recommend starting with a dumbbell or kettlebell goblet variation before moving to other loading protocols. In addition I suggest dropping the weight by half of what you typically use for that loading method.
On a final note, you’ll want to position the leg on the foam roller 3-6 inches in front of the working leg (the leg on the floor) as this provides the most natural position for the offset pelvis setup (as one hip sets higher and ultimately slightly more in front of the other).
Several sets of 5-8 reps on each leg will leave your legs screaming while also enhancing your squat form and lower body mechanics.