I love my foam roller sessions, although I’m not sure all of my class attendees always agree. Using a foam roller is an excellent way of working on balance in a way that can mimic being on a horse, but it is seriously hard to get to grips with.
In many ways balancing on a foam roller is much harder than balancing on a moving horse, however, they provide a great way of training and rehearsing for the destabilisation that the body experiences through such actions as rising trot, jumping and coping with a spook.
A lot of us carry tension around the neck and shoulders, and when riding this can result in tension being transmitted down the reins to the horse’s mouth. Likewise, balance work on a foam roller can bring out the habitual neck and shoulder tension, so it is a good way to practise balance displacement whilst maintaining upper body softness.
Anyone who has had an injury to their legs or low back (although injury to any part of the body can impact on balance) will almost certainly benefit from improving balance due to the likely reduced proprioception in the affected limb.
You can use a foam roller to challenge balance in different ways, from simply standing to squats, lunges, upper body and trunk control.
Working on a roller whilst lying down is another great way to improve balance combined with core strength. It is also a fantastic way to really feel the alignment of your spine; that might sound a bit flowery, but just about everyone that spends even a little time in this position reports how comfortable and ‘straightening’ it is. The final exercise I do lying on a roller is isolating shoulder blade (scapula) motion and control as the roller gives feedback on the position whilst you can see if your arms are moving symmetrically.
You will note that I am using a 1/2 roller. Some therapists and Pilates instructors use full rollers; in my experience very few people are able to cope with the balance disturbance this creates without significantly activating incorrect muscle patterns as they attempt to find a neutral position any way they can.
If you decide to use a roller, start off carefully and maybe even with a wall to your side so that you can reach out for balance if you need to. Do not be surprised if you are not exactly proficient – it takes time and practice to get the hang of a roller – but go with it and you will make progress.