Foam Roller Squat Progressions

Do You Even Squat?

Squats are one of the most common exercises for strengthening the lower body. This is with good reason – they are incredibly effective! Electromyographic (EMG) research has shown particularly high levels of quadriceps and gluteal activation with squat exercise variations (Bourdreau et al, 2009; Distefano et al., 2009). Squats are also very common within the rehabilitation setting. This is for a number of reasons including:

  • High activation of stabilisation muscles (Bourdreau et al, 2009; Distefano et al., 2009)
  • Limited equipment required to perform correctly
  • Ability to progressively increase challenge of squat variation through the phases of rehabilitation
  • Exercise is functional for many activities of daily living

Therefore, if you are someone who wants to rehabilitate or even prevent injury the squat progressions discussed in this article are going to be relevant to you. Squats and lower limb strengthening are used in the rehabilitation of many common conditions including:

Why Use A Foam Roller For My Squats?

Well, there are a few reasons to do this! Utilising your foam roller during squats will allow you to progressively increase the challenge with which your squats provide. Initially, it can be used to make your squats easier (yes, easier!) and as you become more technically proficient the challenge can increase. As you move through the progressions shown below you will see the exercises become harder on your balance (or proprioception) and this will lead to increased activation of your deeper stabilising muscles. The deep stabilising muscles are important for injury prevention and rehabilitation. In fact, comparison EMG research by Anderson and Behm (2005) found that squatting on an unstable surface lead to increased activation of:

  • Soleus
  • Core muscles (abdominal stabilisers)
  • Upper back muscles (upper lumbar erector spinae)
  • Lower back muscles (lumbo-sacral erector spinae)

The authors attributed the increases to the stabilising and postural roles of this musculature and identified its potential use during rehabilitation from injury. Accordingly, below we will discuss progressing your squat exercises with the roller.

Foam Roller Squat Progressions – From Beginner to Elite

Beginner – Double Leg Wall Squat

In this exercise you are utilising both legs and the support of the wall to ensure you maintain balance. The foam roller allows you to slide up and down the wall through a functional range of motion.

The progression following this exercise would be a double leg squat without the wall.

Intermediate – Double Leg Squat on Half Roller

To increase the challenge of the double leg squat you could add a half round foam roller to stand on. This adds instability to the exercise, however, you are still on two legs at the same time.

Intermediate – Single Leg Squat With Support

Progression to single leg can be challenging and you may require some support, as this video suggests.

Advanced – Double Leg Squat on Round Foam Roller 

This challenging balance exercise requires high levels of balance and is an advanced squat progression.

Elite – Single Leg Squat on Round Foam Roller

This exercise is very challenging! The image below shows an attempted single leg squat on the roll.

Take Home Messages

Whether you are rehabilitating a knee injury or progressing clients through a program these squat progressions move from beginner through to advanced/elite exercises to continually challenge your strength, stability and function. Want more information like this, join the conversation and connect with us:


Anderson K, Behm DG. Trunk Muscle Activity Increases With Unstable Squat Movements. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005, 30(1): 33-45

Bourdreau SN, Dwyer MK, Mattacola CG, Latterman C, Uhl TL, McKeon JM. Hip-Muscle Activation During the Lunge, Single-Leg Squat, and Step-Up-and-Over Exercises. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 2009, 18, 91-103.

Distefano LJ, Blackburn TJ, Marshall SW, Padua DA. Gluteal Muscle Activation During Common Therapeutic Exercises. The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2009; 39(7):532-540.


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