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Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The question: All of my friends that are runners seem to be using the foam roller. Why? What does it do?

The answer: I am going to sound like an exercise dork, but I am going to say it anyway: They use it because it because it is amazing.

I use mine on a daily basis because it is so versatile. It can be used to massage sore muscles, improve posture and challenge your balance and core. I use it with everyone, whether they are runners or not.

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Plus, it is relatively inexpensive and small enough that, if you work out at home, you can hide it in a closet. (Full disclosure: I leave mine out in the living room, which may look slightly unconventional, but the visual cue helps remind me to use it).

It can be used to massage any muscle – just place it under the sore body part and roll.

I love using it on my calves. Try sitting on the floor, legs straight, with the roll placed under your lower legs and perpendicular to the rest of your body. Use your arms to lift your bum. Roll your body forward and backward so you feel a massage in your calves. Hold briefly when you find a tender spot.

When you lie lengthwise on the roll, it becomes an unstable bench on which you can stretch your chest and improve your posture, balance and core.

Try " hugs:" Lie lengthwise on the roll so it follows the line of your spine. Keep your head and tail bone on the roller, and your feet on the floor. Let your arms fall out to the side, so that your body forms a T. Hold for five seconds. Lift your arms and hug yourself so your upper back rounds. Repeat 10 times.

The closer together your feet are during hugs, the harder you'll work your balance and core. To challenge yourself even further, try lifting one leg.

Trainer's Tip: My favourite thing to do after a long day is massage my upper back using the roll. Lie on the floor with the roll underneath your shoulder blades and perpendicular to your body. Lift your bum up, then use your leg muscles to roll your body forward and backward so the roller moves up and down your upper back. Repeat five times.

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Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.

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