The ab wheel—you've seen it featured in infomercials and there's probably one lying around in the corner of your gym. Some of you may think it's a gimmick or even dangerous, but when used correctly it's one of the best tools to strengthen your core.
Ab Wheel Rollouts—the primary exercise performed with an ab wheel—are a form of anti-extension core training. As you roll forward, your abs work overtime to keep your back from arching into extension.
According to Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (Woburn, Massachusetts), Rollouts train your abs the way the muscles are designed to function. He says the abs aren't meant to flex the torso, or bring the shoulders to the hips like during a Crunch or Sit-Up. "What they actually do is prevent you from going into extension," he adds.
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The concept is similar to a Plank, but Rollouts are much more difficult—which is why they're sometimes considered dangerous. And there's some validation to the claim. If you can't hold a Plank for more than a few seconds, or you can only do a few Push-Ups without your back sagging, these are indications that your core isn't very strong.
If you fall into this category, your back will extend during an Ab Wheel Rollout, as shown below. This stresses your spine, and can cause some degree of lower-back pain or injury.
But, you are not excused from anti-extension exercises. The benefits are too great to ignore.
Ab Wheel Rollouts provide a better ab workout than traditional flexion exercises, creating stronger and more defined abs—if improving your looks is a goal. Also, strong abs protect your spine and prevent energy leaks, which sap power and strength from your sports skills.
To protect your spine, gradually strengthen your core with beginner Rollout progressions before performing more advanced Rollouts. To get started, follow the progression below. Complete each variation with perfect form before moving on to the next exercise.
How to: Assume a plank position with your elbows on the ground directly under your shoulders. Keep your core tight and your back flat, maintaining a straight line with your body. Hold this position for 60 seconds.
How to: Assume a push-up position with your hands on the ground positioned slightly wider than your shoulders. Keep your core tight and your back flat, maintaining a straight line with your body. Hold this position for 60 seconds.
How to: Kneel on a towel or pad and place your hands on a large physioball. Flex your glutes and abs. Keeping your back straight, lean forward and roll the ball forward until your nose is a few inches above the ball. Roll the ball back toward your knees to return to the starting position. To increase the difficulty, use a smaller physioball; and move on only when you can perform the exercise with the smallest available physioball.
Ab Wheel Rollout
How to: Kneel on a towel or pad and grasp the ab wheel handles. Flex your glutes and abs. Keeping your back straight, lean forward and roll the wheel forward until your arms are overhead and your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Roll the wheel back toward your knees to return to the starting position.
Variation: You can also do this with a barbell. Simply place a 45-pound plate on each end.
Standing Ab Wheel Rollout
How to: Stand with your feet together, bend at the waist and grasp the ab wheel handles. Keeping your back straight and your abs tight, roll the wheel forward until your arms are overhead and your body is in a straight line. Roll the wheel back toward your feet as you bend your hips to return to the starting position.