April 12, 2021 9 min read
If you’re after Baywatch abs, it’s no secret that crunches won’t cover it. You’ve got to blast your core and keep your entire body engaged when you’re shooting for a six-pack.
But at some point in your gym journey, you may find that you’ve settled into a rut and you’re doing the same exercises you’ve been doing for weeks, months, or years. Sit-ups start to lose their zing after you’ve done thousands of them, and when you’re bored, your body is too. If you’re not giving your core muscles new challenges, you’ll stop seeing new results.
Enter the ab wheel. It may not look like much, but don’t be fooled - this unassuming piece of equipment will work every part of your upper body, and take your core workout to the next level. Even better, there are a huge number of variations, so you can tailor your ab rollout to your fitness level and goals. This guide will give you ten exercises you can do at the gym or as part of a home workout to get the most out of your ab wheel!
Sounds good? Let’s roll.
With ab wheels, the clue is in the name. An ab rollout is one of the most effective ways to torch your rectus abdominis (or abs, for the non-scientists in the room), but what really makes them a game-changer is their effect on the rest of your core.
The two main parts of the exercise - rolling out and rolling in - work almost every part of your upper body. Your abs, obliques, and lats stabilize your body as you roll, and your deltoids and forearms drive the wheel, punishing and supercharging your entire core. Your hips, shoulders, and glutes work hard to help you achieve the full range of motion and flexibility that a rollout demands. As well as getting you the abs of your dreams, this king of core exercises builds serious core stability and strength, improving your balance, reducing the risk of injury, and fixing bad posture.
Before we get started, a warning - these exercises are NOT for gym newbies. If you don’t have a strong core or back you will struggle and could injure yourself. Make sure you’ve got the muscles you need, you’re workout ready, and read on.
For each exercise, start by incorporating 5-10 reps into your routine, and then build up to 15-20. If you feel any pain, stop the exercise and seek the advice of a fitness or health professional. And you won’t see results unless you’re feeding the beast - give your body the power it needs before and during workouts, and after you’re done, give your muscles the recovery time and fuel they need.
An ab wheel plank lets you get comfortable with using the ab wheel to support your bodyweight and starts working your core. If you’re a beginner, start here.
When you’re new to ab rollouts, it’s best to start close to the ground. The knee rollout will build your core strength and help you to avoid lower back injury.
Once you’re ready to ramp things up, elevate your knees and start blasting your core. Lifting your knees extends your range of motion and makes it harder to stay stable, giving your ab muscles the challenge they’ve been waiting for.
Don’t let your obliques miss out on the action. Add a twist to your ab workout and get all of your midsection working.
Ab wheel marches will shred your core, get your lower body pumped, and take your balance to the next level.
Anything two can do, one can do better. If you’re ready to send your core workout into overdrive and give your stabilizer muscles a challenge they won’t forget, try a single arm rollout.
For this variation you will need an ab roller, which has a handle in the middle.
This variation may look simple but actually requires crazy high levels of balance and strength in your core and lower body. It’s a good way to build mass on both the right and left sides of your core.
You’ve made it this far, so you’re ready to get wild. The bear crawl will set your lower abs and hip flexors on fire, and it’s also a great exercise for fixing and preventing poor form. If you’re struggling with lumbar extension during your ab wheel workouts, this exercise is the one for you.
Once you’re knocking out knee rollouts with good form, you’re ready to move on to the classic standing rollout. It’s a brutal core challenge, so make sure your body’s ready for it.
The standing rollout is pretty much a full-body workout, with your arms, back, shoulders, hips, and glutes taking the hit along with your abs. We’re not saying you can replace your whole workout routine with an ab wheel rollout, but we’re not not saying that…
A note on your starting position:
When you’re first doing standing rollouts, start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
When you’re comfortable doing wide-stance rollouts, start with your feet together.
There’s no way around it - this will destroy you. The standing single arm ab rollout is as brutal as it gets, working every part of your core and upper and lower body. If you’re able to handle it, the standing single arm rollout is an incredible way to build balanced strength and mass and intimidate everyone else at the gym. If you’re sure you’re ready for the core challenge of a lifetime, read on…
As with the kneeling single arm rollout, you will need an ab roller and not an ab wheel.
Modifying your stance will affect the difficulty of the exercise. Start out with your feet wider than hip-width apart. Once you’re ready for it, start bringing your feet closer together to take your workout to full-body killer.
And if That’s Not Enough…
With an ab wheel and a strong core, the possibilities are infinite. For some bonus variations and game-changing tips, read on.
If you don’t have an ab wheel to hand, don’t sweat it. A barbell makes a perfect ab wheel substitute, and can be used to amp up your abdominal challenge.
To make your own DIY ab wheel, add light weights to a barbell. Grip the barbell with your hands close together, and roll it out as you would with an ab wheel.
The advantages of using a barbell include
Most ab wheel exercises can also be done using a stability ball. Despite the name, this makes your movement less stable, so your core stabilizer muscles have to work overtime. You’ll need incredible full-body control to complete a stability ball rollout with good form - good luck!
Increase the Challenge:
If bodyweight alone is not enough, make your workout harder by lifting your feet or adding extra weight. You can add heavier weights to barbells if you’re using them, or use chains or plates to increase the weight you’re working with.
Get Your Heart Pumping:
When you’ve mastered your rollout form, hit the accelerator. Fast ab rollouts are a great way to bring some cardio into your core routine, which contributes to weight loss and fat burning (chiseling out those abs) as well as increasing your general fitness. A warning: although you may want to go as fast as possible, make sure you’re maintaining good form to avoid the risk of injury.
So that’s the 101 on ab wheels, an incredible tool for core strength that’s been hiding in your gym all this time.
Again, it’s critically important that you’re physically ready for these exercises. Before attempting any of these, you must be comfortable holding a plank position and have good strength in your shoulders, back, and arms. Preparing well is something to be proud of, so don’t worry if it takes you a few months to build up to your first rollouts. A well-executed rollout with good form is impressive. A back injury? Less so.
If you experience lower back pain at any point during these exercises, stop immediately. Work on your core strength and get a fitness professional to advise on your form before returning to the ab wheel. Ab wheel rollouts can also put stress on your joints. If you’re experiencing joint pain, stop, check in with a health or fitness professional, and only resume the exercises when you’re sure you can do them safely.
But when you’re good to go, you might just find that the ab wheel is your ticket to insane muscle control, incredible core strength, and abs of steel.