Here it is – another Workout Edge post. This time around we’ll focus on core work, and more specifically, one of the best exercises for a strong core and the correct way to do ab wheel rollouts.
If you haven’t checked out the last Breakfast Bites post about a great polyphenol rich morning shake recipe, go ahead and do that now.
While just about every gym and I’m pretty sure some of your friends have an ab wheel, this simple but extremely effective piece of workout equipment is rarely used properly…and from what I can see, they’ve even started making ones that automatically roll back for you – defeating the ENTIRE purpose of it to begin with.
Here we go.
Let’s get this out of the way first – ab wheel rollouts are an advanced exercise. When done correctly, they have incredible benefits and are an efficient way to build a core that will help you complete other exercises with more ease and stability.
The Main Benefits of Ab Wheel Rollouts
You’ve got sit-ups, crunches, V-ups, ab machines, and more…some may argue that you can also get in ab work by doing other compound exercises. For instance, strict form chin-ups beat many abdominal exercises in activating the rectus abdominis, or deadlifts activate many muscles at one time – but this isn’t an entirely sound argument.
Why do ab wheel rollouts? I can think of one very good reason – they train the isometric stabilization and anti-extension functions of your core.
This is the opposite of most ab work you might do, which is mainly focused on shortening and flexion of the rectus abdominis (i.e. your six pack); but your rectus abdominis is just part of your core, not your entire core. What you have to remember is that your midsection is a powerhouse within itself, so it makes sense to hit it directly, in the most powerful way possible.
This is why ab wheel rollouts are so effective, because they train more than just your rectus abdominis. They hit your transverse abdominis, quadratus lumborum, internal and external obliques, etc.
I like to think of ab wheel rollouts as a moving plank. Your core’s primary focus is to stabilize the spine, while the outer extremities are in motion. This means you work your deep muscles, something I talked about in-depth in the SUPP UP. No Bull, Gym In A Bag Workout Guide. If you haven’t already, go ahead and get your copy today.
Done correctly, ab wheel rollouts strengthen your lower back, lats, chest, shoulders, and as a whole, your anterior core musculature and more. This is huge as it means strength gains will transfer over into deadlifts and squats; your core is designed to create stiffness in order to efficiently transfer force from your upper to lower body and vice versa, as well as resist movement in the spine.
Ever nearly fallen out of a chair and had to stabilize yourself to stay seated? Yeah, they help with simple incidents like that too.
The Wrong Way to Do Ab Wheel Rollouts
If you’re doing ab wheel rollouts incorrectly, tension isn’t allocated to the correct musculature. Usually, this means:
- hyperextending at the bottom (with focus on the lower back and spine, causing unnecessary pressure) or
- pulling the hips back, both which initiate the concentric portion of the exercise. These are the two major mistakes to avoid.
You want constant tension on the abdominals and if you don’t do ab wheel rollouts with proper form, the tension gets routed elsewhere.
The Correct Way to Do Ab Wheel Rollouts
If you’re doing ab wheel rollouts right, activating your core, your lower back will keep a strong, neutral position throughout. If your core isn’t activated, you’ll usually feel hyperextension in the lower back.
Fix #1 – Stop Hyperextending The Lower Back
Avoid starting with an exaggerated curve in the spine. In other words, don’t start with a hyperextended posture. If you do ab wheel rollouts with your lower back already in hyperextension, you’ll wind up with a lot of unwanted (and unneeded) pressure/force on your spine.
Instead, start with a slight posterior pelvic tilt, in order to keep the lower back neutral. This means you’ll want to:
- Tuck your butt in and squeeze your glutes (think of your dog after you scold it, tail between its legs)
- Keep your ribs down, bracing your core (just like you would in boxing before getting punched in your gut)
- Note: If you lack lumbar extension, drop your hips just a little deeper so you have more control going into extension, thus building confidence. If you have a deep lumbar curve, extend no further than neutral so you avoid anymore hyperextension of your lumbar spine.
Squeezing your glutes will help create the small posterior pelvic tilt, creating reciprocal inhibition and keeping your hips out of the movement. Doing this throughout each set will also help to strongly activate the upper and lower rectus abdominis, in addition to internal and external obliques. If you can do 20 reps each set with your glutes squeezed, you’re doing really well.
Ab wheel rollouts additionally work your transverse abdominis, allowing you to develop true inner muscle strength. If you’re doing it right (and you know how to “fire” your glutes), you’ll also feel the exercise in the back of your hamstrings, and they’ll be sore the next morning.
Fix #2 – Stop Moving The Hips Back & Forth
Most people tend to move the hips back and forth too much. While interestingly enough, ab wheel rollouts are considered a hip flexor movement, the exercise itself is generally difficult to attribute one target muscle to, and you want to keep hip movement to a minimum when doing these.
Overuse of the hips takes most of the tension away from the core, which defeats the whole point of the exercise. You’ll notice people start with their hips positioned back, before moving them back and forth (flexion and extension) during ab wheel rollouts…stop it.
Instead, start by pushing your hips forward toward the floor, so you angle your thighs and torso in one straight, diagonal line. From here, the only movement will be from your arms, not your hips. It’s also a good idea to press the ab wheel “down” into the floor with your arms, if you want to feel it in your triceps and lats while also feeling it in your core.
Again, think of a rollout like a moving plank. This means:
- Pushing your hips forward when you set up, so your torso and thigh angle are diagonally linear
- Do your ab wheel rollout with your arms extending forward, while keeping your hips in place
- Pull the ab wheel back into the position your start from using your lats, not your hips
Lastly, and mentioned earlier, ab wheel rollouts are an anti-extension core stability exercise, so they help strengthen your spine’s ability to resist hyperextension. Like I said in the SUPP UP. No Bull, Gym In A Bag Workout Guide – simplicity and efficiency when combined is a beautiful thing, and the ab wheel manages to pull off both. There really isn’t much more to say.
…and there are no shortcuts.
That’s all folks.
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