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Why the Ab Wheel Is Such a Challenging and Effective Workout Tool

What Is An Ab Roller?

An ab roller wheel is a simple yet effective low-tech piece of equipment used by trainers and athletes to train and get fit. The ab roller is a wheel that has a rod running through its center that you can hold. To use an ab roller, you’d have to place your hands on either side of the wheel.

Many think that ab rollers are ab crunch machines— but they are not. Here’s a definite list of the best ab crunch machines on the market.

Muscles Worked By Ab Rollers

Here are the muscle groups worked by an ab roller:

  • Hips
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Transverse abdominis


How to Use the Ab Wheel

Because using the ab wheel can be challenging, here are some key safety points to keep in mind when doing the exercises.

Avoid arching your lower back as you roll out. You can tell if this is happening if you begin to feel a slight pinching in your lower back. This can be avoided by shortening your roll and/or doing the roll on your knees while pulling in your lower abs.

Keep your head down in neutral position with your chin slightly tucked during the roll. This will help protect your lower back and neck.

Beginner and Advanced Variations:

Many ab wheel roll-out exercises are very challenging for beginners. This is because it takes time to build a solid core foundation capable of supporting our full bodyweight when we do a roll-out.

Beginners will want to start by doing simple ab wheel planks (the first exercise below) until they feel ready to advance to the knee roll-out, and then finally full roll-outs and other advanced variations.

If you feel your form slipping at any time during roll-outs (such as arching your back), lower the intensity by dropping to your knees.

10. Standing Single Arm Ab Rollouts

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.

  • Start in a standing position, with the roller on the floor in front of you. 
  • Bend from your waist and grip the ab roller with one hand.
  • Start to roll the wheel forward. As you roll, make sure your arm is straight and your spine is in a neutral position. Keep rolling until your arm is above your head and your body is in a straight line above the ground.
  • Pull the wheel towards your feet, bending your hips and knees as you move back into your starting position.
  • Repeat on each side.  

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. 

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How do you use an Ab Wheel and Determining the Ab Wheel Effectiveness?

  1. Grip the ab roller by placing one hand on each of If this is your first-time start on the floor, kneeling down on all fours. You can do this on a yoga mat if your knees feel uncomfortable in this position.
  2. Grip the ab roller by placing one hand on each of the handles. Place the wheel on the floor underneath your shoulders.
  3. With your arms and back straight, roll the wheel forward slowly.
  4. As you roll forward, make sure your abs are contracted, and your upper body is extended and parallel to the ground.
  5. Roll forward as far as possible while engaging your core to keep you balanced. Only by contracting your core throughout the exercise can you keep your lower back stabilized so that it doesn’t sag.
  6. You must also ensure that your hips and shoulders are moving at the same speed.
  7. Hold your position for about three to five seconds.
  8. Then SLOWLY roll back to your starting position.
  9. Now repeat the whole movement again. Try to do about 15 reps per set, or whatever you can do, and you will slowly begin to build your way up. Later on, you will feel the ab wheel effectiveness.

Source image: 

Rolling slowly will help work your torso as well as avoiding injury.

The ab wheel will also hit your lower back and hip flexors if a slow and controlled speed is used.

You need strong back muscles to fight the natural arching of your back as you roll forward on the wheel.

If you are a beginner with the ab wheel, it will be helpful to roll out and touch a wall with your ab wheel so that you will have a better idea of your starting point as you pull back and go for another rep.

You can extend the distance as you roll out gradually. Or you can have your feet against the wall for support.

When you actually use the ab wheel in this way you can feel the workout it gives your abs which is the first indication of the ab wheel effectiveness.

But let’s continue on to see if we can find out some more data on the ab wheel effectiveness.

1. Abe Wheel Plank

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. 

  • Begin on your hands and knees with your ab wheel in front of you. 
  • Firmly grip the handles of the ab wheel with your palms facing the floor.
  • Push your body into a plank position. In good plank form, there will be a straight line from your head down to your heels. 
  • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, making sure you’re engaging your core. 
  • Lower back into your starting position and repeat. 

Over to You

If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it should be that the ab wheel is going to make you work HARD. But you can rest assured knowing that these exercises deliver real results.

Ultimate core strength is something you need to work slowly and sensibly towards. It is a process, and we all start somewhere. Overdoing it and rushing into advanced exercises and techniques will, like many of the ab roller exercises discussed in this article, result in injuries and setbacks.

You are, however, equipped with all the information you need to be able to perform ab wheel exercises safely. And if you feel they exceed the limits of your abilities at current, practicing the beginner progression exercises will get you rolling your way to 6-pack abs in no time! 

Recommended Reading

  • The 9 Best Back Exercises for Women (Beginner to Advanced)

  • Does the Ab Wheel Really Work? (Here’s the Answer)

  • 9 Killer Captain’s Chair Exercises (That Will Set Your Core on Fire)

  • 7 Best Weight Bench Exercises For Abs (Flat Bench Ab Workout)

  • The 10 Best Isometric Abdominal Exercises for A Strong Core

Ab Wheel Rollouts vs. Crunches: 3 Key Differences

The ab wheel rollout and the crunch are both core exercises, but they affect your body differently in a few ways.

  1. Posture: The clearest difference between the ab wheel and the crunch is posture. You perform crunches lying on your back, similar to a traditional sit-up. In contrast, the ab wheel requires a plank position (more similar to a push-up) that works your entire body.
  2. Range of motion: While the crunch involves a greater range of motion in your torso and hip flexors, the ab wheel rollout requires your back, torso, and hip flexors to remain fairly straight as you roll the wheel forward.
  3. Difficulty: Crunches are a beginner-level exercise to work your core muscles. On the other hand, ab wheels require more upper body strength and stability. To protect your knees and lower back during an ab wheel, consider using a knee pad or yoga mat. Be mindful of your fitness level and work your way up to ab wheels by mastering other core exercises first.

5 Amazing Ab Roller Benefits

Okay, let’s jump into the exercise wheel benefits and really get a feel if you should bother using it or not:

Works a Large Number of Muscles At Once

Ab wheel exercises effectively strengthen a large number of muscles.

Traditional exercises, such as crunches, work only a limited number of muscles. Each repetition of the rollout exercise works nearly 20 muscles!!!

I repeat, 20 muscles!

Even though primarily considered for ab exercises, exercise wheel workouts involve your hip flexors, obliques and several other muscles throughout your entire body.

More Challenging Than Traditional Ab Crunches & Co

If you find exercise wheel exercises difficult when compared to ab crunches, rest assured that your mind isn’t playing any tricks on you…

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find any exercise that hammers the anterior core like the ab wheel rollout. If you can do 20 rollouts while keeping a posterior pelvic tilt (glute squeeze) throughout the set, you’re a badass.”

Reference: t-nation.com – Tip: Do the Ab Wheel Rollout

The fact is:

As mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of the ab wheel is the high degree of muscles involved for your abs and obliques.

According to a study conducted by San Diego State University, an ab wheel exercise produces way more muscle activity in your abs and obliques than traditional crunches…

As a larger quantity of muscles are being targeted during ab rolling, the ab wheel exercises logically will also be a lot more challenging than your traditional crunches.

Strong Core = Good Bye Back Pains

Not only will you gain hot six packs by the help of an exercise wheel, you will also be able to reduce the risk of pesky back pains.

Believe it or not, having a strong core will not only better your posture but will also help you with having a trouble free back.

And you know what?

A better posture is the key to confidence…

Brings Variety To The Daily Routine

If you’re bored by the same workout routine, adding the exercise wheel can immensely benefit your arsenal and open doors to a large number of exercises which will benefit your body in best of ways.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Just Your Average Guy (@iworkoutatwork) on Oct 8, 2018 at 9:34pm PDT

Change those crunches with some rounds with the exercise wheel:

Your body will thank you for it!

About this article

Co-authored by: Brendon Rearick Personal Trainer & Strength Coach This article was co-authored by Brendon Rearick. Brendon Rearick is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, Fitness Program Director, and co-founder of Certified Functional Strength Coach (CSFC), a fitness education company in the San Francisco Bay Area. With 17 years of experience in the fitness industry, Brendon specializes in strength and conditioning, and his company CSFC has certified over 3,000 trainers in over 20 countries. Brendon has worked as a Program Director for Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (MBSC) and earned his massage therapy license from the Cortiva Institute-Boston. Brendon holds a BS in Kinesiology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This article has been viewed 265,575 times. 30 votes – 100% Co-authors: 13 Updated: November 9, 2020 Views: 265,575

Article SummaryX

To use an ab roller, start on your hands and knees on a flat area of floor. Then, hold the bars on either side of the wheel before rolling forward over your hands, arms, and torso with your abs contracted. As you roll, keep the motion slow so the wheel doesn’t spin out of control and focus on your back being straight so your abs do the work. Keep the position for 2 or 3 seconds, then use your muscles to roll back into the start position. To build the ab roller into your routine, perform 3 to 8 repetitions during each exercise routine. For tips on how to do a more challenging workout with the roller, read on!

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Ab Wheel Progressions for Beginners

As mentioned, ab wheel exercises are not for beginners.

Below is a list of a few beginner-friendly exercises that provide you with similar movement patterns to the ab wheel and roller exercises. They are a great starting place for developing the core and overall strength required to be able to perform the exercises as listed above.

We all start somewhere, right?

1. Inchworms

Beginners alternative to:  kneeling and standing ab wheel rollouts

This exercise is a great way to develop your core strength in a ‘dynamic plank’ style. It requires you to extend and contract your body as you move through the exercise and demands more and more from your core as you reach the furthest point, as in the ab wheel rollout.

How to:

  • Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Place your hands on the floor in front of your feet (bend at the hips and knees as required).
  • Keeping your arms fully extended and your spine in a neutral position, walk your hands out, step by step.
  • Walk them out as far as you can, ideally so that they are in front of/above your head with your body in as much of a straight line as possible.
  • Hold here for a second whilst your core is working at its hardest, then walk your hands back towards your feet, where you started.
  • Complete 8 to 10 repetitions (each walk out and back in is 1 rep).

2. Plank with Alternating Arm/Leg Extension

Beginners alternative to:  double and single arm kneeling and standing ab wheel rollouts

This version of the plank reduces your points of stability as you raise your alternating arm and leg whilst holding the plank position. This creates a more demanding scenario than in the standard plank and allows you to develop your stabilizing muscles significantly.

It also equally targets the left and right sides of your core, as in the single-arm rollouts and bird dog rollout.

How to:

  • Go into a tabletop plank position (on extended arms instead of your forearms) with your body in a strong, straight line.
  • Keeping them straight, simultaneously lift your left arm and right leg off the ground and hold for a second before going back onto both hands and feet.
  • Your next repetition should see you lift your right arm and left leg off the ground, and so on and so forth.
  • Complete 15 to 20 repetitions, alternating arms, and legs each time.

3. Exercise Ball Knee Tucks

Beginners alternative to:  Ab wheel knee tucks

This exercise follows the exact same motion as the ab wheel knee tucks and, therefore, makes for the perfect beginner’s alternative. If you can do this exercise without much issue, I’d say you’re safe to give the ab wheel version a go!

Exercise ball knee tucks are a good introduction to testing your stabilizer muscles abilities and working on your lower and deep core muscles.

How to:

  • Support your upper body on extended arms with your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  • Have your feet and bottom of your shins on top of an exercise ball.
  • To begin with, your body should be in a straight line and you should have an engaged core and neutral spine, i.e. no sagging at the hips.
  • From here, roll the exercise ball towards your arms with your feet/lower legs, tucking your knees underneath you.
  • Hold for a second and then slowly extend back outwards by rolling the ball back to your starting position, whereby your body is back in a straight line.
  • Keeping your core constantly ‘on’ will help stabilize the ball whilst you’re doing your knee tucks.
  • Complete 15 to 20 repetitions.

4. Exercise Ball Pikes

Beginners alternative to:  Ab wheel pikes

Like the exercise ball knee tucks replicate the ab wheel knee tucks, this exercise provides a perfectly matched plane of movement to the ab wheel pike. You should be able to confidently do this version before attempting the one on the ab wheel.  

Exercise ball pikes also target your lower and deeper core muscles, though can be considered a significant level up from the knee tucks.

How to:

  • Support your upper body on extended arms with your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  • Have your feet and the lower half of your legs on top of an exercise ball.
  • Start with your body in a straight line. Your spine should be held in a neutral position to avoid any sagging through your hips.
  • From here, keeping your legs straight and using your feet, pull the exercise ball towards your arms.
  • This will result in your hips going upwards and you forming a ‘V’ shape with your arms and legs. Only the top of your toes should be left on the ball at the end.
  • Once you reach your end/top point (with your torso as vertical as you can get it), roll the exercise ball back to starting position.
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions.

5. Kneeling Exercise Ball Roll-Outs

Beginners alternative to:  Kneeling and standing ab wheel rollouts

This is the most challenging of the beginner’s progression exercises listed here. It has the closest resemblance to the ab wheel rollout and will give you a good idea of the control and core strength required.

The motion is almost identical to the kneeling ab wheel rollout, except for your body is more elevated on the exercise ball than on the ab wheel and you’re stabilizing yourself on your elbows rather than your hands.

How to:

  • Begin kneeling on a mat with an exercise ball placed directly in front of you.
  • Link your hands, have your arms together and then place your elbows on the top of the ball.
  • From here, roll the exercise ball away from your knees, using your arms. Your body will extend as you do.
  • Once you reach your furthest point, whilst maintaining a straight/neutral spine, hold for a second under tension and then pull the ball back towards your knees with your elbows.
  • Finish where you started before rolling out into your next repetition.
  • Like with the ab wheel rollouts, experiment safely with range before you go flying into full range and are unable to pull yourself back inwards to your starting position without hurting yourself.
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions.

How to Use an Ab Wheel

If you've already been working to strengthen your core and don't have any injuries or conditions that could make an ab wheel unsafe, it's actually quite simple to add this tool to your routine.

There are several ways to use an ab wheel, two of which you've probably seen before. The first exercise, commonly referred to as a kneeling ab wheel rollout, challenges you to push forward, or "roll out" the ab wheel, while in a kneeling position. Then, keeping your core tucked in and your back straight, slowly roll the wheel back in. The second exercise, a more advanced version of the first, instead has you start from a standing position. Lovato explains that both of these movements create instability, which ultimately strengthens your core. For those just starting out, Lovato recommends incorporating two to three sets of five reps into your workout, but no more than two or three times per week.

Spoiler: you can expect to feel sore after using an ab wheel. That's pretty standard with exercises that focus on new movement patterns or target muscles you don't typically train. However, soreness can also sometimes be a sign of overtraining, which Lovato notes is an easy trap to fall into when you're just starting out. "Even if you have a strong core, the ab wheel is really challenging," Lovato says. "It's best to take it slow and remember that it's better to perform fewer solid reps than more sloppy, and potentially dangerous, reps."

If you're thinking about "powering through the pain," don't. Tibbitt explains that doing so will only overwork your ab muscles, taking you further away from the results you want. Plus, you could end up injuring yourself, which would only set you back further. To relieve soreness, both trainers recommend staying hydrated, massaging the area with a foam roller or massage gun, stretching after a workout, applying heat to increase blood flow and ice to reduce inflammation, and, of course, resting. The more regularly you use an ab wheel and build up your core strength, the less sore you'll feel.