Whether you’re headed into bikini season, want to eliminate the muffin top peeking over your skinny jeans or just feel good when you catch a glimpse of yourself exiting the shower, you want toned, sexy abs. Crunching and twisting your way to a sculpted stomach can get old and may not be the most effective way to reach your goal. You spend most of your day hunched forward – over a computer or a steering wheel and flexing forward in crunches only further encourages this position and neglects other important muscles of the core. The innocuous-looking ab wheel, which resembles the front wheel of a wheel barrow with a rod attached, offers an intense ab workout that trains every bit of your core – not just the superficial muscles up front. Mastering ab wheel rollouts is no small feat, however. You must build up strength or you’ll find yourself planted face first on your mat.
Perform ab stabilization exercises for several months before trying the ab wheel. Work up to at least a one-minute hold in the forearm plank, in which you are balanced on forearms and toes with your body parallel to the floor. Add in variations such as the side plank, in which you rest on one palm or forearm and the side of the same foot, other leg stacked on top; one-legged planks, in which you hold the classic plank but lift one foot; and one-armed planks, in which you hold the classic plank but lift one arm and reach it past the ear, parallel to the floor. Do plank holds on unstable surfaces, such as a stability ball or an inflated disc, to further build strength.
Build the muscles of the lower back, including the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and quadratus lumborum – all of which are activated by the ab wheel roll out. Perform moves such as the lat pulldown. Sit at a lat pulldown machine, hold the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and draw the bar to the bridge of the nose in a slow, controlled manner. Do supermans for the spine by lying belly-first on a mat with your arms extended straight out overhead and your legs extended. Lift both the arms and legs together until you feel a slight strengthening in your spine. Aim to train with these moves at least twice per week for four to six weeks before attempting the rollout. Make each of these workouts consist of at least one set, and as many as three sets, of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise using weight – for the lat pull down – that makes you feel fatigued by the last couple of repetitions.
Move on to a knee-based wheel rollout. Get into an all-fours position, but place your hands on either side of the wheel’s rod. Push forward until you feel your abdominal muscles engage. When you first start, you may only go part of the way toward extension. Over several weeks of training, work until you can push the wheel forward so your upper body is fully extended and you balance on the very top of the knee where it meets the thigh. Ensure that your back does not sway downward or hunch upward. Work up to doing 12 or more of these knee-based rollouts with ease; this may take several months.
Do the ab wheel rollout on a stable incline, such as a slanted driveway or sturdy wooden ramp. Come into a standing position at the lower portion of the incline and lean forward from the hips to place your hands on the handles of the wheel. Engage your core muscles as you push the wheel forward up the incline. Come to a position in which your back is parallel to the floor and you have no sag or hike in the hips. Roll back down to the starting position to complete one repetition. Work your way up to 12 or more.
Seek out less steep inclines to perform the exercise until you can do the move on a flat surface. Remember to keep your abdominals, back and pelvic floor muscles completely engaged when you attempt the full rollout.
Include the rollout two or three times per week on nonconsecutive days. When the full rollout becomes easy, you can add other variations such as a one-legged rollout to continue to challenge your core.
- The New Rules of Lifting for Abs: A Myth-Busting Fitness Plan for Men and Women; Lou Schuler, et al.
- The Gym Survival Guide: Your Road Map to Fearless Fitness; Gregg Cook, et al.
- ExRx.net: Wheel Rollout
- Do not rush to master the ab wheel rollout. You may need many months or even a year to build the proper strength.
- The ab wheel rollout puts a lot of pressure on the muscles of your back. If you feel any pain, stop immediately and go back to training your spine with extensions to build the adequate strength.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.