Image of a man using an ab roller

Is An Ab Wheel Actually Effective At Building Core Strength?

Last Updated November 24, 2016

In this day and age, there is no shortage of fitness fads and scams. Infomercials, in-store promos and online advertisements are abundant can actually be convincing until you buy the product and realize it doesn’t do a thing for you and your 3 easy payments of $19.99 just went down the toilet.

One of the most popular infomercials from the last decade was the Ab Roller. Since then, they have been popping up in gyms, in that corner by the single foam roller and 2 yoga mats. But do they actually do anything for you? Let’s take a look at fact vs fiction and see if the ab wheel can deliver results, or if it’s just another Made for TV gimmick.

How Does An Ab Wheel Work?

If you’ve never seen an ab wheel, it basically looks like a short stick with a wheel that’s about 6”-9” in diameter smack in the middle. Some have two wheels, some have a big wheel and a longer handle, some are painted purple…you get the idea.

The basic principle of the ab wheel is that you start either standing or on your knees, grab the handles and set the wheel on the ground, roll yourself forward until your body is fully extended, then roll yourself back to your starting position using your core. Seeing the same movement you see in the gym as in the infomercial is generally cause for concern – until you give it a shot yourself.

The Effectiveness of The Exercise

Spoiler alert: ab wheels work. Holy smokes do they work. Here’s what is really cool (and functional) about ab wheels: they are an isometric and dynamic exercise combined into one.

Isometric exercises are exercises in which you don’t move, you just hold yourself steady. This recruits stabilizer muscles and can do great things for your core. Dynamic exercises involve movement.

“But how can you be moving and still at the same time?” Great question! Okay think of doing a plank, this is an isometric exercise, but instead of stabilizing yourself on the surface area of your hands, you get about an inch or two of surface area from that little wheel. Next, think of a pike (also known as a V-up), where you’re dynamically contracting your upper and lower abs with movement of your arms and legs. Flip the pike upside down, add the plank on the tiny wheel, and that’s an ab rollout with an ab wheel. Sound intense? That’s because it is.

Even if you work your core every workout with dragon flags, leg lifts, weighted crunches, etc., you’ll want to start out on your knees on the ab wheel. This is a TOUGH exercise. Perform the reps slowly from your knees until you build up your core strength, then you can start and end in the standing position. Roll out slowly and complete the rep, it is very easy (and tempting) to cheat reps on this exercise, but you’re just hurting your own workout if you do.

Another great aspect of this exercise is its safety. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, etc. can all involve impact once form breaks down. Think of when you fail on a plank – you simple stand up or turn onto your side and lay down with a very, very minimal risk of injury. This is practically the same on ab wheel rollouts.

How It Works Your Core

The ab wheel rollout engages your entire core. First, it recruits your stabilizer muscles to keep you stable over that tiny devil wheel – that’s mainly your internal obliques, external obliques and transverse abdominis that keep you from falling over.

When you’re actually in the motion of rolling out, you’re firing up your rectus abdominis (the visible “six pack” muscles) due to the vertical motion and pulling in.

As your rectus abdominis takes the brunt of the work moving the wheel, all of those stabilizer muscles are staying active and keeping your body from tipping. This is not only an effective abdominal exercise, but it is one of the best ab exercises you can do with your body weight.

The Importance of Core Strength

Not only will it to help you build a nicely chiseled six pack, this exercise is fantastic for core strength. Think planks on steroids. One of the great side effects of an increase in core strength, is the ability to build strength more quickly EVERYWHERE else. If you have a strong core, your body will be less focused on keeping itself upright and more focused on recruiting your prime movers to help get the weight wherever its going. A strong core will help with your deadlift, your squat and any other lifts you do.

In addition to making your lifts easier, a strong core helps prevent injury. Your transverse abdominis acts essentially as a built-in weightlifting belt. Stability is the most important factor in a heavy left, specifically in the back, as a good percentage of lifting injuries are back-related.

Versatility

One of the greatest things about the ab wheel is that they are perfectly safe (and extremely easy) to make at home if you have a few parts laying around. An old broom handle and some lawn mower wheels will do the trick fantastically.

If the movement is extremely difficult for you at first and you find yourself unable to do very many reps and you’re already starting on your knees, feel free to add another wheel to the ab roller (as long as you have enough room for your hands). This will increase the surface area you have to balance on and take a little stress off of the stabilization aspect of the exercise. This can help you ease into the movement and enable you to crank out reps and get some quality time under tension.

The Effectiveness of The Exercise

Although it was popularized to the mainstream audience in an infomercial, ab wheels are the real deal when it comes to abdominal training and core strength building. The combination of being a great isometric and dynamic exercise, having very simple modifications to make it easier or harder and being pretty simple to build and set up yourself due to being such a simple device (in the true home gym spirit) make the ab wheel an extremely effective tool in the development of your midsection.

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