How To Use An Ab Roller

How To Use An Ab Roller, July 2021

Are you performing a countless number of crunches and plank exercises at the gym, and just not seeing results? 

It might be time to step up your ab workout game.

Especially as the summer temperatures start to roll in, many people set their sights on what is seen as the pinnacle of being fit: rock hard abs.

Unfortunately, this esteemed goal is often preyed upon by fitness companies trying to make fast money.

Lots of training programs and supplement advertisements will entice consumers with too good to be true promises like “how to get a six pack in 10 days” or “how to shred belly fat fast”.

Readers, you know I am here to give you the real truth, and here it is: there is no fast track to having abs. But, abs are not impossible. With consistent, effective training over an extended period of time, and a balanced diet, you will absolutely begin to see more definition in your core.

And, a key training accessory that you can incorporate into your workout regimen to really strengthen and challenge your core is one of my favourites, the ab roller workout.

A lot of people have seen an ab roller in their local gym, but can’t quite figure out what to do with the thing. I get it, because I have been there. 

But now, I have mastered the technique of the ab roller, and in today’s article I am excited to share with you all the details you have ever wanted to know about this unique gym accessory, and how it can help you build a killer core (and maybe even that six pack you are gunning for). 

What is an Ab Roller?

An ab roller is essentially a small, round wheel that you roll in and out along the floor in a fully body motion to get a total core workout.

The ab roller wheel can come in a variety of sizes; the smaller the ab roller wheel, the harder the core exercise because of the increased range of motion you are moving through. 

On either side of the ab roller wheel are handles for you to grip as you roll. 

Oftentimes, these ab roller wheel handles will be ridged, textured, or even padded for your increased grip and comfort as you complete your ab roller exercises.

Do you need to have an ab roller wheel to do ab roller workouts? No, not necessarily.

There are a number of ab roller workout variations that use popular gym accessories like a loaded barbell, TRX Suspension Straps, or even a Swiss exercise ball to recreate the classic ab roller movement.

The Benefits of Working Out with an Ab Roller

  1. 1
    Strengthen Your Core. Many fitness enthusiasts will agree that ab roller exercises are more effective at strengthening and stabilizing your core than the traditional ab crunch exercise. 
  2. 2
    Target Additional Muscle Groups. Since the ab roller exercise is a full body movement, the ab roller also helps to train your chest, biceps, shoulders, glutes, hip flexors, and obliques. 
  3. 3
    Improve your Compound Lifts. Any powerlifter, CrossFit athlete, or Olympic weightlifter will tell you: a stronger core makes for a more powerful barbell lift. Whether you train with barbell squats, deadlifts, snatches, clean and jerks, or any other heavy barbell movement, a more stable core can help you smash your present PR weight. 
  4. 4
    Add Variation to your Core Routine. Plateauing is a thing when it comes to training; the more often we do the same old exercises, the more our body adapts to them, and the fewer results we see. Adding ab roller exercises to your workout routine can challenge your core in a new way, and give you new muscle gains.
  5. 5
    Reduce Your Risk for Back Pain. Did you know that 4 out of 5 Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives? By being proactive and strengthening your core with ab roller exercises, you are reducing your risk of experiencing back pain in the future by making your muscles more stable and resilient. 

How to Use an Ab Roller?

The most standard ab roller wheel workout looks like this: the athlete kneels on the ground with the ab roller wheel positioned in front of them, with either hand firmly gripping each handle of the ab wheel.

The athlete inhales, braces their core, and in one fluid motion they roll the ab roller wheel out in front of them, essentially transitioning from a kneeling position to a more flat, extended position along the floor. 

Then, the athlete contracts their abs to roll back into a kneeling position. Some important cues to remember to perform the ab roller workout correctly are: 

  • Brace your core and keep it tight and stable; your core must be the main driver of your movement. 
  • Keep your gaze neutral and your head between your arms (don’t crane your neck upwards as you are rolling out the ab roller wheel).
  • At your full extension of the ab roller exercise, you should be in an inverted hollow hold position. This means that your body is shaped like a small, gently curved “hill” above the ground. You must not let your hips drop or back arch at your full extension as this will disengage your core and make your form incorrect.
  • Make sure that you perform your ab roller exercise in a slow, controlled way to make the exercise effective and to reduce your risk of injury. 
  • When you are extending your body or rolling out with the ab roller, you do not need to stretch out all the way as to become parallel with the floor. Doing this will make the movement incredibly difficult and put your shoulders at risk of injury. Only roll out as far as it feels comfortable and sustainable to do so. 

It is important to note that this ab roller workout is an advanced core workout. If you are not someone who already has a relatively stable core, or perhaps you are new to working out, this will be a difficult exercise to perform with correct form which can put you at a higher risk of injury. 

As you work your way up to using an ab roller, I recommend beginning training with core stabilizing movements like planks, bird-dogs, dead bugs, and hollow holds. 

Swiss ball roll outs are also a great progression exercise as you are training towards using an ab roller.

Simply kneel in front of a Swiss exercise ball, place your elbows on the ball, roll it out forward, and then use your core to pull the ball back into a kneeling position.

You are pretty much recreating the ab roller wheel exercise with the Swiss ball, but since a Swiss ball is much larger than the ab roller, you are moving in a shorter range of motion, thus making the exercise easier.    

The ab roller workout also puts a fair amount of pressure on the user’s lower back and shoulders, so if you already have irritation in these areas of the body, I would suggest skipping out on this ab roller workout until you recover.

How to Incorporate an Ab Roller into your Training Routine

Here is my advice to begin adding ab roller exercises to your regular workouts:

Step 1: Plan out when you will be performing your ab roller exercises in your workout. Keep in mind that these ab workouts will really exhaust your core.

So, if you are planning to do heavy barbell lifting during your workout, like a squat or deadlift, do the ab rollers afterward so as to not compromise your core strength and stability during those heavy lifts. 

Step 2: Start slow. The first few times you perform a ab roller workout, you will just be practicing your form and getting your feel for the movement.

Make your reps controlled movements, and don’t rush into doing a ton of them. Always perform ab roller workouts after you are already properly warmed up.  

Step 3: Once you get a feel for the ab roller wheel, gradually increase the amount of sets and reps you perform. For a killer core workout, I like to complete 3 sets of 10 reps, with a one minute rest in between each set.

As you become more experienced with ab roller workouts, try performing them in a super set with another ab movement, like a plank hold or leg raises to really challenge your core strength and feel the burn! 

Step 4: Don’t forget to stretch after your ab workout. Performing gentle ab stretches like cobra pose, cat/cow pose, and side bends can help your core muscles recover and grow. 

Final Thoughts

Fair warning: you may experience some serious DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness, or just sore muscles) after you start training with an ab roller. Ab roller wheel exercises will really set fire to your core! 

While ab roller exercises can be tricky to master at first, once you get the hang of them, you will be well on your way to a more strong, stable core and all the benefits that come with it. 

Denver Matheson

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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