The core—abs, six-pack or midsection, or whatever you call it—is your body’s center of power. Some downplay its relevance, some hype its importance, and others neglect to isolate and strengthen the core. No matter where you stand, paying attention to your core is essential and the ab wheel rollout exercise should be included in your routine.

The core has many vital roles in the performance in and out of the gym, but by far, its starring role is resisting movement and keeping your spine where it should be, neutral. One of many exercises that do this and more is the ab wheel rollout. There are many fancier exercises, but none are as effective as the ab wheel rollout.

Here we’ll “roll into” what the ab wheel rollout is, how to do it, what muscles are trained, its benefits, and some variations to take your core strength to the next level. Ready to roll out the gains? Then, let’s go.

What is the Ab Wheel Rollout?

The ab wheel rollout has you use a barbell loaded with round plates, an ab wheel, or a stability ball to extend your torso toward the ground while resisting extension in your lower back. Many core exercises, like crunches, hanging knee raises, flex or contract the core. This exercise strengthens the core by lengthening it, known as eccentric strength. Being strong in this position improves core stability and recruits muscle fibers that would otherwise be untouched.

How to Do the Ab Wheel Rollout Exercise

  1. Get on your knees and grip the ab wheel or a barbell loaded with round plates, with hands set shoulder-width apart.
  2. Push through the handles, round your upper back, and tuck your hips under to get a neutral spine.
  3. Extend your hips towards the floor and let your chest fall toward the ground.
  4. Keep your lower back neutral and try not to let it arch too much.
  5. The farther forward you are, the harder the move will be, so shorten your range of motion if need be. Your ROM depends on your overhead mobility and keeping a neutral spine.
  6. Squeeze the lat muscles, and pull yourself back to the starting position.
  7. Reset the starting position described in Step 2 and repeat.

Muscles Trained by the Ab Wheel Rollout Exercise

The ab wheel rollout is mainly a lower-body exercise, but rolling and reaching overhead trains the bigger upper-body muscles. Here are the primary muscles trained with the ab wheel rollout.

Lower Body

  • Glutes: Engaged isometrically to help keep the lower back neutral.
  • Transverse abdominis: Tightens your mid-section like a belt tightens a loose pair of pants to keep your back neutral.
  • Rectus Abdominals: Isometric contraction and are lengthened as you roll out.
  • Obliques: The external and internal obliques are engaged isometrically to keep the spine neutral and to avoid rotation.

Upper Body

  • Shoulders And Biceps: Your anterior deltoids will be trained during the rollout via shoulder flexion.
  • Triceps: Engaged isometrically to keep the elbow straight, and the long head of the triceps assists the lats during the rollback part of the exercise.
  • Latissimus Dorsi: Lengthens during the rollout and contracts concentrically to bring your hands back underneath your shoulders.

Ab Wheel Rollout Benefits

When performed correctly, this exercise is the real deal. It may feel like your abs are tearing in two, and you’ll surely experience the soreness for yourself the next day.  Below are a few benefits that will make it all worth it.

  • Better squats and deadlifts: When you’re squatting or deadlifting, keeping your spine in neutral and your body in proper alignment is good for technique and will stop your lower back from flipping you the bird. A stronger core due to increased anti-extension strength will make both of these happen.
  • Easy to progress (and regress): Like most good exercises, the ab wheel rollout can be made easier or more difficult. The barbell and ab wheel variations are hard, and if you’re not up that quite yet, the stability ball rollout in the elevated position is a good starting point.
  • Ab hypertrophy and strength: When you perform the ab wheel rollout, you’re challenged during the eccentric and concentric phases for potentially better muscle development of the muscle you all know and love, the six-pack muscle. The control and stability necessary to perform this exercise gives you increased time under tension for better abdominal strength.
  • Lift more weight: Have you ever heard the term, ‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link?’ When it comes to your core strength, it is close to the truth. If you’re struggling to keep a neutral spine under a heavy load, then improving it with the ab wheel rollout needs to be a priority.

Form Mistakes to Avoid

Rolling there are back mightn’t look hard to the untrained observer, but there are a few things to watch out for good form and to soak up all the benefits mentioned above.

  • Don’t start with the hips: Starting this movement by driving your hips downward is a no-no. This causes your lower back to arch, taking the tension out of the core. Start with rolling forward, keeping your glutes engaged, and avoid bringing your hips backward during the concentric contraction. The key is staying within a range of motion you can control.
  • Correct setup and tension: This is not an exercise you hurry to set up or perform. Set up in the correct position described above, grip the ab wheel or barbell tight, and engage your glutes to keep a neutral spine.
  • Keep your elbows straight: Some lifters bend their elbows without noticing, shifting some of the emphasis to the triceps, which takes away from the abs. Essentially, it makes this exercise easier, and you don’t want that. Make sure to keep your elbows locked throughout the entire exercise.
  • Don’t let the hips sag: The whole point of the ab wheel rollout is to prevent low back extension, and when your hips sag toward the ground during the rollout, you can be sure it’s happening. Keeping your glutes engaged the entire time and staying in a ROM you can control will prevent this.

Workout and Programming Suggestions

The ab wheel rollout requires focus and tension, and it is best to perform this after your warmup and before you grip the barbell. Performing these for one to three sets of 6-10 reps when you are fresh works best.

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Ab Wheel Rollout Variations