If the first time you saw an ab rollout was on an infomercial for one of those wheel gadgets, you may have written it off in the same way you should probably write off most exercise infomercials. This is one case where we think you should reconsider.
You'll be hard-pressed to find any other abdominal exercise that so effectively targets the upper and lower rectus abdominis, as well as the internal and external obliques — basically your entire core. It's so effective, in fact, that we recommend warming up with some planks and crunches to prepare the core, and some arm circles if you're prone to rotator cuff pain.
Once you're warmed up, you can pick your poison in terms of equipment. If you don't have an exercise-specific rollout wheel, you can use a barbell instead by simply placing your hands shoulder-distance apart in the center of the bar and letting the weight plates act as the wheels. If the barbell room at your gym is meathead central, you can use a large exercise ball instead, starting with clasped hands on the ball and rolling out until your weight is supported primarily on your elbows (pictured). You can even go the DIY route, placing your fists pinky-side-down on two paper plates or hand towels and sliding them out on a slick, hard floor. Here's our how-to for doing the move itself.
Now that you've got your equipment lined up, here are some tips for getting the most out of your ab rollout:
- Start from a kneeling position, using a pad under your knees for comfort. After you've worked on your form, strength, and volume for a few months, you can attempt to work your way up to performing a rollout from a standing position, but it's an advanced modification that should be reserved for well-trained and healthy trainees.
- Maintain a modified plank position. You might be tempted to bend your hips back into a tabletop back position at the top of the movement, but that disengages the abdominals and diminishes the cumulative effect of your set. Try to keep you knees, hips, and shoulders in one straight line while you move only your arms.
- Squeeze your glutes! Yes, it's an abdominal exercise, but your ab muscles aren't meant to be stretched during the movement. A slight posterior tilt — achieved by squeezing your butt — will prevent this, allowing your core muscles to get stronger while also preventing hyperextension of the spine.
- Start small. The ab rollout is a challenging move and can place unnecessary strain on the shoulders and low back when performed improperly. If you're new to performing this exercise, start with a very small range of motion — as small as just six inches. Give yourself a few days to see how your muscles and joints react, and add a little distance to your ROM if your body gives you the green light.
- Don't forget to breathe. Following the general rule of inhaling during the concentric contraction phase of the exercise and exhaling during the eccentric contraction phase, make sure you inhale through the nose while you role your equipment of choice away from you, and exhale as you bring your arms back underneath your shoulders.
All that's left to do now is put it into action and watch those abs and obliques pop!