By Christopher Pregony, BS, CSCS
We are constantly bombarded with garbage infomercials on bogus exercise equipment, but every now and then there is something that actually works. Enter the ab wheel. This tool is nothing more than a single wheel with handles. It seems the simplest things tend to be the most effective.
How it works
The most basic move with the ab wheel is the “roll out.” Start from the knees and grasp the handles while the wheel is on the ground. As you start to move the wheel forward, your arms and hips will extend and your abs act as a stabilizer. The farther out you go, the more muscle recruitment is required. As this exercise is performed, it is imperative that the back is kept in a neutral position. There is a lot of stress put on the core, and if the back is allowed to collapse it can cause back pain or the inability to perform the movement.
What does it work?
This wheel works several different muscles. Most people use it for the stress it puts on the core — more specifically the rectus abdominis (six pack), the transverse abdominis and, with different variations, the obliques. Typically when clients use this tool they feel soreness deep down in the core the next day. In addition to working the core, it also requires stabilization from the arms, chest, laterals and hips.
How to use it
The most basic movement is to start from the knees (I would recommend using a pad) and roll out. It is important to start slow. Remember, the farther you go, the harder it is to return to the starting position. Start with the wheel directly in front of you. Grab the handles and begin to put some weight on it, rolling forward slowly, and then return to the start position. Start by going only a foot or so from where you started, and work your way farther as you get more comfortable. If you feel any pain in the back, back off on the distance.
There are a few variations that can recruit different muscles. By rolling out at an angle or a slight curve to the right or left of center, the user can target the obliques. The most difficult move on the ab wheel is trying to start from the feet instead of the knees. This is extremely difficult and should be reserved those with very strong core muscles.
All in all, the ab wheel is an inexpensive, small and effective piece of equipment that does not take up much space. It is not the be-all and end-all exercise tool, but it works specific muscles and can be beneficial as an addition to an exercise program.
Tip: Although you may be tempted to make one yourself, DO NOT! They are inexpensive and need to be able to withstand your body weight.