While the idea of using an ab roller might strike you as a bit retro, the wheeled workout tool has been making a pretty big comeback (the hashtag #abroller has over 9 million views on TikTok, FWIW). And its resurgence is because, well... the piece of fitness equipment works.
Though it seems like a simple contraption, the wheel does a lot for your core. “Unlike exercises like crunches that only activate a few sections within the abdomen, an ab roller workout activates several muscle groups, including the triceps, lats, and core,” says Gia Calhoun, a fitness expert and trainer. That’s because you’re dealing with the added challenge of balance as you hold yourself up during the roll-outs, she explains.
An ab roller workout is also perfect when you’re short on time — or if you just don’t feel like doing sit-ups. “It doesn’t take many repetitions to feel it working,” TJ Mentus, an ACE-certified personal trainer, tells Bustle. “With crunches and sit-ups you may have to do sets of 20 or more to feel it. With the ab roller, sets of 10 can be enough to get a good workout.”
As you roll your way through all the various ab wheel exercises below, be sure to focus on form so that you don’t hurt yourself and so you get the most benefit. “Make sure the movement originates from the core,” says Calhoun. “This will prevent strain in the lower back.” If you start to feel a pinch or strain in your lower back, stop to re-engage your core and try again, she says. It’s also important to keep your shoulders down and wide — even when rolling out, she adds.
And if you find yourself struggling to balance on the wheel, don’t stress — it takes a while to get used to the tool. “Ab rollout exercises are extremely challenging,” says strength and conditioning specialist Jake Harcoff, MS, CSCS. “If you choose to incorporate them into your training program, air on the side of fewer reps and sets — even if that means shortening how far you roll out, at least until you build more strength in your core.”
With that in mind, grab your ab roller (or find one at the gym) and give these workouts to try.
1. Simple Glide
To get used to the motion, begin by gliding forward in a straight line. “You’ll start on your knees with your body straight from your shoulders to your knees and your hands on the roller,” Mentus says. “Keeping your body and arms straight, roll out away from your body as far as you can, thinking about keeping your abs tight by pulling your ribcage down.”
From there, keep your torso tight as you bring the roller back directly under your shoulders, all by using your core strength. “A common mistake people make is having their hips bent or sitting the hips back when bringing the roller in,” Mentus says, so make sure you stay upright. Do four sets of 10 reps two to three times a week to work out your rectus abdominus (your abdominal wall) and transverse abdominis muscles (your inner abs that hold you upright).
2. Angled Roll-Outs
Once you feel comfortable with the forward movement, start to play around with angles. “Go forward, to the right, and then to the left,” says certified personal trainer Joseph Sudimack, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT. This gets your body moving in all different directions rather than just forward and back and side to side, he says, which helps with your functional strength (how you move in everyday life).
When you roll at an angle, you add in the upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. Just try not to arch your back. “It is vital that you maintain plank or straight back position by contracting your core throughout the entire movement, otherwise you are at risk of being injured,” he tells Bustle.
3. Long Stretch
Another ab roller exercise to try takes cues from Pilates. “This is based on an exercise performed on the Pilates reformer,” Calhoun says.
Begin in a plank position with your hands on the ab roller. If you need to modify, you can do this with your knees on the ground. From there, maintain that upright plank position as you push the roller forward a few inches, then bring it back under your shoulders. Repeat five to eight times.
4. Reverse Knee Stretch
For this move, bring your hands onto the floor beneath your shoulders and place your feet on the ab roller, kind of like you would with an exercise ball.
“Start with a neutral spine as you hover your knees off the floor and bring them forward toward your chest,” Calhoun says. Repeat 10 times. To work more of your obliques, she says you can move from the same position but bring your knees in to one side and then the other.
5. Plank + Pike
To do this sequence of moves, begin with a basic roll-out for three sets of 10, then simply hold a plank (this TikTok user suggests doing three sets for 30 seconds each). By staying in a plank on the roller, you’re challenging your stability for an added core burn. Then, do pike rolls for three sets of 10 by gliding the wheel out from a plank position with your hips up high before rolling back in. Pulling the roller in from the added height of a pike will work your upper and lower ab muscles.
6. Oblique Roll-Outs + Push-Ups
Start by kneeling with your knees facing the side wall as you roll out straight in front of you to hit your oblique muscles, then repeat on the other side. Then, to further work your arms, try doing push-ups on the wheel (trying to balance as you do them will be quite the challenge).
Gia Calhoun, fitness expert and trainer
TJ Mentus, ACE-certified personal trainer
Joseph Sudimack, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, certified personal trainer
Jake Harcoff, MS, CSCS, TSAC-f, CISSN, certified strength and conditioning specialist