The Ab Rollout is one of the most effective core exercises. But it was not always considered a smart way to strengthen your abs.
At the gym I belonged to growing up, ab rollers were forbidden. A client got hurt using the equipment, and the yellow roller vanished—much to my dismay.
This wasn’t an indictment of the equipment. Rather, it was a case of a person performing an exercise that was too advanced. Would a gym ban a barbell because a beginner tried to load up on a 315-pound Squat and got hurt? Probably not, unless that gym was Planet Fitness.
For advanced athletes and other strong individuals, the Ab Rollout is arguably one of the best core-strengthening exercises, because it teaches your abs to prevent extension of your spine, which is their true function. And like any exercise, at a certain point the basic move becomes too easy.
We spoke with Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist and owner of AdvancedHumanPerformance.com, to learn how to make the Ab Rollout more challenging and continue building a stronger core. But before we get into the advanced variations, you need to learn how to perform the standard Ab Rollout with perfect form with these tips from Seedman.
- Use a barbell or ab wheel. If you have shoulder mobility limitations, a barbell is a better choice because you can customize your grip width.
- Before each rep, take a deep breath in, pull your shoulders down and back, and tighten your abs as much as possible. Exhale only after completing the full rep. This set-up prevents your lower-back from sagging or extending as you roll out.
- Do not tighten your glutes even though this is a common coaching cue. Extending your hips fully will increase your risk of sagging through your lower back.
- Always start a new variation by rolling half way out. If you feel your back begin to sag, hips drop or shoulders elevate, you’ve gone too far.
- Even if you have the ability to roll out completely, it’s best to extend slightly short of your complete range of motion.
- Do not perform more than 10 reps on any variation. Even if it feels easy, you will fatigue and your form will break down. It’s best to start at between 5 and 7 reps per set.
Once you have mastered the basics, you can progress to more challenging Ab Rollout variations. According to Seedman, if you are strong enough to perform more than 10 clean reps, you are OK to move on to the next variation. The variations below are listed in order of difficulty.
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1. Eccentric Isometric Rollouts
This is the first progression of the Rollout. The difference is you roll out slowly and hold the stretched position for two counts before rolling back quickly, but smoothly.
Seedman: Go in a controlled fashion and pause in the stretched position where you have the most tension on the core musculature. It makes for a strong stimulus for increasing strength and musculature in the core.
2. Rapid Rollouts
Now that you can perform the exercise slowly, it’s time to increase the speed. This puts a ton of stress on your abs to control the position of your torso.
Seedman: The rapid movement as you roll it out rapidly really produces strong extension forces that you have to resist, so it makes for an aggressive anti-extension exercise. It really wants to pull you into extension.
3. BOSU Ball Knee-Elevated Rollouts
Slightly elevating your knees on a BOSU Ball changes the angle of the exercise and places more stress on your core muscles. It’s a simple, but highly effective alteration of the exercise.
Seedman: When your knees are elevated just a little bit, it puts you at a slight decline and wants to extend you even further. So I’ll place their knees on a BOSU Ball, which is about 6-8 inches above the ground. You also have the instability to control.
4. Partner Accelerated Rollouts
A partner stands behind you and actually pushes you into the Rollout. You have to resist the high speed of the movement, which is even faster than you can move on your own, and unpredictable. It’s an intense variation.
Seedman: There’s a massive amount of extension forces that want to pull your hips forward and down. You have to create incredible amounts of tension and activation throughout your core to resist that.
5. Band-Resisted Rollouts
Attaching a band from the roller or barbell to a fixed position in front pulls you forward faster, increasing the difficulty of the stretched position and challenging the second half of the rep to put your abs under tension for more time.
Seedman: You typically get all that tension as you roll it out, but when you get back, there’s almost nothing. When you do it with a band, there’s just as much tension when you roll in, because the band that wants to pull you forward.
6. Band-Resisted Anti-Rotation Rollouts
It’s possible to do this variation only with a barbell. It’s similar to the previous exercise, but the band is attached to the side of the barbell, which forces your core muscles to prevent the bar from twisting.
Seedman: You have to prevent it from twisting the bar the entire time, creating a hybrid between a Pallof Press and an Ab Rollout. You have both anti-extension and anti-rotation components.
7. Weighted Rollouts
When you wear a weight vest or place a plate on your back, your ab muscles must handle a heavier weight load. This is brutally difficult, but incredibly effective. Seedman prefers the load be on the lower back to place additional stress on the core rather than the upper body, but both options work.
Seedman: If you put the weight lower toward the lumbar region, it wants to pull your spine into greater extension and you have to resist those extension forces even further. So if you place a weight like a 25 pound plate on your low back or even chains, it really taxes the core quite extensively.
8. Standing Rollouts
Standing Rollouts are the king of all Rollouts, but they aren’t for everyone. It’s better to perform a Rollout from a Push-Up position and only roll out a few inches. It’s a short range of motion but still extremely effective.
Seedman: If you really want to up the intensity, do it from a push-up position from your feet instead of your knees. From this position, I don’t recommend going out all the way because it places too much stress on the back. If you do the exercise with a barbell and add band resistance, it’s one of the hardest things you will ever do.
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For more Ab Rollout variations and instructions, check out Seedman’s YouTube channel.