I used an ab roller every day for a month, and my core is stronger than ever
I didn't believe an ab wheel would make much difference, but it was a welcome change from sit-ups and crunches
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I added an ab roller to my workouts a month ago. I expected few immediate changes, but I've started to see mid-body definition I've never had. And it's had more than just an aesthetic impact, too.
The roller worked more of my core than my basic ab workout; crunches, Russian twists, and planks. There are many versions of these inexpensive ab wheels, but I'd recommend starting with one of the best ab rollers (opens in new tab).
My balance isn't the best, so I invested in one with a wider wheel to give me more control during my ab roller workout (opens in new tab). Honestly, I didn't know what I was doing when I first tried it and promptly fell over several times.
People often assume that you'd instinctively know how to use an ab roller (opens in new tab), but there's definitely a knack to it. After a couple of practice runs, I was excited to start on the best core challenge I'd ever done.
The more I did it, the more I improved on the technique and the better results I got. I ended up talking about it so passionately that I even managed to convince my 62-year-old dad to give it a try, and he's a convert, too!
I was skeptical, initially
An ab roller is a wheel with handles that you can do various exercises with. I only came across one when some of my health and fitness colleagues started testing them and was initially quite skeptical. Surely the wheel does all the work for you?
But someone showed me what it involved, and I saw how engaged you need your core to successfully complete a single ab roll motion. From that point on, I decided it was worth a try. After all, ab rollers aren't a huge investment, often costing around $30.
There are several designs with different wheel thicknesses — thinner for a more challenging workout and chunkier to offer a bit more stability. The handles also need to be well cushioned, as there is a reasonable amount of pressure on your hands, arms, and shoulders to control the motion as you roll out and back again.
Although there are a range of ab roller exercises, I started with the basic rollout. Initially, I made the mistake of not figuring out where I needed to stop and hold before rolling back and managed to go splat on my front.
Mercifully, my chin landed on something soft. But don't make the same mistake I did — you want to determine the limit of your strength and flexibility and then work from there. And it's easier to keep track of your progress this way, too.
My ab roller challenge
I started by adding the most basic motions to my routine, starting kneeling and rolling it out in front of me until I reached my limit. I held this pose for five seconds, keeping my spine neutral, before rolling back into the kneeling position.
I also attempted to use the roller with my feet and tried to complete some knee tucks, but I found it too difficult to grip the handles without foot attachments. So, I started doing two sets of rollouts instead.
There were 10 repetitions per set, and I'd take a short rest between sets. As I'd never used an ab wheel before, it was tough, and I found I'd shake my whole body by the last three repetitions in each set.
I quickly adapted and began to build core strength to the point that I increased to 15 reps for two sets after a few weeks. Because I've carried on even after the month, I've extended the time in the hold, as it feels like my core is most engaged after seven seconds.
The results were impressive
While I've always had quite defined upper abs, no matter what I did, I couldn't get my obliques to show. Even when my body fat percentage was low, there was no sign of a six-pack.
I wasn't expecting the ab wheel to change this, but within a couple of weeks, I could see a new line down each side of my stomach as my obliques tightened up and started to show tone.
And after my workouts, I started to feel delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in my lower belly, which was a novel experience. It's not something you'd ask for, but this post-workout soreness shows that your muscles are working.
When you exercise, it causes tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Your body needs protein to repair this damage to grow and strengthen your muscles. This is why it's a good idea to use the best protein powders for weight loss to aid your recovery and develop lean muscle.
As well as working out my core, I felt the impacts of the ab wheel in my shoulders and triceps, which were also engaged. I try not to hold too much weight on my wrists, focusing on keeping my grip gentle and controlling the roll with the core and shoulders.
It was a great workout, but there were difficulties
I've read plenty of these challenge-type stories in the past, but more often than not, they're painted as purely positive experiences. Although I'm glad I've added an ab roller to my routines, it wasn't all plain sailing.
I use wrist supports when I work out to compensate for weakness in this area. I found it had to adjust for this weakness with the ab roller. Instead, I learned to use my shoulder and upper arms to control the wheel and keep pressure off my wrists.
And I also had to switch where I exercised, as the roller would get jerky and stuck on carpets. So I ended up doing my workouts on a smooth stone floor. If you don't have a hard floor like that, you can work around it by rolling out a yoga mat for a smoother experience.
Lou Mudge is a Health Writer at Future Plc, working across Fit&Well, Coach, LiveScience, T3, TechRadar and Tom's Guide. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.
Multiple diagnoses in her early twenties sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavors and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health. You can find her on Instagram at @loulouapril
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