The Ab Rollout may be the best core exercise ever, but when it is performed incorrectly, the move can cause serious injury to your lower back.
What a good Ab Rollout does is strengthen your abs and teaches them to support your spine. It's similar to a Plank, but more advanced.
As you roll out, your lumbar spine naturally wants to arch, or move into extension. This is what your abs are trying to prevent from happening, which makes it such an effective exercise.
But if you have poor form, you can easily end up moving into a dangerous position that can damage or even herniate the cartilage discs that sit between the vertebrae of your spine.
To prevent this from happening, below are a few simple form tips that will teach you to lock your core musculature in place while still getting the most bang for your buck from the exercise.
1. Take a deep breath in
Before each rep, take a deep breath into your stomach as if you were trying to fill your entire abdomen with air. Then brace your core as if you were about to take a punch.
2. Use your lats
At the beginning of each rep, tighten your lats by pulling your shoulders down and back. This helps to stabilize your spine in a manner similar to when you do a Deadlift. At the bottom position, roll yourself back to the starting position by pulling with your lats, which is a similar movement to a Straight-Arm Pulldown.
3. Start with the wheel directly under your shoulders.
To keep your core engaged, the ab wheel or barbell should start directly under your shoulders at the start and finish of each rep.
4. Keep your shoulders and hips aligned
To perform the Rollout effectively, ensure that your hips and shoulders are aligned with the same form as a proper Plank. If your hips dip, that means you're placing unnecessary stress on your spine.
5. Avoid shooting forward with your hips
One of the worst mistakes is driving downward with your hips as you lower in the rollout. This all but guarantees you will cause your lower back to arch and take the tension out of your abs, which puts your spine at risk and decreases the training benefit. To counteract this, keep your hips straight or slightly bent throughout the exercise, and avoid driving your hips backward as you roll up to the starting position.
Bottom line: Use a shorter range of motion and maintain constant tension, and you'll get a lot more out of this exercise.
Many people do not want to work all the way to their "sticking point" range, and stop a few inches short of it when they do ab wheel rollouts. Which is understandable since this exercise can be extremely humbling.
To extend your range, try reverse-engineering the rollout. Begin the exercise from the bottom, flat out on the floor, and try to pull up from the ground. As you move, maintain all the key form points mentioned above. Keep the number of reps you perform low. You'll find that, with practice, your "sticking point" will get farther and farther out, and eventually it won't be an issue.
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