When it comes to building strong abs, you want the most effective workout for the best results. Your abdominal muscles are primarily composed of the rectus abdominis in the center and the obliques on each side of your stomach. You perform traditional crunches without any equipment, while the ab wheel costs money; therefore it is worth knowing whether it is a worthy investment. The better of the two workouts heavily depends on what muscles you want to develop.
Study on Effective Ab workouts
The American Council on Exercise commissioned a study led by Peter Francis, Ph.D. in which the effectiveness of 13 different ab exercises and equipment were analyzed. Thirty male and female participants took part in the study and completed 10 to 12 repetitions of the 13 exercises. The participants’ progress was monitored by an electromyography technique, which records the electrical activity of muscles. Although the ab wheel wasn’t part of the study, the results revealed the traditional crunch is an ineffective workout. The bicycle maneuver and captain’s chair topped the list.
The Crunch Variation
Although the traditional crunch exercise is ineffective, crunches performed on an exercise ball ranked third in the ACE-commissioned study. Despite having less activity on the abdominal muscles, ACE notes that crunches on the exercise ball may be the most effective exercise overall, because it had the least activity on the rectus femoris muscle, which is one of the four muscles in the quadriceps. Other crunch variations such as the long-arm crunch -- crunches with your arms extended -- and the heel-push crunch were also more effective than the traditional crunch, but less effective than crunches on an exercise ball.
Hip Flexors Taking Over the Ab Wheel
The researchers in the study found that activity in the rectus femoris and hip flexors suggest that the abdominal exercise is either done incorrectly, or it doesn’t target the abdominal muscles. According to ExRx.net, the ab wheel rollout recruits the rectus abdominis and obliques as stabilizers, but targets the hip flexors. Although this is a good exercise for your overall body, it doesn’t target your abdominal muscles.
What's Best for Your Abs
Neither the traditional crunch nor ab wheel are the most effective for your abdominal muscles. However, ACE fitness lists crunches on an exercise ball as the overall best workout. Therefore, a variation of the crunch exercise is your best option. However, if your goal is to target more muscle groups other than your abdominal muscles, then the ab wheel is your best bet. ExRx.net lists the triceps, pectorals, deltoids, wrist flexors and abdominals among the muscles the ab wheel develops.