How Effective Is an Exercise Wheel?

An exercise wheel is a small sturdy wheel with a rod traversing the center that serves as the handles. It is also known as an ab wheel because its primary function is to assist with core-strengthening exercises. An inexpensive fitness tool, the exercise wheel requires careful technique to avoid muscle strain or injury.

A young woman is using an ab wheel in a studio gym. (Image: Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images)

Theory of the Ab Wheel

Building a stable core helps you in all your physical activities and it helps decrease your risk of muscular injury. The exercise wheel is effective in strengthening your core not only because it targets your abs but also because it works the muscles of your lower back. You need strong back muscles to counteract the natural arching of your back that occurs as you roll forward on the wheel.

Benefits of Ab Wheel Exercise

Your spine maintains its optimal position when your core muscles are well-balanced. From this stable spine position, you are able to retain good posture and provide a solid, centered base from which the muscles of your limbs can move. Exercising with an ab wheel requires that your core muscles work together to properly execute the movement, allowing these muscles to contract as a group. By contrast, exercises that target only your abs or your back may result in a core muscular imbalance. Additionally, the exercise wheel offers variety when you are bored with your current core-strengthening routine.

Disadvantage of the Ab Wheel

The primary disadvantage of the ab wheel is the pressure it places on your lower back. If your back muscles are weak or if your hip flexors are tight, they might not be able to oppose the effect of gravity on your abdomen as you exercise, resulting in an overarching of your back. In order to avoid injury, you might need to strengthen your back with exercises such as levers or rows before moving up to the ab wheel. If you have any issues with your lower back, avoid ab wheel exercises until you consult with your health-care practitioner.

Proper Technique to Avoid Injury

Even with a strong back and a well-balanced core, proper technique is essential to prevent muscle strain when exercising on the ab wheel. Kneel on the floor and grasp the exercise wheel handles. Place the wheel on the floor beneath your shoulders and, with your arms and your back straight, slowly roll the wheel forward. Keep your abs contracted and avoid arching your back. Roll as far forward as you can while maintaining a straight torso. Use your abs, not your hips, to pull yourself back to starting position. Repeat 10 to 12 times.

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