This month in the Lifehacker Fitness Challenge we are taking on the ab wheel, aka ab roller, aka “crap, I fell on my face again.” Last week we did a plank on the wheel, but today we’re going to use it as intended with one small tweak. And friends, I have something shocking to report: it works.
Here’s the game changer: do it against a wall.
How to properly roll an ab wheel
Start with your knees on a cushion, such as a folded yoga mat. Have the wheel directly under your straight arms with your core tucked so that your lower back is slightly rounded. Set up like this so that a wall is just a foot or so ahead of the wheel. Keeping your core tucked and your elbows straight, roll out until the wheel touches the wall, then roll back in.
When you reverse your roll, make sure you start the motion with your core, not by pushing with your arms or leaning back with your hips. This is hard, and it’s fine if at first you’re only rolling a few inches.
Why the wall helps
We tend to be the weakest at the end of the roll-out motion, and that’s where we’re likely to either let our backs sag, or simply lose control and go splat.
The wall protects you from losing control, and it also keeps you consistent. Every rep is the same length, so you can’t get overenthusiastic and reach beyond your ability. You also can’t shorten a rep without noticing.
Make sure you’re honest with yourself: position the wall so that you stay strong throughout the whole movement, for all your reps. That might mean you’re just a few inches from the wall at first.
Once you can do several reps with good form, move back a bit and try again. On the other hand, if you find yourself straining to reach the wall or if you can feel your form breaking down, move closer.
I haven’t tried to roll out on an ab wheel in years, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve gotten a bit stronger since the last time I tried. With the wall in place, my ab wheel experience was surprisingly positive! In the past, my lower back always sagged and ached when I did similar exercises. This time, I set up the wall to stop me before I got to that point, and I was able to do several strong reps. Amazing! Give the wall trick a try, or if you’re not quite ready, it’s fine to keep doing the planks we talked about last week. And let us know how it goes!