Ab Wheels, how to use them properly to avoid injury
The ab wheel was a wonderful innovation in ab exercises that appealed almost immediately the everyone in the fitness world. It was far more efficient than situps and actually engaged more of your actual ab muscles than situps or crunches and various leg raises could activate. The fact that you only had to do 12 or so of them in a row appealed to everyone on the planet.
However, just like most things in the fitness world, this piece of exercise equipment used improperly can cause injury, some of these injuries being rather serious.
One of the things that can eliminate people from using this handy piece of exercise equipment outright is that you do actually need to have some level of core strength before you can even execute the movement at all, let alone properly. Your shoulders and core muscles need to be able to maintain the position during the rolling forward phase and if they are not one of the worst injuries I have seen was where a rather portly fellow face-planted right into the cement floor and lost a couple teeth in the process.
So for the same of talking about this I am going to presume that you have enough core strength to begin with. It doesn't require much, but if you are just starting to exercise after a long period of not doing so, this is not the right machine for you and honestly, you should probably focus on other things if you are quite overweight until you are ready for it.
The most important part when doing this exercise is to maintain back posture. Your back needs to be flat and not drooping forward. Many people will actually overcompensate by arching their back upwards in order to NEVER have your crotch dipping towards the ground.
The guy above maintains an upward arch in his back even at full extension and this is very important because the number 1 injury that you might not even notice while doing the exercise is the accidental strain you can put on your lower back by "dipping" in the center. You can control this by flexing your abs and just focusing on maintaining an arched upward back.
If you find that you can not do this, then stop trying to reach full extension until you are ready. One of the worst things that you can do to your body in any gym exercise it to strain your lower back. Don't believe me? Ask anyone over 50 what their number 1 body ache problem is... chances are it is lower back.
Another thing to remember is that you should stop trying to cheat by using your shoulders or knees to do more reps for you. Forget reps! The idea behind this is to focus on using your abs to pull yourself back up and slowly make yourself go forward with ab resistance. If you are trying to bang out 20 in a row but are cheating you would be better off just doing 6-8 while doing every one of them properly.
You are going to feel this in your shoulders as well, this is unavoidable. However, the idea is that you manage to primarily focus on your abs and honestly, I don't know of any other piece of exercise equipment that does this as well as this very inexpensive wheel.
Pro Tip: Even people with really fantastic core strength can only do 15-20 reps if they are doing roll downs properly so this, just like any other exercise, should have a high importance placed on correct form rather than how many of them you can do. reps are far less important than form in every exercise.
So in summary here are the tricks.
- Keep your back arched up, kind of like you were already halfway through a cruncher
- Your crotch / belly should never be making contact with the floor, if it does, you are over-extending and are probably arching your back in a potentially harmful way
- Forget about REPS! Instead focus on proper form and focus on using your abs to complete the motion, not your legs or shoulders.