The Benefits of Ab Rollouts and Progressions to Perform Them

A strong core is useful for every type strength athlete and for multiple reasons. It supports bigger compound movements, it can promote one’s overall athleticism, and it helps the maintenance of a healthy posture. In this article, we’re going to discuss the ab rollout, along with its benefits and progressions.

The ab rollout is a slightly tougher core exercise, and without proper progressions can actually increase injury to areas like the lower back. Once an athlete conquers the base level of strength and form needed for this movement, then I see multiple reasons into why it could be beneficial.

  • Full Engagement: Rollouts challenge and engage the full core (rectus abdominis, external, and internal obliques), as opposed to focusing on something like the upper and lower abs alone.
  • Easy Periodization: You can periodize them linearly pretty easily, so you can accurately track your progress with them. No guess work on strength gains.
  • Coordination & Awareness: This is a movement that requires coordination an self awareness to avoid injury, and can be useful method for teaching athletes to monitor their torso positioning when nearing times like lumbar extension or torso rotation, which can result in injury.

Should You Use the Ab Rollout?

Yes and no. I love using the ab rollout to build a stronger core, but it’s not something most can easily pick up and start doing right away. So yes, if you can perform them, then I think they’re a great way to build a core, and could be a useful part of your workout program. Conversely, if you’re in the process of building a stronger core and learning what staying “hollow” means, then assess your core’s readiness before adding them in.

There are a couple ways you can test your readiness for ab rollouts. For me, these are two tests I’d recommend without actually seeing one’s form. The first test I’d recommend is a weighted plank. If you can hold a weighted plank with (10-25 lbs) for a minute, then there’s a good chance you can experiment with ab rollouts safely. Second, if you can perform a hollow body hold for a minute with ease.

Three Ab Rollout Progressions

Exercise Ball Rollout

The first progression for learning this movement is performed on a exercise ball. This progression is beneficial for a few reasons. First, it decreases the range of error for athletes by limiting the range they have to roll out. Second, an exercise ball is a bigger implement, so an athlete can go slow and control their tempo easier. Third, it allows an athlete to understand the feeling of maintaining the hollow posture and avoiding lumbar extension and excessive torso rotation.

Check out the video below from Eric Cressey that demonstrates an exercise ball rollout. The big takeaway is to initiate movement with the core, and not the arms.

If you’re beginning with this progression, then start slow. I’d recommend using a limited range of motion at the start, then progressing out as you gain comfort with the movement.

  • Sets & Reps: 3 x 10 

Barbell Rollout

Once you’ve conquered the exercise ball rollout and have gained comfort with the movement, then you can progress to the barbell rollout. To begin this progression, I’d recommend starting with lighter bumper plates (compared to metal). They’re larger, so you’ll have to rollout less and can ease yourself into a larger rollout range of motion.

Also, with barbell rollouts you can add weight to increase the intensity of the concentric  (the roll in portion). But again, I recommend starting with 10 or 25 lb plates.

When starting barbell rollouts I’d recommend using the sets and reps below to dictate your progressions. Once you’ve tackled a progression with ease, then you can move up.

  • Progression One: 2 x 10 with 10 lb plates
  • Progression Two: 2 x 10 with 25 lb plates
  • Progression Three: 3 x 10 with 45 lb plates

Ab Wheel Rollout

The final ab rollout progression is performed with the infamous ab wheel. Typically, ab wheels will be much smaller and lower to the ground compared to the above two progressions, so they’ll be the toughest progression. In addition, they’re lighter in weight, so they require more core control to avoid rotation and extension.

If you’re new to this movement, then I’d recommend checking out the video below from Jeff Cavaliere at Athlean-X. In the video, Cavaliere breaks down the proper way to perform the movement to gain the goal benefit.

Similar to barbell rollouts, try moving through a limited set range of motion before working to your full extension on the ab wheel.

  • Sets & Reps: 3 x 10

Important Takeaways

Whether ab rollouts are a new exercise or old for you, I want to highlight two key takeaways before concluding the article. This is an exercise that comes with an inherent risk of injury, so they shouldn’t be performed haphazardly in a program. After all, the last thing you want to do is injure yourself performing an additional accessory movement.

  • Control the Movement: Tempo is important. Rolling out too fast and rushing through this movement can increase your risk of torso rotation/extension.
  • Initiate With the Core: Every rep cue yourself to squeeze the glutes and initiate the movement with the core, as opposed to starting the roll with the arms.

Wrapping Up

The ab rollout can be a useful way to strengthen the core and add variety into your current program. This movement comes with multiple benefits, but should be performed with self awareness, as it does come with an inherent risk of injury. If you’re in question of your form, then start with the earlier progressions and ease your way into the movement, or have a coach watch your torso positioning.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.