The ab rollout is an unnatural exercise. Though some find it fun, it is challenging, and looks impressive, it remains dangerous.
It harms the shoulders and lower back. If you even need to work your core, much better options exist.
Many justify including it due to its popularity or for the sake of variety, despite the risks far outweighed the benefits.
- It places the hands in an overhead position.
This fact alone justifies removing this exercise. The ability to go overhead exists to reposition, not to handle heavy loads. Going overhead even with light loads but repetitively can damage the shoulders.
When elevating the arm, the bone that runs from elbow to shoulder (humerus) drives into a small process located on your shoulder blade. This smashes the rotator cuff, a group of small muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder together. This causes impingement which harms your shoulder.
Some trainees tolerate this effect better but everyone will feel a pinch to some degree. These muscles can usually prevent this but work in a very weak position overhead so cannot resist back.
Although you avoid pushing overhead, which can further the damage due to contraction of the bigger shoulder muscles, impingement still occurs.
- It places excessive shearing forces on the shoulders.
The angle and the type of force applied to the shoulder places the worst kind upon it known as shear.
This force is as if trying to snap a pencil with your hands. It could easily dislocate a shoulder depending on how stable you remain during the rollout exercise. While strong upper body muscles certainly provide support but the very nature of the exercise places these muscles in a weak position.
Joints handle compression best, which would occur with a push such as a bench press or a pull such as a row.
- It works muscle at weak lengths.
The rollout is a reverse pull-over with a closed-chain.
A pull-over exercise has you lie across a bench to lower and lift a weight beyond your head. Although this works a lot of big muscles such the upper back, chest, and triceps, it works them in stretched positions exactly when the motion feels heaviest.
Your muscles function most strongly at the midpoint of any normal movement. In a stretched position, the sites for muscle contraction start to spread apart so the muscle acts much less strongly.
When you roll out further, the upper body muscles that help support the spine and shoulders work too weakly.
- It feels difficult to prevent hypertension of the lower back.
You overload the abs as they stretch and grow weaker, the same problem described for the upper body.
The further the wheel travels away from your core, the harder the abs have to work, even though your bodyweight stays the same. This explains why it feels so hard to hold even a light weight far away from your body. A light weight held far away has a longer moment arm. The longer moment arm for the abs occurs right when the abs lengthen too much.
The bottom position also stretches the spine which makes hyperextension more likely as well.
- Progress is tough to measure.
Rollouts have less clear feedback for progress since distance plays a big factor.
You can certainly do variations to make it easier. You can start from the knees, use an incline board, and apply both hands. You can also make it harder. Use just one hand, stand before you begin, put on a weighted vest, or use a decline board.
These still fail to add the preciseness needed to accurately measure progress, as distance is an imprecise measurement.
- Better alternatives exist.
Many ab exercises stress the spine by flexing and extending it.
Core stabilization is safer. These include planks, arm twists, and others that keep your spine in a neutral position. Your core contracts without movement, as intended. These still carry some risk.
The need for direct ab work is arguable. You may get enough stability work simply by focusing on the big three along with sprinting due to the serape effect. I suggest these are enough.
Avoid the Ab Rollout
We often apply questionable exercises simply to keep ourselves entertained.
Although many are ignorant of the danger, use common sense. If something hurts, don’t blame yourself. Instead, assume the exercise itself has issues.
Some experts feel you must view each exercise separately for an individual. Others argue that some by their very nature are unsafe. Science supports the latter statement. Many ignore this reality simply to appease others. Perhaps they have to keep things interesting too since they lack dedication.
It matters not what tool you use to perform rollouts. You could use a barbell, dumbbells, ab wheel, ab roller, or ball. The portability, unusual nature, and status as a free weight exercise do not make it worthwhile. As a general rule, you should assume all ab equipment and exercises are harmful.
Alternatives exist and you may not even need core work. Avoid the rollout. The risk to the joints is too great.