You're going to need a strong set
of abs to use this wheel
It's likely you've seen an ab wheel in one form or another in the gym or on TV. While it's a fairly known piece of equipment, it's not always a standard item in a gym setting. At times, it can be in use, broken, or missing altogether.
Recently, I purchased the two-handed model through Amazon for the sole purpose of qualifying for free shipping. Aside from that reason, I was somewhat compelled to buy it since I see so many people rave about them. For the price, I figured why not try it.
Prior to this I performed ab rollouts using a barbell in this fashion:
Now that I've used both implements for the same exercise, it's clear each achieves the same effect, but while still having a few key details that set them apart from one another.
This is the most obvious difference between the wheel and barbell. An Olympic barbell is 7 feet long whereas the wheel measures 8.5 inches wide. If floor space is an issue during this exercise, the wheel will prove more convenient to use over the barbell. I should mention that I have seen some gyms that carry shorter barbells that can be substituted in place of the full length bar. A bonus for the wheel is that its small size makes it easy to pack and take along on travels.
Progressions / Height Adjustments
To improve on rollouts, building up volume shouldn't be the only progression method. A very easy way to modify the intensity is by executing the movement on an incline (easier) or decline (harder). With a wheel, a ramp is necessary to achieve this modification. Ross covers this in another excellent video as well:
With a barbell it won't be the same as a rolling out on a ramp, but height can be changed by switching the plates on each side. Assuming you're using round plates, the 45's provide the easiest variation. The smaller the plates, the harder the exercise will become.
This luxury isn't available on the wheel. Because the handles are short to begin with, once you grip the handles, there's little room for adjustments. On the other hand, the barbell is unique in that its shaft spans a greater distance. As such, you can place your hands as close together or wide apart on the bar as you find comfortable. In the case of upper body aches and injuries, this is where barbell rollouts offer more flexibility.
Build, Stability, & Sturdiness
The wheel's constructed of two plastic wheels slid on to the center of a hollow metal rod with a plastic grooved handle slipped on to each side. The barbell is a barbell: a long metal shaft with a spinning sleeve on each end plus the weight plates secured by collars. As trivial as the build might appear, it's worth a mention. The wheel's one point of contact is between the two hands. A small tilt towards either side can throw off the balance altogether mid-repetition. Since the plates are located on the ends of the barbell, this solid base of support won't allow for any mistakes due to the equipment.
Another point I'll make is that while both are sturdy, the barbell is more durable than the wheel. It's made of steel and can take a beating if used by multiple people. The ab wheel has a metal rod in the middle but the actual wheels are plastic. If for some reason the wheel is dropped or incurs any type of damage, it may be rendered useless.
From my experience with both, I haven't been able to make a clear cut decision on this. Whether it's carpet, rubber flooring, or hardwood flooring, both have shown they provide less friction than the other. The other distinction is that the wheel has tread on it and weight plates have a smooth surface. Does it make a difference? Maybe a small one, but it never became apparent to me. If I had to guess, the wheel's tread most likely works better on carpet.
Extra Weight and Attachments
With a weight vest or loaded backpack, adding additional weight is not a challenge whether using a wheel or barbell. If you plan to attach resistance bands for assistance or increasing intensity, the band's placement varies.
To increase resistance for a barbell, put the bar through the band or loop the band around the middle of the barbell shaft. Anchor the free end either by looping it around a post or with a carabiner. With the wheel, the band has to to be put on the handles. Loop one end on a handle, pass the band around a post or anchor it via a carabiner, and then take the other end and put it on the remaining handle. Since your hands and the band share the handles, the band might rub on your skin during a set.
For personal home use, the ab wheel's price of $15 can't be beat. You can really minimize the cost by making your own (instructions here). A barbell isn't cheap. To do barbell rollouts, you need the bar and the plates. Buying both new from a sporting goods store can cost around $300. You might be able to find a used set for less on Ebay or Craig's List.
Both the ab wheel or barbell do an excellent job at training the abs. Choosing between the two comes down to the lifter's setting and their personal preference. If your gym doesn't carry the ab wheel, you can always use the barbell for rollouts. If space is an issue in your home gym, the wheel is a good investment. Review your needs and proceed accordingly.
Finally, I couldn't discuss all this and end it here without describing how to do a rollout. As simple as it may seem, if you go in unprepared, you might fall flat on your face. Here are quick instructions to get started for the kneeling version.
How to do a Kneeling Ab Rollout
1) Set up on your hands and knees. Place your hands on the barbell/wheel and your knees on a padded surface.That's one rep. Have fun.
2) Begin by pushing your knees into the floor with your hands following the barbell/wheel's movement.
3) Continue pushing your knees down into the floor with your hands proceeding ahead of your head.
4) When you've reached the most extended position you can maintain without collapsing to the floor, dig your knees into the floor to pull yourself to the start position.