The Ab Wheel is quite possibly the best infomercial ab machine ever sold. It’s a fantastic way to train and improve core stability. For more on why core stability is important for wrestling, read Exercises for Wrestlers- Core Strength and Stability.
One of the best things about the Ab Wheel is that it can be progressed. So, no matter how strong and stable your core is, this device will challenge you.
The first progression starts without the Ab Wheel. Instead, like any other core stability exercise, it starts with the Plank. I’ve written about the Plank a number of times before, so I won’t get into it too much here.
But, in a nutshell, you want to focus on the following:
1. Bracing your core.
2. Maintaining a neutral spine (flat low back) throughout.
If you notice a dip starts to occur at your low back (see pic below), stop and reset. The Plank isn’t about how long you can hold yourself up. It’s about how long you can stabilize your core. Once you’ve lost your ability to stabilize, the exercise focus is gone and it’s time to reset or rest.
I’d say when you’re able to hold a Plank for 45 or so seconds, you can move on to the next progression.
One test Dan John suggests in his books (from Dr. Stuart McGill) is a 2 minute plank. If you’re able to effectively stabilize a Plank in a pushup position for 2 minutes, you’re doing pretty damn well.
This is the progression you actually start performing the Ab Wheel. The big thing to remember whenever using the Ab Wheel is to work within a range of motion that allows you to maintain a braced core.
Don’t go out too far where you start to dip in your low back and your technique breaks down.
This defeats the purpose of the exercise. Work within your limits and strive to make improvements on a weekly basis.
Here’s a video of the first progression. Again keep in mind that I’ve been doing these for a while, so I’m able to get a full range of motion. If you’re only strong enough to go out a little, that’s fine.
Strength training is a marathon, not a sprint.
Stay consistent and strive to make improvements. You’ll see improvements with focused consistency and a properly designed plan.
Once you can perform sets of 15-20 Ab Wheels on the ground, you’re ready for the next progression. This progression (which I call the Decline Ab Wheel) is achieved by elevating your knees.
You can stack mats, use multiple pads, perform it off a platform, etc. There isn’t really a wrong way to go about it. Just don’t stack anything that’s unstable and may slip out from under you.
The Decline Ab Wheel progression isn’t usually a big step up for most wrestlers. As a result, I typically don’t see wrestlers spending a lot of time performing them.
However, the final progression is quite a jump, so I often have wrestler perform a few Standing Ab Wheels followed by additional reps with the Decline Ab Wheel.
Anyway, here’s a video of the Decline Ab Wheel. Once you can perform 15-20 reps fairly easily, give Progression 4 a shot.
Eventually you will progress to the Standing Ab Wheel. It’s quite a jump up from the Decline Ab Wheel, so you may only be able to get a few good reps when you start. Just stay consistent with it and over time your strength will improve.
Again, one strategy to get the total reps done would be to perform as many quality Standing Ab Wheels as you can, and then go to the Decline to finish. Over time try to add one or two reps to the Standing. Eventually you’ll be able to get a full set of quality reps.
Here’s a video of the best Standing Ab Wheel I can perform.
One way to “bridge the gap” between the Decline and Standing Ab Wheel would be to use band assistance. Here’s a video of a band assisted setup.