In case anyone didn't see this posted in one of the previous threads, I figured it's worth posting again for all to comment on.
Q: I still see those Ab-roller devices in every gym I go to. When I use them I can feel it working my abdominals, are they better than normal crunches for your abs?
Nearly every gym I walk into I see people on the floor laying with their head inside and their arms resting on these silly pieces of curled tubing, diligently rocking up and down. The last few years have seen us bombarded with slick marketing of this type of equipment. They are cheap to manufacture, (hence a larger profit margin), they are small, light and east to put away and make an unpleasant task of working the abdominals look easier. Sounds good, however, closer scrutiny reveals some pretty big flaws in terms of what you want from your abdominal training and the proper functioning of your mid section.
Your abdominal musculature (rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques and transverse) all work together to create a ‘rock-steady’ platform (your torso) from which all larger muscles contract and generate force . The main function of the muscles that form your mid section is to allow maximal force transfer that is generated from your legs to your upper body. A good example is a sprinter or runner taking powerful strides. Think of the midsection as firm rubber, each step propels the sprinter further ahead as the force of each stride is transferred directly from the leg, through this firm rubber to the shoulders and arms. Enabling maximal distance from each stride. Now think of the midsection on our sprinter as a ‘Jell-O cube’. This mushy midsection allows no direct transfer of force to the upper body. In fact any force generated by the legs easily dissipates and is ‘lost’ by a wobbly’ mid -section. If you think about it, all sporting movements are variations of this force transfer concept, leaping, jumping, swinging a baseball bat, swimming, throwing. From pitching a fast ball to lifting the washing basket, the main type of ‘contraction’ your abdominal muscles perform are called isometric or ‘static’. They contract hard but don’t shorten, keeping everything critically tight while the rest of your body; your limbs perform the movement.
The anatomy of your abdominals is such that your torso needs to bend backwards about 15o past neutral to achieve maximal tension. In many cases a further stretch is better for spinal health. Now, if you consider your standard ab-crunch or ab-roller exercise you will see that you start on a flat surface; the restriction of the floor makes it impossible to get a full backward stretch and effective contraction. The surface is also stationary producing minimal recruitment of abdominal fibers as there is no need to ‘stabilize’.
The muscular contraction created during an ab-crunchor ab-roller movement is via ne ‘ab’ muscle only; the rectus abdominals and only the upper half at that! This leaves 85% of your abdominal musculature doing nothing!
The contraction performed using an ab-roller isn’t even specific to everyday, dynamic movements. Ask your self this; how many ‘crunches’ do you do when playing basketball, tennis, football, skiing or any other sport? What about when lifting boxes, washing the car or carrying groceries? None! Not a very functional exercise is it?
If you do not train your abdominal muscles correctly, through their full range of movement they become lazy and do not function to protect your back in many critical weight lifting exercises. People that train their abdominals improperly develop postural problems such as excessive lumbar curvature and rounded neck and shoulders that tend to create severe back and neck pain. That lower tummy bulge many women experience is from a weak transverse muscle and conventional crunch and ab-roller exercises do not begin to recruit this muscle, let alone work it effectively.
A final problem with these ab-rollers is they reduce the contribution of the neck and upper spine musculature. Disrupting the normal neurological patterns and leaving weak muscles even weaker therefore exposing people to greater risk of injury. I would recommend you acquaint your self with those big, round, blow-up balls you may see siting idly around in good gyms. They are the best abdominal strength-training apparatus to be introduced in the last 50-odd years.