There’s a problem when it comes to core training in today’s fitness world.
Most people end up doing the boring, redundant training approach that can be monotonous and ultimately discourage one from continuing.
What’s worse: There’s limited carryover to anything else in life when you’re able to hold a 20 minute plank – who cares?
We have to remember that the core actually comprises of the abs, obliques, AND lower back. This distinction needs to be made when training it truly for health and for strength too.
With that said, the movements we choose need to be serviceable enough to attack all of the above and protect the spine at the same time, the way they should.
The core has a few main functions:
- Trunk flexion, and trunk extension (think sit ups and back extensions)
- Rotation and anti-rotation (Anything twisting or avoiding from twisting)
- Anti-extension (Keeping the spine straight, and avoiding an overarch)
Long story short, planking and leg raises are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways to properly train the core, and a lack of exploration is often the reason why people get bored when doing so.
The Problem with Ab Wheel Rollouts
The traditional ab wheel rollout is one of my favorite exercises to target the anti-extension capacity of the abs (which, I believe, is the most undertrained component of core strength). But there’s a caveat – they’re very advanced. Many typical lifters can’t do these, let alone with good form.
Rather than shortening the range of motion until you’re only travelling a couple of inches each way, it’s worth modifying the movement altogether to make the intended ROM possible.
Doing rollouts from the toes is generally a no-go for 80% of lifters out there. Doing rollouts from the knees can ameliorate the situation, but can still lead to the same problems on a lower level.
The answer is to start learning to brace more effectively while giving yourself the chance to go through a full body extension. And before hitting the home run with the exercise of this article, there’s one step you should take prior.
Get Good at Hand Walkouts!
The thing that makes walkouts superior to rollouts is the fact that it’s a great way to work anti-extension trunk strength in a way that’s slightly more controlled than typical rollouts are.
The other benefit is that they get the body used to horizontal anti-extension from the toes, rather than the knees. This is an invaluable piece of the pie for helping someone get stronger in this capacity, and break strength plateaus that are movement specific.
You can also choose your distance of extension and safely push your boundaries without the fear of letting your ROM escape you and risk injury to your lower back.
Consider this a prerequisite for what’s to come.
Enter the Weapon
Truth be told, I actually stole this movement from my friend Dr. Joel Seedman, PhD strength coach based in Atlanta. The technical name for it would probably be something along the lines of “banded barbell rollout from bear stance”, but I like calling it the weapon; partially because it definitely is indeed a secret weapon to add to your arsenal, but also because it looks like a medieval torture rig, ready for action.
Rather than try to describe this movement ahead of time, take a look here, and follow up with me below:
First, a few coaching cues:
- Keep the body low: The less you can “pike” at any point during this movement, the better. Make it a goal to keep the knees a few inches away from the ground at all times, and this should help your cause.
- Aim for a full extension at the elbows: Your arms shouldn’t be bent when you’re at the finish position of your lift.
- Use both halves of the body: The lower body should push just as much as the upper body as you roll the bar away from you. You’ll want to keep straight elbows as you roll the bar in to your start position, but make sure to bend them.
- Don’t forget: The bands create both assistance and resistance, depending on the part of the lift we’re talking about. Choose a band thickness that allows you to perform the lift correctly and receive all the benefits.
This is basically an ab wheel rollout from the toes, with the added benefits of a horizontal push press, and a built in safety mechanism for end ranges. And all of this is why I’m in love with the movement.
The band attachment makes a full extension rollout from the toes possible, since at full extension that band will be fully stretched, and ready to assist you back into your starting position (preventing you from losing form and collapsing). At the same time, that same band is a measure of resistance for the “press” component of this lift, where the arms reach their lockout.
Using a wider hand position can be helpful for beginners, since they won’t be travelling quite as far. As you progress and get stronger and more comfortable with the movement, move the hands and feet towards each other.
One more thing: Remember to use the right head position. Just like any exercise, the head should follow the torso. Looking up is tempting during horizontal patterns, but it will place unnecessary stress on the cervical spine.
Moreover, since there’s an overhead component to this lift, it’s that much more important to maintain proper cervical alignment.
The weapon exercise is a great choice for general conditioning, core strength, and a supercharged version of the ab wheel rollout from the toes – especially for big, heavy lifters, and lifters who are tall with long extremities.
In both cases, the ab wheel movement may not be within the realms of possibility for them – at least not yet.
Put this movement to use, and you’ll be able to receive all the benefits, and then some. You might even notice improvements in your strict press while you’re at it.