Using the ab wheel to perform exercises such as the ab rollout is one of the best ab workouts you can get. You’ll engage a large variety of core muscles, which leads to improved fitness and muscle tone. However, ab wheels are not beginner-friendly. In comparison, leg raises do not activate the abdominal muscles as completely as the ab wheel, but they require no special equipment and are much easier for beginners to perform.
What is an Ab Wheel?
An ab wheel is a single wheel with a handle on each side. When we’re discussing ab wheels, picture this piece of equipment. Although ab wheels are commonly used for ab rollouts from a kneeling position, you can use them to perform various exercises, including standing rollouts, pikes, and knee-ups.
What Do We Mean When We Say “Leg Raises?”
For this article, when we say “leg raise,” we are referring to an exercise where you lie flat on your back and raise your legs off the ground. For a demonstration of leg raises, check out this video.
- Leg raises are performed by lying on your back on the floor, then raising your extended legs.
- Leg raises should not be confused with hanging knee raises, which are performed by bringing your knees up to your chest while hanging from a bar.
- According to this scientific study, ab wheel exercises perform better than any other ab workout for activating muscles. The study included knee raises.
Leg raises should not be confused with hanging knee raises, which can be seen in this video. A scientific study was already performed comparing ab wheel exercises to hanging knee raises, among other workouts. The ab wheel emerged as a clear winner for activating both the abdominals and obliques.
Ab Wheel: Pros and Cons
If the ab wheel is already scientifically proven to provide the best ab and oblique workout, isn’t the discussion over? Not so fast. While the ab wheel provides an excellent workout, it’s not without its drawbacks. Before you invest in an ab wheel of your own, check out these pros and cons.
Ab Wheel – Pros
The ab wheel rollout truly is a titan among abdominal exercises. You’ll work more muscles in your core with an ab wheel than with leg raises. Not only does the ab wheel target both major muscle groups in your abdomen (your rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis), it also activates the muscles in the side of your abdomen (obliques) and lower back (erector spinae).
- Works more core muscles than leg raises, including abdominals, obliques, and lower back.
- Targets the the upper, middle, and lower abdominals, while leg raises focus on the lower abdominals.
- Can be used to perform exercises with increased difficulty.
- A very inexpensive piece of exercise equipment.
The ab wheel also allows you to progress to some of the most challenging core workouts possible. Performing rollouts from a standing position or adding ab wheel pikes to your workout routine can help build elite core strength. Plus, you get all this for a bargain. Ab wheels are among the least expensive pieces of workout equipment on the market.
Ab Wheel – Cons
The ab wheel is not without its drawbacks. It’s a very challenging piece of equipment, which makes it unfriendly for beginners. You need to develop a strong core before it’s possible to use the ab wheel properly. If your core muscles (especially the muscles in your lower back), are not sufficiently strong, you can suffer injury. Also, the ab wheel can put negative stress on your shoulders and cause injury.
- Difficult for beginners to use.
- Using an ab wheel before you’ve developed sufficient core strength can result in lower back or shoulder injury
- Requires equipment.
The ab wheel, although inexpensive, does require an investment. If your gym doesn’t have one, or you work out at home, you’ll need to purchase your own ab wheel and keep it on hand. Leg raises don’t require any additional equipment.
Leg Raises: Pros & Cons
Leg raises are a longtime favorite of trainers and athletes. Using nothing more than your body weight, you can target often-neglected core muscles. Before you nix leg raises from your routine, let’s examine the benefits of this exercise, as well as what it lacks.
Leg Raise – Pros
When determining what ab workout to perform, it’s common to compare the ab wheel vs. crunches and other common exercises, like planks. Upon a closer look, you’ll see that while crunches use your bodyweight to target the upper abdominals, they don’t do a great job of working your lower abdominals. This is where leg raises come in. They focus almost exclusively on the lower abs, making them a great exercise to pair in a body weight circuit alongside crunches, planks, and V-sits.
- Targets lower abdominals, which other core exercises sometimes ignore.
- Easy for beginners to perform safely.
- No equipment required.
- Can be used to increase strength so you can move up to the ab wheel.
Unlike the ab wheel, it’s easy for most beginners to perform leg raises. By simply altering how far you lift your legs off the ground, you can match the difficulty of leg raises to your fitness level. If your legs are between 45 and 90 degrees from the ground, the leg raises will be easier. If you hold your legs just a few inches off the ground, they’ll be significantly more challenging. This means you can gradually build core strength. By adding leg raises to your routine, you’ll improve core fitness so you can safely move up to more challenging and effective exercises (such as the ab wheel) in the future.
Leg Raise – Cons
While leg raises work both the lower abdominals and the obliques, they don’t provide as much benefit to the entire abdominal muscle group as ab wheel exercises. Leg raises also don’t help strengthen your lower back in the way the ab wheel does. In addition, leg raises use your hips as a lever point. This means you can use strong hip flexors to reduce the amount of work your abs perform. Simply put, you’ll get a worse core workout with leg raises than with an ab wheel.
- Works fewer muscles in the abdomen and lower back.
- Hip flexors can compensate for weak abs.
- Can worsen back pain.
One of the biggest drawbacks of leg raises is the stress they put on your lower back. Suspending your legs off the ground can put negative strain on your back, without much benefit to the muscles there. If you suffer from lower back pain, leg raises may cause further injury.
Ab Wheel or Leg Raises: Which Should You Do?
Scientific evidence tells us that the ab wheel is the best core workout tool. So, if you are advanced enough to use it safely, choose the ab wheel over leg raises every time. However, ab wheels can be difficult, or even impossible, for beginners to use. Incorporate leg raises into a bodyweight core workout plan that includes crunches and planks. Leg raises help to build lower abdominal strength, increasing your fitness level so you can tackle the ab wheel in the future.