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Out of all the core exercises, the ab rollout is one of the most effective and highly used in developing core strength.
However, the ab rollout alone may not be optimal enough in developing core strength. Fortunately, there are ample core exercises to program in addition to it or in its place.
The 10 best ab rollout alternatives are:
- Hanging leg raises
- Dead bugs
- Side planks
- Mountain climbers
- Hollow hold
- GHD face up plank
- Wall sit
In this article, I have provided a library of core exercises that should keep training fresh and engaging. At the end of the article, I will provide some core circuits that should give you further direction on implementing these ab rollout alternatives.
Most of the exercises in this article require no equipment, which allows you to remain active and implement these at home or on the go!
What Makes a Good Ab Rollout Alternative?
A good ab rollout alternative will accomplish one of the following:
- Use similar muscles as the ab rollout
- Build core stability
- Strengthen the core
Let's dive into these details a bit more.
Muscles Used in the Ab Rollout:
The muscles used in the ab rollout are:
- Core (The rectus abdominis in the front of the torso, the obliques, and the erector spinae muscles in the lower back)
- Latissimus dorsi
- Shoulder muscles
The ab rollout is an extremely difficult core exercise that targets the core muscles, the latissimus dorsi, and shoulder muscles.
A good ab rollout alternative will also target these muscle groups.
Typically, core stability is the ability to maintain the positioning and rigidity of the muscles that make up the upper torso.
Core stability is necessary for everyday tasks such as balance and basic movement. For this reason, building core stability is for everyone, from general populations to high-performing athletes.
Furthermore, powerlifters specifically perform deadlifts and squats, which require them to be adept at stabilizing their core. Being able to maintain postural positioning is enhanced by recruiting the muscles of the core to act as stabilizing forces.
Additionally, core instability can often be a source of lower back discomfort. For this reason, the ab rollout or a strong alternative can prove to be helpful in recovering from a lower back injury.
A strong ab rollout alternative will require some sort of core stabilization component.
If your back hurts after doing squats and deadlifts, check out How To Fix Back Pain While Deadlifting (A Physio Explains) and Which Squat Is Best For Lower Back Pain? (5 Examples).
A strong core is necessary for daily tasks such as sitting up or maintaining an upright position when sitting at a desk for hours.
A weak core can make these daily tasks more difficult and lead to problems down the road. Hand in hand with core stability, core strength is necessary for combatting back pain.
Additionally, strengthening the core is effective for sports performance (baseball, football, basketball, track and field, etc.) while being fundamental for all lifters (CrossFitters, powerlifters, and Olympic weightlifters).
A strong core is fundamental to executing a heavy lift or sustaining high velocities as a track athlete/football player. Almost all situations that athletes are placed in benefit from having a strong core.
A good ab rollout substitute will strengthen lifts and enhance the performance of sports athletes.
The 10 Best Ab Rollout Alternatives
1. Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises are a great ab rollout substitute. They strengthen the core and are highly versatile with loading and therapeutic towards lower back pain.
- Hang from a pull-up bar or a straight bar.
- Maintain a neutral spine and hip position.
- Without swinging, lift your legs out towards the wall in front of you.
- Lower your legs to complete the repetition.
- Hanging leg raises are highly versatile. You can do hanging leg raises anywhere you have a pull-up bar or straight bar. Additionally, you can do them loaded by placing a dumbbell between your two heels or having a partner push against your legs as you raise them.
- Hanging leg raises are inherently difficult, which makes loading unnecessary. Leg raises are difficult, which isn’t a bad thing. While you can load them, they’re plenty challenging on their own. The difficulty of this movement is beneficial for those who are more experienced in the weight room.
- Hanging leg raises can be therapeutic for any back discomfort. Spinal decompression happens when hanging from the pull-up bar or straight bar. This can be extremely therapeutic if you have any lower back pain or discomfort. Hanging leg raises also strengthens the core, which doubly diminishes any sense of lower back pain.
- Hanging leg raises are difficult to load. Even though hanging leg raises are extremely difficult, they can lose their effectiveness once mastered. This happens with most exercises, which typically results in digging for tactics to increase exercise difficulty. There are very few options when applying an external load to increase the difficulty of hanging leg raises.
- Hanging leg raises require a bar or handles to hang from. Very few times have I been in a hotel room or at a house with a pull-up bar or handles to hang from. For this reason, hanging leg raises typically aren’t my go-to option because of the necessary equipment involved.
- It’s easy to cheat hanging leg raises by swinging. Performing hanging leg raises without swinging can be difficult for novices and advanced athletes alike. It requires a considerable amount of focus to perform hanging leg raises effectively.
2. Dead Bug
The dead bug is a great warm-up or corrective ab rollout substitute. In my opinion, it is the best exercise for increasing core stability and is great for teaching proper bracing and postural alignment.
- Lay on the floor with both arms extended in front of you and knees bent 90 degrees.
- Extend the opposite arm and opposite leg at the same time.
- Return to the starting position to complete the repetition.
- Repeat with the opposite arm and leg until you’ve completed all repetitions.
- You can load the dead bug in a variety of ways. Banded dead bugs are extremely effective at providing constant tension while cueing proper bracing mechanics. Otherwise, you can use plates, kettlebells, med balls, and a yoga ball to manipulate the difficulty of the exercise.
- The dead bug is an extremely versatile exercise with how it fits within a program. Based on your goal, you can manipulate the dead bug to steer the program’s results in a specific direction. This versatility allows you to perform dead bugs in various settings without sacrificing the challenge or quality of results. For example, if your goal is to load the exercise, you can add a plate. However, if you want to improve bracing mechanics, you can do the banded variation.
- The dead bug can correct proper hip and spine alignment while teaching proper bracing mechanics. Technical aspects of the dead bug can correct misaligned hips or poor posture. For this reason, dead bugs are often used in the clinical setting to correct hip or lower back pain.
- The dead bug can be difficult to master. While the difficulty isn’t inherently bad, a novice might struggle to properly do the dead bug.
- The dead bug can be difficult to load without equipment. Most bodyweight exercises can be less effective once mastered. For this reason, dead bugs are more effective when banded or plate loaded.
Planks are a great ab rollout alternative because they build core stability. They are frequently a staple in my strength and conditioning programs as well as my powerlifting programs.
- Lay face down on the ground and prop yourself onto your bent elbows.
- Push your hips into the air while making sure your body stays in one straight line. Don’t let your butt rise toward the ceiling.
- Engage your core to maintain this position for the allotted time.
- Planks are great for building core stability, which can consequently correct lower back pain/discomfort. Core instability or poor pelvic positioning can lead to back pain. Planks are popularly used to correct hip and back misalignment and consequently relieve lower back pain by strengthening the abdomen and hip muscles.
- Planks are extremely effective at targeting the core, whether you are a beginner or an elite lifter. They are easy to regress or progress, as I explain below, which allows for all levels of athletes to benefit from implementing planks into their programming.
- Planks are easy to load by putting on a weight vest or plates. If planks become too easy, you can easily increase the difficulty by wearing a weight vest or placing a weight plate on your back.
- Planks can become too easy for resistance-trained individuals. Even when adding different types of loading, planks might not be enough to strengthen the core. Adding a variety of core exercises can be beneficial for more advanced gym-goers.
- Planks can be difficult for youth or elderly populations. Although planks can become easy for those who are more resistance-trained, elderly and youth populations might not be able to do them. These individuals should do planks on their knees until they are ready to do the regular variation.
4. Side Planks
Side planks are an effective single-sided ab rollout substitute that targets the oblique muscles.
You should implement side planks in conjunction with regular planks to strengthen all sides of the abdomen and core.
- Lie on your side with your legs straight out.
- Push your body up with the elbow at 90 degrees.
- Push your hips up off the mat until they are stacked under the ribs.
- Engage the core to hold this position until the allotted time is complete.
- Side planks are effective at targeting the obliques. Unlike other movements which target the rectus abdominis or the front of the abdomen, side planks primarily target the obliques.
- Side planks are simple and effective. You can do side planks anywhere, making them great when on the road or in a gym with limited equipment.
- Side planks primarily target the obliques rather than the entire core. Since side planks primarily target the obliques, you should implement other supplementary core exercises to target the entire core.
- Side planks are difficult to load. Due to the side positioning of the side planks, they are difficult to load. However, side planks are extremely difficult by nature, which makes it almost unnecessary to load them in most situations.
5. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers are a great ab rollout substitute for ab circuits. They are dynamic, fun, and great for conditioning the core.
- Start this exercise in the push-up position.
- Alternate between driving each knee up to your chest in a running motion.
- Repeat this running motion until you achieve the allotted time or complete the desired number of reps.
- Mountain climbers are great for core conditioning. Mountain climbers are a more explosive and dynamic core exercise that burns more calories.
- Mountain climbers are good at strengthening the core. Mountain climbers are a more challenging plank, requiring you to maintain a rigid core while executing a running pattern.
- Mountain climbers are fun and freshen up your training. Since mountain climbers are more dynamic than other core exercises, their implementation makes training exciting.
- Mountain climbers can be difficult to load. You can plate-load mountain climbers, but their dynamic nature can make it difficult to maintain the positioning of the plate. A weighted vest might be your best bet to increase the difficulty of this exercise.
- Mountain climbers are less effective once mastered. Since mountain climbers are difficult to progress, there isn’t much else to manipulate rather than duration to increase the difficulty once mastered.
6. Hollow Hold
The hollow hold is an effective ab rollout alternative due to its simplicity and inherent difficulty as a core stabilization exercise.
- Lay on your back with your shoulders and legs coming off the ground and arms pointing straight up and back.
- Use your core to hold this position until the goal time is achieved.
- Hollow holds build core stability. Similar to planks, hollow holds are great for building the abdominal muscles and stabilizing the entire body.
- Hollow holds are a difficult exercise, but they are easy to do. Due to the simplicity of the exercise, hollow holds are easily done by novices and advanced resistance-trained individuals. Unlike other core exercises, hollow holds maintain their difficulty while still being easy to do.
- Hollow holds can be too easy. Even though hollow holds are challenging, they can become too simple or easy once mastered. To combat this, either use external loading to increase the challenge of this exercise or pair this exercise with other core movements.
- Hollow holds have stronger alternatives. Exercises such as the reverse plank or hanging leg raises are more popular for good reason. Other exercises are easier to load while accomplishing similar goals.
7. GHD Face Up Plank
The GHD face up plank is one of my favorite strength and conditioning ab rollout alternatives to implement with the goal of core stability and strength.
- Adjust the glute ham developer foot holds so your hips are just coming off the pads.
- Lying face up, firmly lock your feet into the foot holds on the glute ham developer.
- While maintaining fully extended hips and knees, brace through your abdomen to maintain rigidity.
- Hold this position for the desired allotment of time.
- The GHD face up plank is challenging for its entire use. No matter how proficient you become at GHD face up planks, it has always been one of the more difficult exercises. They have always had a spot in my programming due to their utility in exposing core weaknesses and increasing the core's rigidity and stability.
- The GHD face up plank has great performance-enhancing properties for all sports. Every sport I’ve worked with has had some benefit from the implementation of reverse planks. Out of all of the core exercises, GHD face up planks require the most core stability and best transfers to other activities such as baseball, soccer, and lifting.
- The GHD face up plank requires a glute-ham developer. The glute-ham developer is expensive equipment that can be hard to find at your local gym. Luckily, if you don’t have a glute-ham developer available to you, you can also do face up planks by wrapping your legs around the bench.
- The GHD face up plank can be too challenging for novices. A strong alternative to the GHD face up plank is a regular plank. Since the exercise can be too challenging, it can be helpful to regress it to a much easier variation.
8. Wall Sit
Wall sits are a great therapeutic ab rollout alternative specifically for developing quad/knee stabilization as well as core stability.
- Have your back flat on the wall.
- Slide your back down until the hips are at a 90-degree angle or your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Take a deep breath to build tension within your belly to maintain positioning.
- Hold the seated position for the desired time.
- Wall sits are great for learning proper bracing. Learning how to brace to build tension in the upper body is great for improving your technical ability in compound movements such as the squat, bench, and deadlift.
- Wall sits are a great knee rehabilitative exercise. The stabilization required to hold the seated position can aid in minimally loading an injured knee or quad back to health.
- Wall sits are a great exercise for reducing back pain. Being able to stabilize the entire load of the upper body can help minimize any back pain. Implementing some sort of wall sit can be a great therapeutic option for low back pain.
- Wall sits are easy to cheat. When motivation is low, even if you are unaware, you might be cheating your wall sits. When you cheat your wall sits, you are not getting the full benefits of core and knee stabilization. Place a plate over your thighs to ensure they are completely parallel with the ground. This way, you can provide additional loading while checking your form.
- Wall sits can be easy to master. Once you’ve mastered wall sits, achieving a stimulus becomes more difficult. To maintain the effectiveness of wall sits, implement plate-loaded protocols and progress the exercise by gradually increasing the weight you place on your lap.
Inchworms are the most technically similar substitute to ab rollouts, requiring total body stiffness and rigidity to strengthen the core.
- Start this exercise by standing upright with the feet hip-width apart.
- Place both hands on the ground just in front of your body.
- Walk out with your hands until you are in the push-up position.
- From the push-up position, walk forward with your feet until they are in front of your hands.
- Stand up to complete the repetition.
- Inchworms are a great warm-up activity. Inchworms are a total body movement that is great for increasing blood flow and total body muscle activation.
- Inchworms are a dynamic ab rollout alternative. The act of walking out with the hands during this movement makes it extremely unique. Inchworms promote postural balance and control to effectively get into each of the positions.
- Inchworms can be done anywhere. Inchworms are one of the more effective bodyweight core exercises that don’t require equipment. Since you don’t need equipment, you can do them on the go or at home.
- Inchworms cannot be progressed. Other than using a weighted vest, inchworms are limited in options as far as loading and progression. Once mastered, you can switch to implementing the ab rollout, reverse plank, or mountain climbers.
- Inchworms are extremely dynamic. A lot of movement and space is required to implement this exercise. To make the inchworm less dynamic, you can modify the movement to be stationary, where you just move your hands back and forth while keeping your feet fixed in one position.
The v-up is a great ab rollout alternative that is perfect for building core strength. You can modify it greatly to be more dynamic and create more progressive overload.
- Start by laying flat on your back with your legs out straight and arms straight above your head.
- Simultaneously reach forward towards your legs while pulling your legs back towards yourself.
- Return to the starting position to complete the repetition.
- The v-up allows for dynamic modifications to achieve multiple goals. You can add a med ball toss towards a wall to turn this core activity into an upper body power output exercise. You can plate-load it as well by reaching towards your feet with a plate in your hands.
- The v-up has partner variations that can make a workout more fun. You can also enhance the power output with a partner's help to toss a med ball back and forth. A friend can also grab your ankles while you’re laying on your back, and you can raise your legs back towards your partner, who can then toss your legs back to the starting position.
- The v-up may cause back pain due to spinal compression during the movement. The v-up typically isn’t my go-to core exercise due to its compression on the spine. If you have back pain, you might choose other options such as hanging leg raises, dead bugs, or planks.
- The v-up is not the most effective exercise for building core stability. While v-ups are a great option for building core strength, they tend to be less effective than their counterparts at building core stability. Dead bugs, reverse planks, and hollow holds are more effective than v-ups at building core stability.
Ab Rollout Alternative Circuits
Here I have provided several ab rollout alternative circuits that are effective for a variety of goals. Do either one of these for 1 – 4 rounds to effectively target core stability and strength.
Ab Rollout Alternative Circuit #1
- Planks x 30 seconds
- Side planks x 30 seconds each side
- Mountain climbers x 30 seconds
- Inchworms x 30 seconds
Ab Rollout Alternative Circuit #2
- Hanging leg raises x 10
- Dead bugs x 10 on each side
- V-ups x 10
- Reverse plank x 30 seconds
Ab Rollout Alternative Circuit #3
- Plate-loaded dead bugs x 5-10 on each side
- Plate-loaded v-ups x 5-10
- Plate-loaded wall sit x 15-30 seconds
Additional Core Training Resources
- How To Do A Sit Up Without Lifting Your Feet? (5 Tips)
- Plank On Elbows Or Hands
- Do Squats Strengthen Your Core? (Research From 5 Studies)
- I Can’t Do A Sit-Up: 7 Reasons Why & How To Quickly Fix
- Do Deadlifts Work The Core?
- Cable Crunch Alternatives
Ab rollouts are a great exercise that can help build core strength while teaching you to develop rigidity throughout the entire body. Even though ab rollouts are a good choice for core development, there are a wealth of alternatives you can add either in addition to or in their place.
My favorite core exercises are the reverse plank and the dead bug for developing stabilization of the core. Implementing circuits is a simple and effective way to further improve core strength and stability.
About The Author
Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.