Having strong abdominal muscles is an important to your overall health, as weak abdominal muscles are often a major factor in chronic back pain. In addition, your abdominal muscles help you to maintain good posture. However, for many people typical crunches done on the floor can lead to neck, back and shoulder pain. In most cases this is because the abdominal muscles have become weak, which causes you to pull on your neck as you strain to do a crunch. Using an ab roller can help you learn to do abdominal exercises correctly, taking strain off the neck.
Understand what an ab roller is. The ab roller is a simple piece of equipment that is designed to guide you through abdominal exercises with good form. There is a pad on which you can rest your head to help reduce strain on the neck. It also has elbow pads to help you relax your shoulders. The U-shaped bar allows you to place your hands in various positions so you can change up the exercise and target different areas of the abdominal muscles.
Use it properly. Relax your neck and let your head rest on the pad the entire time. Avoid lifting your head off the pad as you exercise. Your hands should rest very lightly on the bar. The hardest part is to learn to let your hands guide the ab roller, but you do not want to push the bar with your hands. The ab roller should not slide on the floor as you exercise. If the ab roller starts to slide, you are pushing with your hands.
Lie on your back with both knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Let your head rest on the pad. Place your open palms on the top part of the bar so your palms are facing the ceiling. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart. Do not grasp the bar as you do not want to push with your hands. Tighten your abdominal muscles and curl up until both shoulders come off the floor. Do a 2-second count to curl up. Just come up high enough that you feel your abdominal muscles contract Then do a 4-second count to lower back down. Do not let the ab roller or the head pad touch the floor. Only lower down until your head is a few inches off the floor. This keeps tension in the abdominal muscles and helps you to avoid pushing with your hands.
Do oblique crunches. This exercise targets the obliques, or waist muscles. It's the same exercise as above, but you place your legs in a different position. Start with both knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Then drop both knees to one side. The further you drop the knees towards the floor, the deeper you will work the oblique muscles. However, if you have back sensitivities, only drop the knees as low as you can without creating back pain. Tighten the abdominal muscles and slowly curl both shoulders up off the floor while keeping your head on the pad. The lower slowly back down, but do not let the head pad touch the floor in between repetitions.
Perform a reverse crunch. This exercise targets the lower section of the abdominal muscles. Keeping your low back pressed flat into the floor, lift both knees up towards your chest. Slowly curl both shoulders slightly up off the floor and at the same time draw both knees into your chest. Keep your head on the pad. Slowly lower the head towards the floor but do not come all the way down. At the same time, bring the knees away from the chest. Stop when both knees are still bent and directly over the hips. To prevent a back injury, do not try to lower the feet to the floor. This should be a very small and concentrated movement.