Before constructing this tool, you are likely wondering why bother with such a project. Why not simply purchase a two handed, store bought model? I have my reasons...
In addition to its unilateral benefits, the single handed model allows for several additional movements (demonstrated within the video above). Many of these exercises would not be possible with a traditional wheel.
The single handed wheel also offers a smoother, more controlled roll when compared to many of the poorly constructed (plastic) models. The lawnmower tires that I use are built to last and endure outdoor terrain. The wheels seen in the video above are the same wheels that I demonstrated several years ago. They are used regularly by several athletes, including myself, and show no signs of wear. And just in case you are wondering, I do not own stock in Home Depot, so I have nothing to gain if you purchase the supplies.
Furthermore, traditional wheels have become slightly more difficult to locate in recent years. After the ab wheel craze that came several years ago, many of the wheel manufacturers have either gone belly up or simply abandoned the product. Five or six years ago, I can remember purchasing cheap wheels at Wal-mart for a few dollars. Wal-mart no longer carries the wheels however. You'll likely need to spend more money for a product that is still poorly constructed, sitting atop plastic wheels that lack stability. As you can see, the homemade wheels may not be such a crazy idea after all.
As for the benefits, the wheel is one of my favorite core training tools. Yes, "core training" is an overused buzz phrase that induces nausea among many, but the original concept still has merit. There is so much that you can do (and accomplish) with this simple piece of equipment. It truly becomes a full body exercise tool. The wheels are effective, inexpensive, easy to pack when traveling, and quiet when used. As a father to a toddler (with another on the way) a quiet strength tool comes in handy, much more than I would have ever guessed.
An Important Reminder
It is worth noting that the ab wheel, although simplistic in nature, is a challenging piece of equipment. The advanced variations will require a great deal of strength for safe performance. A novice may need years, not months, to perform these movements. Do not rush to perform the advanced exercises. Slow and steady not only wins the race, but ensures a healthy start and finish.
Conversely, the wheel is not a dangerous piece of equipment. Unfortunately, I often see the wheel described as harmful to the low back. Such statements are false. Back problems do not begin with the wheel. Back problems originate through neglect. Many athletes in today's era have neglected the back. While striving to enhance the visible mirror muscles, the posterior chain is all but forgotten. For example, the large erector spinae muscles (prime mover of back extension) often receive little, if any direct work (big mistake). When any muscle group is neglected, and then put under considerable strain, injuries may result. Overexertion to an underdeveloped muscle group does not mean that an exercise is dangerous. Ignorance is far more dangerous than any movement.
Please Note - The standing variations seen within the video are much more challenging than those from the knees. Do not rush to perform these exercises. The stabilization needs are considerable for all standing rollouts. If you lack strength in this department, you may notice your hips caving towards the ground. This response signals that you should be working with a less strenuous exercise.
Below, I have provided a brief summary of each exercise seen within the video. The descriptions, although brief, should clarify the purpose and significance of each movement.
Kneeling Variations - To begin, two kneeling variations are shown. The two arm version is the ideal starting point for beginners. Many never progress past this variation, and that is fine, as the kneeling version is a quality movement. For those interested in a greater upper body challenge however, the single arm variation is worthy of consideration. This movement appears next.
Partial Rollouts - A partial rollout is shown next. This exercise is useful when progressing towards a full, unassisted rollout. You can gradually inch yourself away from the wall or object, therefore increasing range of motion (and difficulty). Be sure to maintain tension when touching the end point however. It is not a time to relax. Tension must remain throughout.
Ramp Rollouts - Any ramp can be used for the next variation. The ramp shown in the video was constructed from backer board. This exercise is useful when striving towards an unassisted rollout. You can gradually flatten the ramp as your strength increases.
Full Rollouts - A full rollout is seen next. This weightless exercise is a prime example of strength training without iron. And while the movement may appear difficult at first glance, it is achievable by most who put forth a consistent effort. Start from the knees, gradually progress, and it will be a matter of time before you can perform full rollouts.
Hill Rollouts - If you have access to a hill, the wheel can add a spin to conventional hill training. A ramp could also be used to simulate this downward roll. Rolling down hill adds an extra element of difficulty as you reverse the effort, and pull the wheels back towards your feet.
Wheel Pushups - The next movement has no formal name (that I'm aware of), so I've unofficially labeled it a wheel pushup. I then alternate between the wheel pushup and T-rollout (where the body resembles the letter T). These variations make for useful strength exercises when conventional equipment is unavailable.
Weighted Vest - For a greater challenge, a weighted vest can be added to almost any wheel exercise. I demonstrate a 50 pound rollout in the video. I do not recommend adding weight to the standing rollout until you can comfortably perform at least 10 bodyweight reps from the standing position. Start light and progress gradually. Weighted wheel work is more difficult than it appears.
One Arm Progressions - A few one arm progressions come next. First, the L-rollout is seen, and then a partial one-arm rollout follows. With the latter movement, you roll with one arm, and then use the 2nd wheel as needed (towards the end of the movement). Gradually, you will become less and less reliant on the second wheel.
One Arm - The one arm rollout is seen next. This movement is truly a full body exercise. The demands to the upper body will be particularly strenuous. It is imperative that you maintain tension throughout the body when performing this exercise. To ensure this prerequisite, I find it useful to flex the non-working arm hard across the chest.
Aside from the physical benefits, the wheel is inexpensive, easy to build, easy to pack when traveling, and one of the more enjoyable pieces of equipment to use. The wheel has long been a staple in my own training plan. I use it regularly and continue to reap benefits from this versatile piece of equipment.