I would say that I spend a lot of time thinking about training. I try to avoid it. This weekend, I did nothing but watch five movies and eat bison burgers and pizza the whole time, trying to keep training out of my mind. It’s funny, though, my best training ideas typically come at work during sessions.
I’ll be in the middle of a session and need to find a regression or progression and sometimes will even space out during my clients’ sets thinking about how I could better adapt the exercise to their needs.
Such a time came during a recent session with a high school senior. We were doing a ball rollout progression and I had to continuously tell him to slow the reps down and pause at the end of the eccentric phase each time. So instead of modifying his current technique, I modified the exercise itself.
Typically, exercisers increase the intensity of an exercise by doing just that, increasing intensity (that usually means weight). In the case of a ball rollout, that might mean advancing past kneeling rollouts to full plank rollouts. The full knee extension means that the core is bearing a greater load during the exercise. It also decreases the foot-to-floor angle, making the rollout more challenging.
Oftentimes, you’ll see ball rollouts being done too quickly in an effort to get the required reps without challenging the core too much. This may happen because the variation is too challenging to begin with or the person is too fatigued to resist the anterior pelvic tilt at full shoulder flexion.
Enter the ball rollout for time. This way, the client/athlete can be progressed based on time under tension, not reps. Glorifying reps as the ultimate goal shifts the concern from form to numbers and there’s no point to performing an exercise if you’re going to do it wrong.
Furthermore, allowing ball rollouts (or any anterior core exercise, for that matter) with extreme lumbar extension is a recipe for pain.
As for sets and reps, you can treat ball rollouts just like pallof holds. Three sets of 30 seconds is perfect. Try to emphasize a consistent 1-1-1-1 tempo, pausing for one second at each end of the range-of-motion. Just keep rolling through the time and stop when the time is up.
You can also try ball rollout holds. If someone is struggling to make progress on ball rollouts, try doing a set of three, ten-second holds in the extended position. This will help you groove the end position so that you’re hitting it more consistently during sets. In essence, these are really just RKC planks on a stability ball.
As I noted in the picture caption, the body stays straight during a ball rollout and the hips don’t flex at all through the movement. This ensures that the emphasis stays on the anterior core and not the hip flexors.
So that’s about it! My current goal is to complete full reps with the ab wheel – from pushup position to full extension and back. It requires decent lat strength, as well as the anterior core control to resist the lats from pulling you into lumbar extension. I’ve been doing hand walkouts as a regression and they’re fun.
The sky really is the limit with rollout variations. From kneeling plank and full plank starting positions to ab wheels and barbells and sliders and stability balls, there’s a million different ways to attack the anterior core and a variation suitable for everyone.