How to do a barbell rollout and what muscles are worked

Whoever said barbells are only for lifting obviously didn’t know how to do a rollout. You read that right: barbells are not just limited to power lifting and other weight training exercises; they can also be used to get that rock hard, sculpted abs.

But a barbell rollout is nothing like any other ab exercise; this is a hardcore physical activity which does not only require physical strength, but mental toughness as well. This is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely an exercise worth taking on in your six-pack journey.

What is a barbell rollout and how do I do it

The barbell rollout is basically a core strengthening exercise that targets all muscles in the abdominal region with the use of a barbell. But aside from that area, this exercise also strengthens and stabilizes the shoulder and lower back.

Unlike most ab exercises that work the core through spinal flexion, the barbell rollout is the opposite because it is an anti-extension exercise. Since this kind of exercise requires a higher degree of core strength and stability, the barbell rollout poses itself as the better option for core training than other more popular core strengthening routines.

It is a simple exercise in terms of equipment used—nothing fancy needed; just an exercise mat, a barbell, and a pair of at least 5-lb plates. But while the barbell rollout is a no-frills kind of activity, actually doing the exercise is a different story. It is not considered advanced for nothing, so if I were you, I would start toughening up as early as possible.

Up for a challenge? Then read on.

  1. Load a barbell with plates weighing 5-10 lbs each on both sides.
  2. Place an exercise mat on the ground in front of the loaded barbell then kneel.
  3. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip and your arms more than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Lean forward towards the barbell to support your upper body.
  5. Slowly roll out with your core engaged as far as you comfortably can while maintaining straight arms and back. Make sure to breathe in as you do this.
  6. Breathe out as you roll back to your initial position.
  7. Repeat. Do at least 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions each with a 1-minute rest in between sets.

The muscles at work

Unlike other ab exercises that only target a specific muscle in the abdominal region, the barbell rollout puts the entire core to work—no muscle left behind. If you want that solid, super defined abs, then this is the perfect exercise for you because it heavily stimulates your abdominals every time you roll out. So fear not if you feel that burning sensation in your core when you do this; that’s just your abs being sculpted.

Aside from the entire core, the barbell rollout also engages your shoulders, lower back, triceps, hips, and lats. With all these muscles working together, your upper body is kept in the correct position and movement is stabilized and more precise.

But more than the six-pack, the barbell rollout is greatly helpful in strengthening your core which is essential in most, if not all, exercises. So if you are going to do this, don’t just do it for vanity’s sake; do it because you know the importance of a strong core in your overall well-being.

Barbell rollout tips

Do it nice and slow

When doing a barbell rollout, slow and steady is the way to go. When you are at the gym, it is easy to feel the need to show off how fast you can go to impress your fellow gym rats, but this should not be the case. Never rush a barbell rollout, or any exercise, to get validation from other people.

The only thing you will achieve by doing the barbell rollout this way is an increased risk of torso rotation and hyperextension. Remember that you are working out for yourself, so what other people think shouldn’t matter. And it’s not like they care anyway, so why should you?

Refrain from rolling out too far

Once you are finally doing the rollout, keep your lower back from sagging because it is bad for your lumbar spine and might lead to back injuries down the road. While it is true that the farther you roll then the more your core is stretched and engaged, there won’t be much gain if your lower back is not in a correct and healthy position to support you.

Be realistic and know your limits; if you know your body is not ready enough to roll out too far, then don’t force it. The ease in rolling out farther will eventually come the more you do this so just take it easy and prioritize doing the exercise in proper form.

Use your core to initiate movement

Using your arms instead of the core to roll out and roll back is an all too common rookie mistake. This may feel slightly easier but keeping the tension away from the core is essentially cheating. Always bear in mind that it is better to do fewer repetitions with proper form than do more with incorrect form. This is a core strengthening exercise after all, so let your core feel the burn.

Barbell or wheel: which one is better?

Perhaps the arguably more popular rollout variation is the ab wheel rollout which uses, well, an ab wheel in place of a barbell. But since the muscles worked, position, and movements of these two exercises are essentially the same, neither is exactly better than the other. What equipment you finally decide to use will be based more on your personal preference and will not entirely determine the effectiveness of the exercise, so here are two things you might want to consider before choosing which one is more suitable for your rollout needs.


A gym is essentially a public place so you won’t exactly have the luxury of space for a barbell rollout all the time, especially if the gym you are going to is a busy one. And even if you don’t go to the gym but still want to do a barbell rollout, you will still have to find an area spacious enough for you to perform the exercise. This is another challenge posed by rollouts with barbells.

An ab wheel, however, is something compact and wouldn’t take much space. You can easily bring it with you anywhere and you can start doing rollouts wherever and whenever you feel like it. No more waiting around and looking for a space big enough to do the exercise. If you want to do a rollout even on vacation, would you be willing to lug around a barbell? Don’t think so.

Ease of use

Just judging by the look of both equipment, right off the bat you will know that the ab wheel is specifically built for rollouts so there should be no worry if it will work because it should. The barbell, however, is the dumbbell’s macho brother that can be used for different exercises.

Since it is not particularly designed for a rollout, using a barbell might be an issue for some people because using a supersized metal rod for a core exercise can take a lot of getting used to. You might find yourself doing some trial and error on your hand spacing while gripping the barbell to make sure that holding it will be comfortable and not cause your wrists pain when you roll out, unlike in an ab wheel where you know exactly where your hands should be positioned.

Ready to roll

Regardless if you are a beginner who wants to start with a barbell rollout straight away or if you are already a hardcore gym buff who wants to take his rollout game to the next level, it is important to always remember that the risk of injury will always be there, and that the more advanced you want the rollout to be, the riskier it gets.

Given the demands of this exercise, it is also necessary that you are not only physically prepared to do it, but also mentally strong so that you could concentrate and coordinate your movements properly. While pushing yourself to be better is a good thing most of the time, that is not always the case for barbell rollouts. Pushing your body to its limit to the point of hurting yourself will only do more harm than good. After all, the last thing you want is to delay your fitness journey because you are injured.

And while the barbell rollout is a sure way to get that six-pack, still the best thing you can achieve from being consistent with this exercise is a core so strong it will make you feel like you can do anything. And that is not entirely wrong, because with a strong core, you will be able to perform almost any exercise with ease.