Ab roller vs crunches: which is better for getting a six pack?

Are crunches bad for you? Is an ab roller necessary to have a flat stomach? We'll answer all your burning six pack-related questions here

Ab roller vs crunches
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With summer looming just over the horizon, getting a six pack is on everyone's mind and people are desperately trying to find out which abs workout will give them the coveted washboard abs the fastest. Here is a quick reminder that you won't need expensive home gym equipment to reveal your abs, all you need is some determination and the correct abs exercise. But which one is 'the correct abs exercise' for six pack abs: ab roller vs crunches?

First of all, the correct term is 'ab rollout' and not 'ab roller' but we won't get caught up in such small details. Ab roller is the name of the equipment you use to perform ab rollouts and if you're interested, the best ab roller right now is the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro.

The question remains: do you even need an ab roller to get a six pack? How about doing crunches only? Do they work? And, most importantly, are they any better than doing ab rollouts? We tried both and although our abs are far from looking like Chris Hemsworth's, we have a few tips and suggestions that might help you decide between ab rollouts and crunches.

A quick note: if you want your abs muscles to show, you might want to think about losing some weight and especially losing some belly fat first. Most people have some muscle definition (not loads, mind) under layers of abdominal fat, losing that might reveal your abs without having to workout day and night.

Crunches: pros and cons

• In depth: How to do ab crunches

Crunches have been extremely popular in the 80s and 90s but have fallen out of grace ever since. Many PTs nowadays claim there are more efficient exercises available to workout the abs and they are absolutely right. However, some of these more efficient exercises require at least some equipment and are generally less accessible than the easy bodyweight exercise that is the ab crunch.

So, what's wrong with crunches? As a matter of fact, when done right, crunches can help build abdominal muscle definition, mainly in the upper parts. This is actually one of the main criticisms when PTs talk about crunches, that this abs exercise only doesn't work the whole abdominal area, only part of it. The lower abs are activated much less doing crunches.

The other problem with crunches is the way people do them. Most beginners tend to pull their head towards their knees with their hands clutched behind their neck which is the absolute worst way to perform crunches. The only results you'll see doing crunches that way is a pulled neck, not visible abs. Not to mention, you also use your abs less when you pull your upper body up with your arms.

Crunches are best done when you focus on your abs only. Try to focus on your stomach and compress it; no need to reach anywhere or to move any other muscles unless they are really needed. Crunches are small movements so there is no need to try to do a full sit up, especially at first. As soon as the abs are engaged, you're at the right height. The shoulders should hardly leave the floor and even when they do, you're not lifting the shoulders, you're flexing the abs. Pay attention to your abs while trying to relax (or at least not intentionally flex) other muscles.

Ab roller vs crunches

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ab rollers: pros and cons

• In depth: How to use an ab roller

Ab rollers look simple enough – a plastic wheel with an extended axis serving as handles – surely it's easy enough to use too? It's certainly not complicated to use ab rollers but ab rollouts are not an easy exercise nevertheless. To be able to perform ab rollouts, you will already need a strong core, an area that encompasses the abs, obliques and the lower back too.

That might just be the biggest issue with ab rollers: although they are probably one of the most gifted home gym equipment for beginners (they are really cheap), people who can use them for their workouts already have some abs definition going on. Ab rollouts are a pro move and to master the exercise, you will need to do a lot of planks and flutter kicks in order to build up core strength (for the best core exercises, check out the linked article).

Are ar rollers good for building abs definition? Sure they are. Better still, ab rollers strengthen the core and that can help you hold your body better, reducing discomfort and even back pain. That said, if you have back issues, ab rollout might not be the best core exercise to start with as it puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, especially if it's untrained.

Ab roller vs crunches

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ab roller vs crunches: verdict

Which is best for six pack abs: ab rollers or crunches?

Crunches are more accessible than ab rollouts and everyone can start doing them at any point. Just be careful not to pull your neck too much (or at all) and to really focus on activating and isolating the stomach muscles when you do crunches.

Once you built up some abdominal strength doing crunches – and maybe planks – you can move on to doing ab rollouts. This excellent exercise will help you strengthen the whole torso, including the abs, and should you get an ab roller that is capable of steering, you might also end up building massive obliques too.

So, to summarise: you should start with doing crunches the right way, as well as other abs and core exercises, and once the strength is there, you can transition to doing more and more ab rollouts. How fast you can build up this strength depends on your current physique and the effort you put in, but considering you'll perform frequent abs workouts and have a rigorous nutritional plan, it shouldn't longer than a few months before you can do proper ab rollouts.

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).