Using an ab wheel (roller) once your strength training restriction has been lifted after your double mastectomy will be more difficult than bench pressing.
My Relevant Experience
• Underwent prophylactic double mastectomy (no reconstruction).
• Certified personal trainer for five years at a gym.
• User of the ab wheel (“ab roller”) prior to double mastectomy – though not consistently.
The reason bench pressing (with light, re-induction weight load) will be a lot easier than getting back to using the ab wheel after double mastectomy is because by the time your strength training restriction is lifted, the way the skin stretches when you perform the bench press should already be back to normal.
Furthermore, no matter how much strength you’ve lost during your recovery period, you can still conduct the bench press motion.
Just make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself and load too much weight on the barbell and then strain a rotator cuff tendon.
The ab wheel involves more skin stretching than does the bench press, shoulder press, even the “pec deck” machine motion.
At 57 days post-double mastectomy, my surgeon told me I can go ahead and do anything I wanted as far as exercise.
At day 41, I had already resumed upper body exercise (only light deadlifts) and on day 42, did more upper body exercises.
Yet not once during that 17 day period did I think about the ab wheel. Instead, I suddenly remembered it 60 days out. But it had not been 60 days since I’d last used it.
And I tried it today. It was uncomfortable but tolerable. I felt the sensation of tight skin under my arms as I extended out.
My range of motion is pre-surgical, but as I near the upper limits of full range of motion, I can feel the sensation of stretching skin.
It’s taking its leisurely time getting back to normal, but week by week there are improvements, including no longer seeing vertical pull lines above and below the incisions.
The skin-stretching feeling also extended down to my rib area as I rolled out and back in.
However, I’m not 100 percent sure that some of this feeling WASN’T deconditioned muscle trying to make sense of the re-intro to the ab wheel.
Remember, the ab wheel motion engages the musculature between your armpits and extending down towards the ribs – these muscles will not only stretch with the rolling movement, but are engaged somewhat as well.
The ab roller exercise targets the core, but the muscle fibers running between your armpit and lower ribs just cannot escape the action.
So when you finally get back into using the ab wheel, what you might be primarily feeling is muscle that has lost strength due to the weightlifting restriction – which for me was six weeks postop.
Prior to the double mastectomy I was not consistent with this great little exercise tool, but I was still able to work the device to maybe 75 percent of a full-out extension. For six reps.
Russian twists with straight legs and heavy deadlifts will NOT give you the ability to easily roll out all the way and back in with an ab wheel for eight reps, not even six.
It’s an exercise all unique in its own way and is great for increasing flexibility of the muscles that run along the armpit and sides of the torso.
With all that said, I believe my biggest problem with the ab wheel isn’t post-double mastectomy non-stretchy skin, but rather, loss of muscle strength for that highly specific motion.
If you’re remembering to do the ab wheel only once every three weeks, and then do nothing for six weeks, your return to the ab wheel won’t exactly be a walk in the park.
The good news is that with consistency you can train your body to roll out all the way – even with your feet elevated on a 12 inch stool – as I had once worked my way up to before I then just started forgetting to use the device.
If you’re cleared to return to strength training following a double mastectomy, you should not have any surgery-related issues with the ab wheel, even though you can expect to feel some skin stretching as you roll increasingly out on the floor.
Remind yourself that eventually your skin will feel 100 percent pre-double mastectomy with this exercise.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.