Roll up and 6 Modifications for this Classic Pilates Exercise

In classic Pilates mat work, Roll up is the second exercise you do. Right after you do The Hundred, you go into¬†Roll up. This exercise is extremely challenging. It requires lots of ab strength, and hip flexors like the psoas play an important role in bringing you upright. It’s because of the significant psoas work that I’m not a huge fan of this exercise.

Also, because of the extreme difficulty of the exercise, sometimes the rectus abdominis tends to revert to its old ways and pooch forward. This pooch means that your abdominals are no longer working correctly, that your rectus abdominis has tried to take over, and that it is trying to work by moving away from the spine instead of toward it. These are all bad things and are, in fact, the exact opposite actions of your goal:  correctly completing an abdominal strengthening exercise.

It’s for these reasons that I highly suggest doing Roll up modifications until you are certain you have the strength to do a regular Roll up.

Roll up Modifications

These modifications are very slight changes to Roll up, but they will make a significant difference in building your core strength.

on the ground in roll up

  1. Concentrate on rolling down. Very slowly and mindfully, roll down one vertebra at a time. Make sure that your abdominals are scooped toward your spine the whole time. Start by tilting the pelvis, then roll back one vertebra at a time. Make sure that your hip flexors (found in the front of your hips) stay soft and relaxed. Once you are completely on your back, keep your muscular engagement as you reach your arms above your head. Bring your arms back toward the ceiling, then you can use your arms to help you up or roll onto your side to come back to a seated position.
  2. Use your hands. You roll down like on a standard Roll up, then put your arms and hands by your sides. As you roll up, use your elbows and forearms especially to press you up to your seated C-curve position.
  3. Bend your knees. To me, this makes the exercise harder because I can’t use the weight of my legs to anchor my lower body to the ground as I roll up. However, for some people, it is easier. Simply put a bend in your knees and anchor your feet to the floor. As you roll up, feel free to grab behind your thighs to help you come up.

Roll up with Props

roll up with flex band

  1. Use a flex band. You can have your legs straight or bent. Place the flex band around the balls of your feet and hold one side of the band in each hand. Understand that the more tension you have when you are on your back, the more help you will have to roll up. Grip your band and adjust your legs according to the amount of help you need.
  2. Use a fitness circle or hold a pole. For whatever reason, sometimes holding something stable and stabilizing in your hands like a fitness circle or pole can help you roll up. With both props, broaden your collarbones and slide your shoulders away from your ears. As you hold your prop, make sure that you keep your elbows straight. Bending your elbows will negate the help of your prop.
  3. Place a folded hand towel under your low back. If you have quite a bit of curve in your low back, a folded hand towel can raise the floor up enough to give some tactile feedback to your lumbar spine. This means that your low back would be able to push into the towel and recruit the correct muscles to bring you the rest of the way up.

Roll up

  1. We will be using Pilates breathing.
  2. Begin seated with your legs straight in front of you. Your adductors (inner thighs) should be engaged, and your feet should be flexed. Feel the backs of your heels press into the mat. Inhale here.
  3. Exhale and tilt the pelvis, rolling down one vertebra at a time until you are laying on your back with your arms reaching toward the ceiling. As you roll down, make sure that your abdominals draw in toward your spine instead of pooching out in effort. If they pooch, pick a different version of this exercise for your next one.
  4. Inhale and reach your arms above your head. As you move, keep muscular energy everywhere. Bring your arms back above your chest.Roll up
  5. Exhale and let your head begin the movement of your spine peeling up off the mat one vertebra at a time. As you come up, your spine will stay flexed so that you end in a C-curve with your ribs lifted away from your hips and your arms reaching parallel to your legs.
  6. Inhale here.
  7. Exhale. Tilt the pelvis and roll down repeating steps 2-4.
  8. To finish, after you roll up to C-curve, inhale and lengthen the spine one vertebra at a time, starting with the pelvis.
  9. I recommend doing no more than 5 Roll ups because of the stress that they put on the hip flexors. If you’d like to add more, use them as a segway from exercise to exercise.

Roll up Video

Here is a video for visual learners. I show the Roll up as well as some of the modifications and some with props.

What do you think of Roll up? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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