Rolling like a Ball: A Limber Spine is a Must!

Because of my tight spine, the classic Pilates version of Rolling like a ball and I are not friends. When approached in traditional Pilates style, those of us with tight spines suffer. However, through STOTT PILATES, I learned several modifications and preps that can help build the strength and flexibility necessary for this exercise.

Rolling like a ball preps

  1. rolling like a ball prepBegin in a seated position with the knees bent, feet hip width apart. It is best for the soles of the feet to be flat on the floor. However, if you suffer from foot cramps, flex your feet at the ankles and press the backs of your heels into the mat.
  2. Feel your SITs bones press into the mat as you reach through your spine, out through the top of your head.
  3. Bring your arms in front of you, parallel to the ground. I like to have my arms in a V because I have tight shoulders. This extra space helps my collarbones broaden.
  4. We will use Pilates breathing.
  5. Inhale to lengthen the spine.
  6. Exhale and tuck the pelvis. Roll back one vertebra at a time. Your abs should scoop toward your spine. If you start to feel your abdominals puff forward or disengage, you have gone too far.
  7. Inhale and return to your upright starting position.
  8. Try to do 10 of these.

This can also be done with a small ball between the thighs or calves. Having a ball to press into creates a greater connection between the adductors (inner thighs) and abdominals. In about 75% of people, adductor work leads to easier use of the abdominals, so it’s nice to play around with these props.

Rolling like a ball modifications

I call this a modification because we are getting closer to the classic form for Rolling like a ball.

  1. Begin in a seated position with the knees bent, feet together.
  2. Feel your SITs bones press into the mat as you reach through your spine, out through the top of your head.
  3. We will use Pilates breathing.
  4. Inhale to lengthen the spine.
  5. Exhale and tilt the pelvis so that you come just behind the SITs bones.
  6. Inhale and lift one leg up so that the calf is parallel to the ground.
  7. Exhale and lift the other leg. Engage the adductors (inner thighs) to connect the legs together. Lightly grab behind your thighs to help keep your upper body stable.
  8. With your spine in this J-curve, inhale.
  9. Exhale and tilt your pelvis so that you’re rolling back one vertebra at a time through the lumbar spine (low back). The upper body remains stable.
  10. Inhale and return to your J-curve.
  11. Try to do 10 of these.

This can also be done with a small ball between the thighs or calves. Having a ball to press into creates a greater connection between the adductors (inner thighs) and abdominals. In about 75% of people, adductor work leads to easier use of the abdominals, so it’s nice to play around with these props.

Rolling like a ball

  1. rolling like a ballBegin in a seated position with the knees bent, feet together.
  2. Feel your SITs bones press into the mat as you reach through your spine, out through the top of your head.
  3. We will use Pilates breathing.
  4. Inhale to lengthen the spine.
  5. Exhale and tilt the pelvis so that you come just behind the SITs bones. Your spine is now in a J-curve.
  6. Inhale and lift one leg up so that the calf is parallel to the ground.
  7. Exhale and lift the other leg. Engage the adductors (inner thighs) to connect the legs together.
  8. Let your knees bend more and reach your hands toward your ankles. If your shoulders tighten, it’s okay to grab behind your thighs.
  9. rolling like a ballRight now, your body is curled up in a ball. As you roll back and forth, you want to keep your body in this exact same position. After you roll back, resist the temptation to kick your legs out as a way to create momentum to bring you up. However, do use the natural momentum of rolling backward to help bring you up.
  10. When you roll back, do not go past your shoulder blades. You should not feel your neck on the ground.
  11. I was taught to inhale as you roll back and exhale on your way up, but I have done it with the breathing reversed and that works, too. The bottom line is that you should breathe. Inhale and exhale consistently at the spot where you think it should go.
  12. Try to do 10 reps.

You can use a small ball here, too! Just like the other versions, you can place the ball between the thighs or calves. However, you can create a really great abdominal challenge by putting the ball on your abdomen and wrapping yourself around it.

Rolling like a ball video

Here is a video for visual learners.

Which version of Rolling like a ball works best for you and why? Let us know in the comments.

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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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