If you’re determined to master the Pilates Roll over exercise, here are the three phases to conquer so you look like an expert.

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I remember when I first learned to do the Pilates Roll over. I was young and flexible. My body moved with ease. And, when the teacher told me to lift my hips and reach my feet behind my head, my body immediately acted.

Then, my body changed. After many years, a handful of abdominal surgeries (thanks, kids!), and a broken neck; my spine didn’t move as well as it used to.

When I told myself to lift my hips and reach my feet behind my head, my body just laughed. And then, it farted. Like a car engine sputtering to an end, the toot escaped and my hips landed squarely on the floor again.

It was frustrating. It was embarrassing. And, it made me grit my teeth and commit to rebuilding my abs and re-mastering the Pilates Roll over.

So, if you’re in the situation where you want to do Roll over, but your body isn’t letting you yet; I totally relate. I’ve been there and done that. Here’s what you need to do to build up your strength so you can do the Pilates Roll over like an expert.

Related: If you’re struggling with back or hip pain when you do Roll over, click here to download your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief. This will teach you how to relieve your hip or back pain so you can get back to do the exercises you love.

How to Do Pilates Roll Over Like an Expert

When you’re trying to build the strength in your body to do Roll over like a pro, you need to practice the exercise in different phases. After you master the first phase, move on to the second. Then, when you’re a pro at the second, move onto the final phase.

Phase 1: Roll Over Prep

Sarah Stockett doing the Pilates Roll over prep exercise
  1. Use traditional Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. Broaden your collarbones, and let your arms reach straight by your sides.
  3. Exhale and move into Imprint. You really want to feel your abdominal muscles scoop toward your spine.
  4. Inhale to lift one leg to Table top, then the other. If you feel like your belly started pooching out, put your legs back down and start again. You must be able to lift your legs up to Table top without your belly puffing out before you go any further in this exercise.
  5. Exhale and reach your legs toward the ceiling. Keep a soft bend in your knees and rotate your knees away from each other. Cross the right ankle on top of the left.
  6. Inhale here, but make sure you keep your belly muscles lightly hugging toward your spine.
  7. Exhale and use your abdominals to lift your hips off the ground. Think of initiating the lift by going deeper into Imprint, lifting your pelvis, then peeling your spine up off the floor one vertebra at a time.
  8. Complete 5 repetitions with your right leg crossed on top. Pause and switch so that your left leg is crossed on top. Complete another 5 repetitions.

Phase 2: Roll Over with an Arc Barrel

After you’ve mastered the Roll over prep, it’s time to move on to the Roll over on the arc barrel. The arc barrel gives your hips a bit of a boost so your body isn’t forced to pick your hips up off the mat. Instead, about half the work is already done for you–courtesy of the barrel.

Sarah Stockett doing a Pilates Roll over with an arc barrel

Getting on the Arc Barrel

  1. Place the arc barrel so the curve seems like a bump in the road on your mat.
  2. Sit on top of the barrel.
  3. Scoot forward a little bit, like you’re sliding halfway down the barrel.
  4. Carefully, lower yourself back one vertebra at a time. As you roll your spine onto the barrel, you will notice that you slide down a little bit. This is normal. You should end with your hips at the apex of the barrel, your spine mostly connected to the barrel or the floor, and your shoulder blades and head resting on the mat. It should feel relatively comfortable.
  5. Broaden your collarbones, and press the palms of your hands into the sides of the barrel.

How to Do a Roll Over on the Arc Barrel

  1. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Inhale to lift one leg up to Table top.
  3. Exhale to lift the other leg and connect the knees. Point your toes.
  4. Inhale here to prepare. Make sure to really let your abdominals reach toward your spine.
  5. Exhale and reach your legs on a diagonal line.
  6. Inhale to bring your legs right above your hips.
  7. Exhale to roll one vertebra at a time off of the arc barrel. Start by lifting your hips and roll until your legs are parallel to your face and you feel your weight rest on your upper back. Make sure that, as you roll, you don’t let yourself fold and collapse. You want to have a nice “C” shape to your spine.
  8. Inhale and separate your legs to shoulder-width apart.
  9. Exhale and roll down one vertebra at a time. Finish with your legs reaching on a diagonal line still shoulder-width apart.
  10. Inhale to close your legs and bring them right above your hips.
  11. Follow steps 7-10 to complete two to four reps in this direction.

Switching Directions

Now that you’ve completed your reps this direction, it’s time to reverse it.

  1. End your final rep with your legs reaching on a diagonal line, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Inhale and bring your legs right above your hips with your feet still shoulder-width apart.
  3. Exhale to roll one vertebra at a time off of the arc barrel. Start by lifting your hips and roll until your legs are parallel to your face and you feel your weight rest on your upper back. Make sure that, as you roll, you don’t let yourself fold and collapse. You want to have a nice “C” shape to your spine.
  4. Inhale and bring your legs together.
  5. Exhale and roll down one vertebra at a time. Finish with your legs together and reaching on a diagonal line.
  6. Inhale to separate your legs to shoulder-width apart and bring them right above your hips.
  7. Follow steps 3-6 to complete two to four reps in this direction.
  8. To finish, fold your knees toward your chest and slide back to come off the barrel or stay put to do more core exercises on the barrel.

Phase 3: Roll Over on the Mat

Once you have the Roll over on the arc barrel mastered, it’s time to move on to practicing your Roll over on the mat. This is your final phase until your Roll over looks like you’re a total expert.

Sarah Stockett doing a Pilates roll over exercise
  1. Use traditional Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. Broaden your collarbones, and let your arms reach straight by your sides.
  3. Exhale to go into Imprint.
  4. Inhale and lift one leg to Table top, then the other. Make sure your feet are pointed. They should stay pointed throughout.
  5. Feel your adductors work and connect your inner thighs to each other as you exhale and reach your legs on a low angle while you maintain Imprint.
  6. Inhale to start bringing your legs up toward the ceiling.
  7. Exhale, tilt deeper into Imprint, and roll one vertebra at a time off the mat as your legs go overhead. Make sure that, as you roll, you don’t let yourself fold and collapse. You want to have a nice “C” shape to your spine.
  8. Inhale and separate your legs to shoulder-width.
  9. Exhale and reverse sequence, rolling one vertebra at a time back onto the mat. Keep rolling and extending until your legs are on an angle, but your low back is still in Imprint.
  10. Inhale, bring your legs together, and start hinging your legs toward you.
  11. Follow steps 7-10 to continue this direction of Roll over. You want to do three or four Roll overs this way before you switch.

Switching Directions

When you finish and extend your legs on an angle, instead of closing your legs, leave a shoulder-width distance.

  1. So, you’ve just reached your legs on an angle and left them shoulder-width.
  2. Inhale to bring your legs up toward the ceiling.
  3. Exhale to roll over, moving one vertebra at a time. Make sure that, as you roll, you don’t let yourself fold and collapse. You want to have a nice “C” shape to your spine.
  4. Inhale, engage your adductors, and connect your inner thighs.
  5. Exhale and roll down one vertebra at a time. Keep Imprint as you extend your legs on an angle.
  6. Separate your legs to shoulder-width.
  7. Follow steps 2-6 to complete more Roll overs this way. You should complete as many this direction as you did the first, so three or four is appropriate.
  8. To finish, stop when your legs are out on an angle. Bend one leg to Table top at a time. Then, set one foot down to the mat at a time. Finally, release Imprint.

But maybe you’re more of a visual learner…

It’s okay; I’ve got you covered. Below is an easy-to-follow video of how to do the three different types of Pilates Roll over exercises.

Not feeling like an expert yet?

If you’re not feeling like an expert just yet, don’t worry about it. Sometimes, it can take years (yes, I know that’s not what you want to hear) to build enough strength to do Roll over like a pro.

As you work on building your strength, I want you to pay close attention to how your body feels as you move. If you feel any sort of pain, you need to address that.

My passion is helping people use simple exercises to relieve their pain. That’s why I created The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief. (It’s totally free.) Just click here to get your copy.

If you’re feeling hip or low back pain as you practice Pilates Roll over, you’ll absolutely want to click that link above! Plus, you should check out my course, Spinal Rejuvenation. I teach people how to relieve their hip + back pain and strengthen their bodies so it doesn’t come back.

Keep up the good work and let me know how long it took you to become a Roll over expert!

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.