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How to Choose the Pilates Roll Up Modifications Best for You

In this post: Because Pilates Roll up is so challenging, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Pilates roll up modifications to help you build up to the full exercise.

Pilates roll up modifications

Pilates Roll up is not my favorite exercise.

Maybe it’s because (even four years post-baby) I’m still struggling with it. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many people struggle with it through the years. Or maybe it’s because I feel a gross and creepy little tug on my tailbone as the wrong muscles try to hop in and do the entire exercise. 

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that this is an incredibly popular, wonderfully effective core-strengthening exercise.

The key is making sure you’re doing Pilates Roll up correctly and using the modification that best suits your abilities and needs.

Here’s what you need to know to choose the modification that’s best for you and ensure that you’re doing this exercise correctly.

Why Should You Do Pilates Roll Up?

It’s no secret that Pilates is known as a great way to build strong core muscles–particularly the abdominals. The Pilates Roll up is just one of many reasons why.

In this one exercise, you can:

  • strengthen all four of your abdominal muscles,
  • stretch your spinal muscles like the erector spinae, and
  • strengthen your adductors (inner thighs).

Make Sure to Pay Attention to…

When you practice your Pilates Roll up, you want to make sure to pay attention to what your body is doing and how it feels.

First, watch your abdominals. As you roll up and down, you want your abs to hug toward your spine. Often, the abs have a tendency to pooch or even peak out away from the body.

The pooch or peak of your abdominals frequently signal that you’re trying to work your body beyond its capacity–that’s a bad thing. Instead, try one of the modifications or use a prop.

Second, you want to pay attention to how your body feels. Sometimes as I do my Roll ups, my psoas (the main hip flexor) will get really grippy.

I can feel the muscle pull on my tailbone or the front of my hips will feel really tight. Either way, these are bad signs.

You want the psoas to be a smooth, long muscle. It shouldn’t ever feel balled up or clenched down.

Now that you know what to look for as you move, here are some Pilates Roll up modification to try!

If you are interested in learning the basics of yoga and Pilates from the privacy of your own home, sign up for my FREE 30-day program. I’ll teach you how to safely practice many popular yoga poses and Pilates exercises.

How to Do Pilates Roll Up Modifications

Pilates roll up modifications

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

  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.

Props You Can Use to Do a Pilates Roll Up

Pilates roll up modifications
  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.

How to Do a Pilates Roll Up

Pilates roll up modifications
  1. We will use 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 Roll up.
  4. Inhale and reach your arms above your head. Make sure that you do release your abs or let yourself relax into the floor. Bring your arms back above your chest.
  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 2-5.
  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 to move from exercise to exercise.

For the Visual Learners…

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

Before You Practice Pilates Roll Up, Don’t Forget…

Before you practice Pilates Roll up, take a moment to think about what muscles you’re supposed to be working. Be particularly mindful to notice any gripping feeling that you may feel in the front of your hips or around your tailbone.

Also, make sure that your abdominals hug toward your spine as you roll up and down. You want to feel like an ice cream scoop is hollowing out your abdominal cavity as you move.

If you notice your belly pooching forward, stop what you’re doing. Concentrate on trying to draw your abdominals to your spine. If the muscles don’t seem to want to listen, try a modification or use a prop.

Remember, as you correctly practice Pilates Roll ups and build strength, you will get yourself closer and closer to being able to correctly do a Roll up without any assistance.

Are you interested in learning the basics of yoga and Pilates from the privacy of your own home? Sign up for my FREE 30-day program, and I’ll teach you how to safely practice many popular yoga poses and Pilates exercises.

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

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

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