The Roll Up

The Pilates Roll Up – Building Your Skills with this Fundamental Exercise 

This incredible exercise is the second exercise that Joseph Pilates introduced in his book Return to Life Through Contrology. It is also one of the first exercises performed in most lessons and classes on the mat. The Roll Up is a great warm up for several reasons including providing the benefits listed below. 

The Benefits of the Pilates Roll Up:

·      Full capacious breathing. 

·      Increases shoulder range of motion.

·      Spinal articulation and massage. 

Breaking down the Roll Up with three Mini-Exercises 

1.    Pilates Breathing (For a more in depth look at breathing check in for a future blog post.)

a.    Lie on your back on the mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms resting comfortably by your side. Take a big inhale working to get the breath to the low belly, sides of the body and to the back of the body. It should feel like you are filling all around the center of the body. The pelvis and spine do not move. This is a muscular action! On the exhale start from the low abdominals and work to have the exhale lift and scoop the abdominals. This will take practice so be patient! It is an ongoing exploration. Breathing is so important for the correct functioning of the body especially the Pelvic Floor.

2.    Ribcage Arms Mini-exercise (for Shoulders)

a.    Lie on your back on the mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Head is resting on the mat. Arms are reaching towards the ceiling. On the inhale lift arms higher and feel the shoulders leave the mat. This is a small movement, more like a shrug. Exhale and lightly squeeze the shoulder blades to bring the shoulders back down to the mat. Repeat 6-8 times.


3.    Mini Roll Up

a.    The Mini Roll Up is a nice place to start working on spinal articulation. Lie on your back on the mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hands hold under the upper leg. On the inhale lift head and shoulders to start the curl up. Use your hands to assist in the more challenging parts of the roll up. On the exhale slowly roll back down to the mat.  

Elbows wide to help round the low back.

Elbows wide to help round the low back.

Slowly start curling down drawing the low belly in and up.

Slowly start curling down drawing the low belly in and up.

Use your arms to help you roll down and back up.

Use your arms to help you roll down and back up.

These prep exercises help the student develop:

1.    Choreography of the exercise – breaking down the exercise in three steps can help the student understand the specific movements and put them together for the full expression and benefit

2.    Maximize benefits of exercise – encouraging full, capacious breathing with each mini-exercise is just one way to illustrate to the student early on how important and effective the breath can be. 

3.    Build the foundation for the Pilates method – each exercise has fundamental skills that are incorporated into it and are built upon as the student shows progress and understanding of the movements. More advanced Pilates exercises are just increased variations of the fundamental skills in beginning exercises like the Hundred, the Roll Up, etc. 


How to Perform the Pilates Roll Up

1.    Start lying face up on the mat with legs long. If you have a strap place the strap around the ankles and snug up on the strap. If you have a light pole, hold the pole in your hands. 

2.    Take an inhale as you scoop your center lifting the head until it is between the arms. Continue lifting and curling up until arms are parallel to the floor.

3.    Draw abdominals deeper and start to roll back down to the mat. Repeat 5 times.

With the variations and prep moves to learn the fundamental skills involved with the Roll Up, this exercise will look differently for each student. The goal is to not perform it perfectly but to successfully do the exercise, so maximum benefits can be achieved. Pilates is a journey and students will experience days when some movements are easier or more accessible than others. Don’t lose focus or get discouraged. The quality of the movement is more important than getting into a specific shape. Keep up the good work with a positive approach and you will experience a healthier and happier mind, body, and spirit! 

Stay tuned for more exercises and tips! 


 See video below for an advanced version of the exercise.

Video of The Roll Up