Try This: How to do a Roll Up

Try This: How to do a Roll Up

The “roll up” is a classic Pilates exercise, in fact it’s No. 2 in Joseph Pilates Mat Sequence. I teach it in every class—on the Mat, Reformer, Tower, even in TRX. Why do I love it so much?

Why you need to be doing roll ups

  • One full roll up is as effective as SIX standard sit-ups in strengthening your abdominal muscles!
  • It increases spinal flexibility and stretches the hamstrings.
  • It’s a challenging exercise whether you are a beginner or advanced.
  • It embodies our ABC motto: “Always Be Connected” by requiring a mind-body connection and a synchronicity of breath with movement.

ABC Pilates | Tip of the Month | Roll UpHow to do the classic roll up

Step 1

Lie down on your back, legs together, and reach your arms up overhead only as far as you can keep your ribs on the mat.

Step 2

Inhale deeply. Leave your scapula down as you reach your arms towards the ceiling. As your arms pass your ears, tuck your chin to the chest and begin to lift the head and chest off the mat.

Step 3

Exhale and pull the belly button to your spine and squeeze your inner thighs to continue the curling up of the body “up and over.”  Keep the chin tucked, pull the abdominals in deeper, and keep the back rounded as you reach for the toes.

Step 4

Inhale and engage the abdominals, gently squeeze the buttocks and tuck the tailbone under to begin the rolling back down, one vertebra at a time, maintaining the curve of the spine.

Step 5

Exhale about half way through the roll down, keep hips and legs rooted to the mat and complete the roll down, reaching the arms overhead to return to the starting position.

Roll up modifications

Some exercises remain more challenging than others, and the roll up is one of those. We tend to blame weak abdominals as the reason we can’t roll up, but tight hip flexors, weak hamstrings or limited spinal flexibility could all be to blame, and everyone’s issues are unique.

Here are a few modifications or tips to help you find success with your roll up.

  • Bend your knees. You can also bend your knees more as you come up and grasp your hands behind your thighs for additional support 
  • Roll up a small towel or sticky mat and place under your low back.
  • Wrap a Thera-band around the arches of the feet to provide assistance and resistance.
  • Use weights, Magic Circle, or a ball in your hands to give you a little boost to help you get through that sticky spot.
  • Practice similar exercises, or break the roll up into parts, to build up the strength and coordinate the muscles.  Try standing or wall-roll downs, half-round backs, or curl ups. For increased spinal movement, try bridges.

Try a “reverse” roll up on the reformer…

Reformer Roll Up

…You can even roll up using TRX straps!

TRX Roll Up

I want you to love the roll up as much as I do, so let’s celebrate your successes and work through your frustrations! I’m here to help and love being a part of your Pilates practice.



Noreen Taylor is a certified Pilates + TRX instructor at ABC Pilates in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Noreen believes that every day is a choice to be healthy and happy. As a competitive swimmer, sprint triathlete, and coach, Noreen finds joy in helping others realize their fitness goals and potential.
Click here to learn more about Noreen and the other ABC Instructors.




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