Roll up! Roll up!

Next on the list in our classical Pilates repertoire, to follow The Hundred (hardCORE warm up), is ‘The Full Roll Up’ (or Half Roll Down for beginner mat). This exercise is designed to strengthen the abdominals through a full range of movement and also stretch the lower back. It seems like it would be an easy exercise, however, for many individuals they find it is quite challenging!

As you would expect, The Full Roll Up is a great challenge for the abdominal muscles, and is also well known as one of the Pilates Flat Abs exercises. It has been said that one Pilates roll up = six regular sit ups, and is much better than crunches for creating a flat stomach!

roll up

Here are several reasons someone might find The Full Roll Up challenging:

1. That person may have weak abdominals
2. That person may lack of flexibility in the spine
3. That person may have an excessive lordosis or your spine or a “swayed back”.

Just as well practice brings you closer to perfection in Pilates!

Before we get in to the ‘how to do’ part of this post, there are a few things to keep in mind with this potentially frustrating exercise…

– Don’t stay focused on getting to a seated position, this can compromise your form.

– Try not to use momentum to get up. Some individuals have to catapult themselves up in order to get to a seated position. This is usually due to lack of strength and flexibility to accomplish a seated position with control. This is dangerous for your body.

– Keep your heels glued to the floor. When your feet lift the work comes out of the abdominals and goes in to the hips.

Keep centred when rolling up, if you twist to one side to get up this can be because you are stronger on one side of the trunk, thus you won’t be working towards rebalancing and realinging.

Don’t collapse on to the mat on the roll down, this will put strain on the neck and spine as you won’t be curling the spine in to the mat nor using the abdominals.

Here we go!

Prep: lie on the floor with your legs straight, try to keep the legs straight throughout the exercise – heels together toes apart to work the but (beginners modification legs bent). Let your belly drop down toward the floor and make sure your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears. Take a few deep breaths as you check your alignment and concentrate on your body.

When you are ready, leave your scapula (shoulder blades) anchored in your back and your ribs zipped down, as you bring your arms straight up over your head and back so that your finger tips are pointing to the wall behind you. This will be your beginning position.

inhale: to bring your arms up over head, keeping your scapula anchored. As your arms pass your ears let the chin drop to the chest, curl the head and upper spine follows. Engage the abdominals in and up for the moment of truth…

Exhale: Continue in one smooth motion to curl your body in an “up and over” motion toward your toes. Check that your shoulders are relaxed and not creeping forward. Continually thinking about the opposition in movements, keeping length in the hips/spine/legs/arms and fingers, while engaging and pulling back the abdominals, plugging the shoulders in.

Inhale: pull the lower abs in deeper, reach your tail bone under, and begin to roll in to the mat – vertebrae by vertebrae – with control. The inhale initiates this motion until you are about half way down. *Be sure to keep the legs on the floor and don’t let them fly up as you roll down.

Exhale: Keep your upper body curve as you roll down slowly, with control. The arms are still outstretched and following the natural motion of the shoulders as you roll down. Once your shoulders come to the floor, the arms go with the head as you continue to roll down to the mat.

Do up to six repetitions. The Full Roll Up should be one continuous, controlled, flowing motion. The above is administered with a double breath to show the technique and master the precision. Try to synchronise with a single breath; inhale to lift and reach forward, exhale to lower in to the mat.



To reap the full benefits of Pilates it is important to perform every exercise utilizing control and concentration. However, when we are in a class setting, we often forget that it is not our destination that is our goal, but the path we take to get there. This rings true when performing ‘The Full Roll Up’. It is not important to achieve a seated position. It is most important to achieve that position with proper control and form so as not to risk injury to the spine. Take time to use some of the variations and modifications listed above if you are challenged with ‘The Full Roll Up’. Your body will be stronger and more flexible in no time.


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