How To Master The Pilates Roll Up

The Roll Up is a staple of Pilates mat classes. If you attend them regularly, you’ll have performed this exercise (and variations of it) plenty of times.

This is because the Roll Up is considered a basic Pilates exercise. But don’t go confusing “basic” with “easy”. In fact, this move is a real challenge for the abdominal muscles and much more effective than traditional crunches. To successfully achieve this exercise also requires flexibility, strength and the coordination of breath and movement.

For these reasons, it can be a difficult exercise to get right. Issues including letting your legs lift off the ground, gripping through the hips or relying on momentum are common. But by using the tips and instructions below, you’ll learn you how to master the Pilates Roll Up so that you can reap the benefits.

How to perform the Pilates Roll Up

  1. Start by lying on your back on the floor with your legs straight. Bring your arms in an arc overhead until they are flat on the floor behind you. Your head should now be resting between your arms. If you find this position uncomfortable, reduce your range of movement and keep your arms hovering above the mat.
  2. Inhale to prepare. Exhale and bring your arms overhead in an arc. When the arms move past 90 degrees, start to curl your head, neck and shoulder blades off the mat. This part of the exercise looks like the starting position of the Pilates Hundred.
  3. Inhale again here and exhale as you roll up the rest of the way. Focus on the sensation of your ribs sliding towards your pelvis as you do so.
  4. As you continue to roll through the spine, imagine a ball nestled in your stomach and move around it – this should help your spine find a deep rounded shape.
  5. Once you’ve curled all the way up, pause with your fingers stretching towards your toes, maintaining your spine in that “C” shape. Remember: don’t allow your arms to drop. Instead, keep them lifted and parallel to the floor.
  6. Now, inhale to extend your spine from the pelvis up through your lower spine, middle spine, neck and head until you are sitting on your sit bones. These are the bones in your butt cheeks.
  7. Exhale and roll back to the starting position.

Pilates Roll Up - A female wearing gym clothes sitting on a gym mat against a white backdrop. She has her arms outstretched in front as are her legs and her torso is inclined to a 60 degree angle over her legs.

People who should avoid this exercise

People with an acute disc pathology, acute cervical pathology or osteoporosis.

Benefits of the Roll Up

If you want to strengthen your abdominals, the Roll Up is the exercise to choose. According to researchers at Auburn University in Montgomery in Alabama, the Roll Up is 30 percent more effective than simple crunches. This is because of the way it targets the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles) and recruits more muscle fibres.

Aside from strong abdominals, the Roll Up exercise is an effective way of increasing the flexibility of your body by improving hip flexor length and mobilising your spine. This is important because an inflexible body can lead to pain; it also makes your movement less efficient. Plus, a stiff spine leaves your back vulnerable to injury. Regularly practising the Roll Up, however, can help you avoid these problems.

On top of all that, the Roll Up promotes deep breathing and better circulation. In combination with the massaging effect of the exercise on the stomach organs, this gives your digestive system a boost.

Pilates Roll Up - A female wearing gym clothes sitting on a gym mat in a studio with wooden floor and full length curtains in the background. She has her arms outstretched in front and her legs are bent at the knees with her feet flat on the floor. Her torso is inclined to a 45 degree angle.

Top tips to help your roll up

Difficulty Rolling Up

The Roll Up requires your pelvis to move between neutral and tilted. Despite this, you shouldn’t be over-tucking the pelvis or pressing your lower back into the mat during this exercise. Doing so will make it harder to get up in the initial phase.

  1. Practising pelvic tilts can improve this aspect of the exercise.
  2. Create a smooth curling movement of the spine by imagining a wheel turning on the side of your pelvis.
  3. Using full inhales and exhales as you move will also make the roll up easier.

Lifting your legs or gripping in your hips

If you find that you are over-using your hip flexors or that your legs are lifting off the ground as you move, try these three modifications.

  1. Take the two ends of a resistance band into your hands and loop them around the soles of your feet. Use it for support as you roll up and down.
  2. Bend your knees instead of keeping them straight during the exercise. This can stop the over-activity of the hip flexors. It is also more comfortable for those with hamstring limitations.
  3. With your knees bent, reach your hands to the back of the thighs. Now, use the strength of your arms to aid you as you roll up.

How to make the Roll Up more challenging

Using the magic circle prop during the Roll Up adds challenge and incorporates more muscles into this exercise.

Try it: add it to your Roll Up by taking the magic circle between the palms of your hands. Keep your arms straight as you gently squeeze the circle and maintain this pressure as you roll up and down. This will engage various parts of your upper body, including your lats, shoulders, chest and arms.


Before participating in any exercise program that may be described and/or made accessible in or through our website, we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician or other healthcare provider.

This site offers health, fitness and nutritional information and is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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