How To Improve Pilates Roll Up


Part 1. How the Weak Get Strong – CORE STRENGTH

If you do Pilates then you most likely had to deal with the dreaded hitch in the Roll Up (the spot during the roll up that is really hard to get through with out using arms or lifting legs or momentum).

You can ask instructors how they do it and they help as best they could but the Roll Up is personal. So I decided to help everyone solve this problem in 2 newsletters. This is the first.

The simple answer on how to do a Roll up is to use core strength by scooping in Abs more and round the back. But if any part of your Lower Back is tight, or your Abs are weak, then Roll Up will be very difficult to do smoothly.

Not doing a smooth Roll Up could be because of injury, back or spine issues. But in this instance, let’s say its because of weak abs.

Quick anatomy lesson:
Lever: longer legs short torso – Easier to roll up.
Lever: Shorter legs long torso – Harder to roll up.

To Improve the Roll Up start by Strengthening The Weak spot:

  1. Start your Roll Up with bent knees or long legs and find that spot where you need to lift legs or hitch. STOP here and hold this position but keep legs on floor.
  2. Take a 2-3 long and full breaths here. Keep scooping your belly in and up. Lengthen arms forward to help stretch, round and open your Back even more.
  3. Roll down on to your Back. Do this mini Roll up with hold about 5 times.
For more challenge, hold position for 10 breaths then roll down on to back. Do 5 times. Do this Roll Up exercise daily for 1 week and you will see a dramatic improvement.

How to use this Roll Up progression when your in a Pilates class. See example:

Instructor: “Ok everyone lets get ready for your roll up….”

You: Get set up for your Roll up (On Back or sitting. Feet on floor or long legs). Anchor your legs, pull in the belly, Roll Up or Roll Down (your mantra is: Round my Back, Open my Back).

If you’re thinking: “Ok. Now I’m stuck. What do I do now?”

Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t feel defeated. A good Roll Up takes time.

Do this next:

#1 Stay in your stuck position for 1 more second and try to round your Back more (creating space in the Back)
#2 Then hold backs of legs (use this position as an anchor to open Back more) to finish your roll up.

Variation: If your legs are straight  knee Roll up variation do steps 1-2


Part 2. The tight spot – STRETCH THE BACK

Is your back is tight? Then try this. If you have lower back pain click here for pain free solutions.

  1. Bend your knees and start your Roll Up.
  2. When you get to the hard part, put your hands under your thighs (wide elbows) not to help you roll up, but to anchor your hips so you can round your back more and stretch the mid back. Placing hands under your thighs helps with this feeling opposition.
  3. Hold thighs and scoop in Abdominals more. You want to feel like you are moving the front of your rib cage into your back (aka. Round-your-back).
  4. Continue your Roll up and prepare to Roll Down.
  5. Roll Down. Hold your thighs and scoop Abs in more and stretch your back if you feel like you are going to collapse down to the floor.

TOOLS: Using a Thereaband for Control

  1. Put a Theraband around both feet and start your roll up.
  2. No. Don’t Roll Up all the way (that’s the easy way).
  3. Use the resistance of the Theraband to help stretch the back while holding the position. Keep back of neck long, not chin to chest. (Don’t compress the throat).
  4. Continue your Roll Up after you feel like you are opening and stretching the back
Gymnastic tip to nail the Roll Up trick from the good ‘old days
My Gymnastics coach (back in the day) put a bowl of water on the top of my thighs (quads) and told me to Roll Up/Roll down without spilling the water. As you can imagine, I had wet legs for a long time until I learned how to stretch and open my lower and mid back and Roll Up using my upper body without moving my legs.

And remember. Don’t give up. Nailing the Roll Up takes time and dedication.


FitEngine Fitness offers small group Pilates and Stretch classes in NYC

Click Link for more information.


Article by Tasha Norman (certified Pilates Instructor (PAI) and Stretch/Flexibility Instructor. CEO FitEngine, Founder NYC Dance Week. Mantra: Anything is possible). Yup, I have a day job and I also love teaching and sharing my knowledge of fitness and body conditioning. As a former athlete, dancer and gymnast, I’ve suffered and recovered from many injuries. I teach because I love sharing my knowledge and insight to improve bodies and lives.