How to Do the Open Leg Rocker Pilates Exercise

Strengthen Your Core With This Dynamic Mat Exercise

Open Leg Rocker
Ben Goldstein

The Pilates open leg rocker is a great abdominal workout, benefiting trunk stabilization and spinal articulation. It is a Pilates exercise that requires balance and control. This exercise provides an opportunity to practice using sequential control between the upper and lower abdominals. You will need to keep your abdominals engaged in a deep scoop for the open leg rocker and use the breath to keep this rolling exercise flowing and controlled.

If you have back or neck problems, or tight hamstrings, use this exercise as a balance exercise (you can reference the Open Leg Balance) and do not do the rolling.

You may want to review tips for rolling exercises before doing open leg rocker.

Performing the Open Leg Rocker

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of performing the exercise:

  1. Begin with a spine stretch. This will help you center yourself, and stretch out your spine and your hamstrings. Sit up tall on your sit bones and extend your legs out about shoulder width apart. Flex your feet. Avoid locking your knees. Inhale and stretch out through the sides of your back through your fingers. Exhale and reach forward about shoulder height (or touch your toes), curling your spine. You may also touch the floor between your feet. Then release and continue.
  2. Bend your knees and pull in your abs. Reach to grasp your ankles. If that is difficult, you can also hold onto your calves. 
  3. Lift and extend one leg, balancing between your sit bones and tailbone, keep your abdominals activated.
  4. Lift and extend the other leg. Your legs should be shoulder-distance apart—there is a tendency in the exercise to allow the legs to be too wide, but keep them about shoulder width apart. Draw in the abdominals as much as you can and maintain balance.
  5. Inhale and roll back. On an inhale, use a deepening scoop of the abdominals and the fullness of your inhale to propel your roll back onto your shoulders. Don't roll too far back onto your neck or head. Stay in your C-curve as you roll, leaving your head and neck off the mat.
  1. Pause.
  2. Exhale and return. Remain in your C-curve and use your abdominal muscles, along with a strong exhale, to bring yourself back to an upright position. Hold here and balance.
  3. Repeat, rolling back and returning while inhaling and exhaling as described. 

Tips for Doing the Open Leg Rocker Exercise

  • If you are new to the exercise, you can begin with the knees bent. As you roll back, straighten your legs. When returning back up, bend your knees again.
  • Rolling exercises are initiated and controlled by the deepening of the abdominals, the breath, and expansion of the back in relation to the breath. They are never accomplished by throwing oneself backward from the shoulders and head. Stay in the C-curve until you come up for your balance!
  • Don't roll back onto the head and neck when rolling back.
  • After rolling back, don't bring the legs too far back overhead.
  • Keep the pelvis from rocking or tipping when returning to the starting position.
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