How to Do the Open Leg Rocker in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Open Leg Rocker
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Rocker With Open Legs

Targets: Balance and spinal mobility

Equipment Needed: Well-padded mat

Level: Beginner

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.


Use the Open Leg Rocker to massage and stretch your back and train your core muscles to be engaged. Joseph Pilates said that Open Leg Rocker helped cleanse the lungs and that it would help you sleep restfully. It is a move that also allows you to practice the control that is central to Pilates.


Watch Now: Strengthen Your Core with the Pilates Open Leg Rocker

Step-by-Step Instructions

This is a mat exercise, so you can perform it anywhere you can lay out your mat.

  1. Begin with a Spine Stretch. This will help you center yourself, as well as 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.
  2. Exhale and reach forward about shoulder height (or touch your toes), curling your spine. You may also touch the floor between your feet. Release and continue.
  3. Bend your knees and pull in your abs. Reach to grasp your ankles. If that is difficult, you can also hold onto your calves. 
  4. Lift and extend one leg, balancing between your sit bones and tailbone, keep your abdominals activated.
  5. 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, so try pay particular attention to your positioning. Draw in the abdominals as much as you can and maintain balance.
  6. 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.
  7. Pause.
  8. 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.
  9. Repeat, rolling back and returning while inhaling and exhaling as described. 

Common Mistakes

To do this exercise correctly, work to avoid these common errors.

Not Doing Preparatory Exercises

Don't attempt the Open Leg Rocker until you can do the Open Leg Balance while keeping your back straight and your legs fully extended.

Throwing Yourself Back

Rolling exercises are never accomplished by throwing yourself back from the shoulders and head. Stay in the C-curve until you come up for your balance. Your roll is initiated and controlled by the deepening of the abdominals, the breath, and expansion of the back in relation to the breath.

Coming Too Far Forward

After rolling back, don't bring the legs too far back overhead. They should go no farther than over your shoulders.

Sloppy Line

Keep the pelvis from rocking or tipping when returning to the starting position. Focus on your midline.

Modifications and Variations

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.

It's good to have a surface that is well-padded. If you have only thinner mats available, you might stack a couple of them together.

Safety and Precautions

If you have back or neck problems, or tight hamstrings, use this exercise as an open leg balance exercise and do not do the rolling. You might also avoid it if you have a sensitive tailbone.

Do not roll onto your neck under any circumstances. Stop if you feel any pain.

Do not roll onto your neck under any circumstances. Stop if you feel any pain.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.