How to Do Rolling Like a Ball in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Rolling back

Targets: Abdominals

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Intermediate

A classic Pilates exercise, rolling like a ball, is almost always included in Pilates mat classes. Some people can roll up like a pill bug and have lots of fun with this exercise right away. For those with low backs that don't round as well, rolling exercises are a little more challenging, though they are worth the effort to develop. Supported roll back is excellent preparation for this exercise. You will need to maintain a good C-curve scoop of your abdominals. Make sure that you are on a surface that is padded. A thin mat on a hard floor is not enough padding for the spine. In the classical Pilates mat exercise sequence, this exercise follows one leg circle and comes just before one leg stretch. You can make this exercise part of a home Pilates mat routine, and this is similar to the roll over.


Rolling exercises stimulate the spine, deeply work the abdominals, and tune you into the inner flow of movement and breath in the body. You will learn to be in control of your movement and find your natural balance point. You will be giving yourself a back massage, which can relieve tension.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Sit on your mat and clasp your hands over your shins, just above the ankle.
  2. Drop your shoulders, widen your back, deepen your abdominals and make a nice curve of your spine. Don't tuck your head; your neck is part of the long curve. But do duck your chin slightly and keep your eyes on your navel.
  3. Lift your feet off the mat and balance on—or just behind—your sit bones.
  4. Inhale: Pull the lower abs in and up to get yourself going and roll back on your inhale. Roll only to the shoulders. Do not roll onto the neck.
  5. Pause.
  6. Exhale: Stay deeply scooped with your spine curved. Use your exhale and abdominals to return to upright.
  7. Repeat five to six times.

Common Mistakes

You may find that you are having these problems with your rolling.

Coming up Crooked

If you are coming up crooked, you may be working your abs unevenly, or pulling more on one side than the other with your arms. Try to focus on the center line. This will improve as you practice.

Bumping Instead of Rolling

Even some top Pilates teachers bump and thump rather than do a smooth roll. This exercise calls for a deep release of the lower back into a full curve. The curve is a response to the deepening scoop of the abs. It may take time to learn to let this happen. In the meantime, a tight low back can mean that the roll is more of a thump-thump action. Play with just the first part for a deepening of the low abs and a corresponding fullness of the back.

If the bump/thump is very intense, don't do it. Work on exercises like supported roll back and finding your C-curve, as well as all of the other abdominal strengtheners. Eventually, you will find the place where the back opens up in response to the depth and support of the abs.

Throwing Upper Body Backward

Never initiate the roll by throwing your upper body backward. This is a very common mistake. Keep your rolled position throughout the exercise.

Modifications and Variations

This exercise requires preparation and practice, which can pay off.

Need a Modification?

If you have not done rolling before, you might want to do supported roll back first. You can also do this exercise without rolling back. Sit tall on the mat with neutral spine and practice creating your C-curve with your feet still on the mat. Then you can progress to lifting your feet from the mat so you are balancing rather than rolling.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have mastered rolling like a ball, you can go on to enjoy some of the more advanced Pilates rolling exercises. These include open leg rocker.

Safety and Precautions

If you have back or neck problems, stick with supported roll back and pass on the full rolling exercises. This exercise is not recommended for anyone with high blood pressure, low blood pressure, glaucoma, osteoporosis, or herniated disc. If you feel any neck or back pain, end this exercise. Do not put any pressure on your head and neck or you risk an injury.

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.