How to Do the Roll Over in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals

Level: Intermediate

As with so many Pilates exercises, roll over is all about control and using the core to work and strengthen the entire body. It is part of the classical mat sequence as developed by Joseph Pilates.


When you do the roll over correctly, it will give your back and hamstrings a good stretch, and make your abdominal muscles work very hard as well. Rolling exercises help improve the flexibility of your spine. Joseph Pilates even believed they could calm the nervous system and help you sleep better.


Watch Now: How to Do a Perfect Pilates Roll Over

Step-by-Step Instructions

Lie on your back on a mat with your arms along your sides, palms down. Your neck is long with lots of space between your shoulders and ears, and your chest is open.

  1. Inhale and extend your legs straight up toward the ceiling at a 90-degree angle, keeping them together (touching along the inner thigh and knee). Toes are pointed.
  2. Exhale and lift your legs slightly, tilting your pelvis backward.
  3. Reach your legs up and over your head. Keep your hands pressed down on the mat and end with your feet and legs parallel to the ground.
  4. Exhale and slowly lower your legs back to the 90-degree position, placing one vertebra at a time onto the mat.
  5. Repeat at least 3 times.

Common Mistakes

One of the keys to this exercise is to remember that it is roll over, not flop over. Throwing your legs over your head might be fun if you can do it, but it is not a great way to develop core strength. It can also hurt your neck and back.

Straining the Neck

Keep your neck long, but relaxed, as you lift your legs. When your legs are raised, your body weight rests on your shoulders and upper back, not on your neck. Your upper body stays pressed to the mat throughout the exercise, with your shoulders stable and your chest open.

Rushing Through the Exercise

As with any Pilates exercise, you should move with control. Use your muscles, not momentum, to raise and lower your legs.

Modifications and Variations

It's important to practice doing the roll over with correct form, but you can also adapt and vary it to suit your needs and abilities.

Need a Modification?

If your hamstrings are tight and you can't straighten your legs, bend your knees slightly instead of pointing your legs straight up toward the ceiling. You can also put a folded towel under your hips to support them until you build more abdominal strength.

Up for a Challenge?

Try roll over with your legs slightly apart (no more than hip width) as you lift them. Eventually, you can add more challenging rolling exercises, such as crab.

Safety and Precautions

Warm up before you do this exercise (wall roll downsupported roll back, and Cat-Cow are good choices).

If you have back or neck issues, be careful with roll over. It may not be right for you.

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.