How to Do the Supported Roll Back in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals

Level: Beginner

Supported roll back is not just an ab workout. It's an awareness training tool. You can use this mat exercise to help you tune into your abdominals and how to use them to create a deep scoop. If roll up is difficult for you, as it is for many people, supported roll back is the perfect preliminary exercise.


Like other rolling exercises, supported roll back helps make your spine more flexible. Doing it helps you learn how to lengthen your spine and use your ab muscles to support it—both of which help keep that spine healthy as you go about your daily activities.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin sitting upright on your sit bones. The legs are parallel, with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your thighs just above the back of the knee. Engage your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles so that the upper body is easily supported. The shoulders are dropped and the neck is relaxed.

Flex your feet. This will help keep the backs of the legs engaged, and maintain a connection between your heel and sit bones as you roll back. Take a minute to breathe fully, focusing on length up and down the spine.

  1. Pull the lower abdominals in deeply to initiate the move. Let your back expand and create an "up and over" C-curve in response. Keep the chest open and shoulders down.
  2. Drop back, keeping your curve as you continue to pull in the abs. Use the support of the hands to keep yourself using your abs, and do not allow the back or neck to get overly involved. Notice where different parts of the abs engage. See how deep you can make the curve of your back without hunching your shoulders. Go as far back as you can go smoothly. If your abs start to shake or your neck gets tense, back off a bit.
  3. Initiate the return to upright with the lower abs. Keep your C-curve until you are up on your sit bones again, then send the tailbone down to the floor as you allow the spine to unfurl toward the sky, shoulders dropping.
  4. Repeat 4 to 6 times.

Common Mistakes

If you pay attention to your body, roll back can reveal weak points and places that you might be tempted to try to let your back, shoulders or neck do some of the work (instead of the abs).

Collapsing Back​

Remember that this is a scoop exercise, not a collapsing movement. It is a lift and pull back of the abdominals, with a corresponding lengthening curve of the spine as you roll back off the sit bones.

Knees Falling Outward

Keep the midline of the body in mind so that the legs stay parallel, with straight alignment from toe to ankle, to knee and hip.

Modifications and Variations

Supported roll back is a good prep for other rolling exercises, but you can still modify it to make it work for you.

Need a Modification?

If it is uncomfortable to flex your feet, keep them flat.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you get the sequence of the exercise, you may want to play with how the breath works to support the flow of movement. You can learn a lot by trying a few different breathing patterns with the same exercise.

Try any of the following patterns. Each one will offer you a different insight into how to work with the breath to deepen your scoop, use the breath to fill out your back, and to enhance control and flow in an exercise.

  • Inhale to go back. Exhale to return.
  • Inhale to go back. Hold and exhale. Inhale to return in the curve. Exhale to sit upright.
  • Exhale to go back. Inhale to return.
  • Exhale to go back. Hold and inhale. Exhale to come forward. Inhale to sit upright.

Safety and Precautions

This is a beginner exercise, but it still may not be right for you if you have a back or neck injury. If it causes pain or discomfort, avoid it until you can discuss it with your doctor or physical therapist.

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.