Supported Roll Back Pilates Mat Exercise

Take the time to get to know this exercise and you will find that it has multiple uses as an awareness training tool, as well as an ab workout. You can use Supported Roll Back to help you tune into your abdominals and how to use them to create a deep scoop. Roll Back will reveal weak points and places that you might be tempted to try to let your back, shoulders or neck get in the act.​

You may want to use Supported Roll Back as a time to really go through the Pilates principles: breath, centering, concentration, control, precision and flow to see how they are really operating in your practice. At the end of the exercise instructions, I have included a set of suggestions for working with breath patterns in Supported Roll Back.

If Roll Up is a difficult exercise for you, as it is for many people, Supported Roll Back is the perfect preliminary exercise.

Set Up

pilates pictures
photo Lara Kolesar, by Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios
  • 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 a connection between your heel and sit bones as you roll back. If this is uncomfortable, it's OK, keep the feet flat.
  • Take a minute to breathe fully, focusing on length up and down the spine.

Before you begin your roll back, remember that this is a scoop exercise, not a collapsing movement. It is a lift and pull back of the abdominal muscles, with a corresponding lengthening curve of the spine as you roll back off the sit bones.

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

Begin the Roll Back

pilates pictures
photo Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios
  • Pull the lower abdominals in deeply to initiate the move. Start very low, just above your pubic bone. Let your back expand and create an "up and over" curve in response. Keep the chest open and shoulders down.
  • Keep your curve as you drop back and maintain a deep pull in of the abdominal area. 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 your curve without hunching your shoulders.
  • Go as far back as you can go smoothly. If your abs start to shake (which is OK), or your neck gets tense, back off a bit.

The Return

Pilates pictures
by Peter Kramer, courtesy Kolesar Studios

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.

Repeat: 4-6 times. Work again with a breath pattern.

Breathing Patterns

pilates pictures
courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Once you get the sequence of the movement 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. Just be clear about which pattern you want to use before you start.

Breathing Patterns:

  1. Inhale to go back. Exhale to return.
  2. Inhale to go back. Hold and Exhale. Inhale to return in the curve. Exhale to sit upright.
  3. Exhale back. Inhale to return.
  4. Exhale back. Hold and Inhale. Exhale to come forward. Inhale to sit upright.
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