A Step-By-Step Guide to the Pilates Roll Up Exercise


Woman practicing yoga on an exercise mat
Eric Audtras/ONOKY/Getty Images

Lie on the floor with your legs straight and together, arms by your sides. Take a few deep breaths allowing your belly to drop in toward the floor with your exhales.

When you are ready, let in your shoulder blades slide down your back as you bring your arms over your head so that your finger tips are pointing to the wall behind you. Don't take your hands so far back that the ribs pop up, keep the ribs integrated in the front.

This is your beginning position.


pilates exercise
inhale to begin rolling up. courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Let your stay shoulders down as you bring your arms up back up over head. As your arms pass your ears let your chin drop into the head nod as your head and upper spine join the motion to curl up. Feel like you are curling into yourself. Your abs are well engaged at this point.


pilates roll up
exhale to continue the roll up. courteys of Kolesar Studios

Deepen the scoop of the abdominals as you exhale. Knit your ribs together in front, and in one smooth motion, roll your body in an "up and over" motion toward your toes.
Your gaze will be down as you keep your head in line with the curve of the spine. Your shoulders stay down with the scapula settled on the back.

While you are curving your whole spine from both ends, do not tuck your pelvis too much here. That will make it hard to get up, and make your feet fly up instead of your upper body.

Reach for your toes. Keep your form: Your legs are straight, your abs are pulled in, your spine is long, your chest is open and your shoulders are down (not slammed down, just down).

It is an acceptable modification to allow the legs to bend slightly.

This is the point where some people have trouble with their feet flying up. If this is an issue for you, please see Master the Roll Up Tips. If possible, train with a mat that has an ankle strap.


pilates roll up
Courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Bring your breath fully into your pelvis and back as you pull the lower abs in, reach your tailbone under and begin to unfurl, vertebrae by vertebrae, down to the floor. The inhale initiates this motion until you are about half way down.

Continue to set one vertebrae after another down on the floor. The key is to keep your upper body curve as you go down slowly and sequentially.

Your arms are still outstretched and following the natural line of the shoulders as you roll down.

Be sure to keep the legs on the floor and don't let them fly up as you roll down.

(Our model is holding a small, weighted bar. It helps give feedback to the core, but it is not required for this exercise)


pilates exercise
courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Once your shoulders arrive on the floor, your arms go with your head as they reach back to starting position (ribs down, down, down).

Repeat the exercise up to six times. Do it with flow.

If roll up is giving you trouble, please read Tips for Mastering the Roll Up.

In the traditional Pilates mat sequence, roll up is followed by roll over.