3 New Ways to Roll Like a Ball

Pilates Rolling Just Got Harder and More Effective

Pilates Rolling like a Ball
Rolling Like a Ball - Photo by Jackie Nieves. Real Pilates

The classical Pilates move "rolling like a ball" is familiar to most people who have taken a group Pilates lesson. Joseph Pilates included this move as one of his first five exercises. The importance of this move as in indicator of spinal mobility, abdominal strength, and body control cannot be overstated. Pilates himself asserted that "if your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young."

This move, done properly, is an ideal move to lengthen your back, wake up your abs, and coordinate your entire body, mind, and breath to work together. Do ten reps and you are ready for the day. Alas, it's not always so easy to get it right.

For those exercisers with tight back muscles, rolling back and forth moves are awkward and sometimes bumpy as your spine jumps from one bone to a much higher one, skipping all the tight spots in between. On the other end of the spectrum are the loose and flexible spines that simply roll smoothly back and forth but never really feel the abdominal work that is key to performing this move.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, you now have options and opportunities to master this move once and for all. Read on.

The Original

As a recap, the original move is done seated at the edge of a mat with enough room to roll behind you. Curl up tight and grab your ankles. Curl your abdominals in, duck your head down and pull the knees and shins close to the torso. Lift the feet to balance and then begin to roll back and forth. With each return find your balance at the top and suspend yourself before repeating.

Change Your Position

Each spine and abdomen differs and positional adjustments can change everything. By tweaking your position we can use gravity and leverage to make the move harder or easier. If you aren't getting a challenge, you should be. If the move is just too hard, you need a fix.

Solution: Move your hands one way or the other as described below.

If you are of the bendy-spine variety of human your rolling exercise may feel futile and clumsy. Back and forth you go, crunched in and over without so much as a blink from your abdominals. This variation is for you. Instead of holding your ankles with one hand each, criss cross your wrists and hold the opposite ankle. By compressing your position smaller and tighter you will have to use your abs to help you return.

If your spine is of the tight variety, change your grip from the ankles to behind the thighs. Giving your spine some space to round and curl will allow for a smoother roll and promote more mobility in those too tight spots in your lower back. You'll feel an immediate improvement.

Change Your Tempo

Momentum is a dirty word in Pilates. Speed your way through your routine and you'll miss out on the bulk of the benefit. If you've found rolling like a ball to be easily accomplished, it's likely due to a tempo choice.

Solution: Timing is everything. For this to work, you'll need to count in your head. Rather than time your backward and forward to match, you'll take just one count to roll back and up to 3 counts to roll back up. If you find yourself suddenly struggling to get back up, then it's working.

Change Your Surface

Lightweight Pilates or yoga mats which are commonly used at home or upholstered mats favored by Pilates studios are both hard surfaces. Working on a hard surface teaches your body to use a specific amount of force with each repetition. Depending upon your mobility and strength, this surface might not be giving you the best workout.

A plush or more cushioned surface will force you to work harder on the return upright. Rolling back and forth is a product of feedback. Whatever force or surface your spine meets during the rolling back and forth portion will be met with equal resistance in order to propel you back up. If your rolling surface provides less tension or feedback, the roll must be accomplished with far more strength and control.

Solution: Find an old school gym mat with a softer feel, one that compresses when you roll on it. You will find this exercise becomes suddenly very challenging.

Rolling like a ball is a classical Pilates move with lots of options. Use that one that suits your needs best.

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