Don’t Blame the Exercise: The Roll Up Edition

Don't Blame the Exercise: The Roll Up Edition

I continually aspire to contribute valuable and accurate Pilates content to the information superhighway.

For this reason – fasten your seat belts – this post may be a bit of a rant.

But it's a rant of LOVE ♥

The Gift that is the Pilates Method

The Pilates Exercises are wonderfully therapeutic, but Pilates is not Physical Therapy.

Pilates keeps you in tip-top physical condition, but forget everything you thought you knew about fitness.

Pilates is different.

The Pilates Method can be successfully applied to each and every individual.

And while Pilates is ultimately wonderful for the body, there may be exercises/positions that are not suitable for a particular individual right now or ever.

Although I never say never…

Sadly, what is necessarily altered for one person is often blanketed over an entire population.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

I've noticed various words used to describe movement and the position of the body.

Some words can be controversial in the Pilates industry as I mentioned in my recent post on the Short Box.

The Reach is a name of an exercise and no one seems to mind. Call it ‘Flat Back' and whoa mama you've jumped into a swirling maelstrom of dissension.

What's a gal to do?

The Fear of Flexion

For the record, ‘flexion' is not a Pilates word. Can you imagine Joe Pilates saying it?

However I do believe he said “Long the Back!”

Hmmm… our old friend Length again…


  1. the action of bending or the condition of being bent, especially the bending of a limb or joint.
    early 17th century: from Latin flexio(n-), from flectere ‘to bend.’

I often hear the word ‘flexion' used to describe the effect of the body bending forward.

In Pilates, although we have many exercises that have a round shape, we are not simply allowing our bodies to bend forward willy nilly. There is no Pilates inherent in the pedestrian act of flexing the spine.

We are not teaching people – or even allowing them – to slump.

True, we do spend considerable time as humans reaching and bending forward.

Let's learn a few skills to do it properly.

The Lift that Keeps on Lifting

Remember we're defying gravity and to do this we must lift LIFT LIFT like there's no tomorrow.

That's why it works!

Pilates is decompressive to the spine and joints.

Which brings me to the much maligned Pilates Mat exercise: the Roll Up.

Poor Roll Up… I never liked you very much at the beginning, but now you're one of my besties! Sad for you to be saddled with society's slouchiness.

The Roll Up is not flexion – it is the lifting up of the entire trunk of the body and moving it forward.

The Roll Up is a movement governed by the informed mind, the alerted intelligence to create an action of lift and guide the body through this specific maneuver.

flexion = the gross movement of the body bending forward

lift = the mind and body working together

The Essence of the Roll Up

What's really going on here?

The Pilates exercises are exaggerated versions of our everyday movements.

In the Roll Up we learn the valuable skill of sitting up from a lying down position using our muscles.


We use this skill each and every morning when we sit up to get out of bed.

To learn this skill we must maximize the lift in the waistline which is the essence of the Roll Up.

Broken down to the smallest atom of movement, a very first baby version of the Roll Up could look like this:

Don't Blame the Exercise: The Roll Up Edition

Do you see the beginnings of the Half Roll Down?

Next you would want to keep your lift in there, defy gravity and control your descent to the Mat.

Don't Blame the Exercise: The Roll Up Edition

To get back up, the same lift will pick you up from the Mat. Trying to bend will only weigh you down…but Pilates within that bending position will pick you up!

Take from sinky-low-back little ol' me…nothing feels more delicious than the Roll Up.

It's our first shot at lengthening the back and the first big lifting stretch of our Pilates Mat workout.

What if we named it the Lift-your-head-up-lift-yourself up?

Got Roll Up probs?

Leave me a comment and let's chat it up!

Related posts:

Pilates Inspiration Delivered Every Week

Like what you read here? Get new posts, workshop updates + good vibes in your inbox.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  1. Cindy Lewis says

    I can not do roll ups. At. All. Ever. Never. I have had 4 major abdominal surgeries, spine surgery for herniated disc at L4 and an upper back injury 40 years ago. I have a serious “lock up” or flat spot in my spine and simply can not do these stupid things. I get stuck doing other things on the tower and reformer too. I can’t do teasers on the reformer either because I can’t get up. I can on the tower with the bar, but I can sit in a V all day long, but rising up to the V is not possible for me. Any suggestions? I take class 2x a week for 2 years now along with my PT exercises, walking and a teeny bit of yoga( hate yoga) here and there.

    • Hi Cindy,

      Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts and questions here. Please know that I can only suggest so much without seeing you move in person, but I think you could benefit from one of the versions of the Roll Up – as well as the other exercises you mention.
      For the Roll Up, I would suggest starting in the seated position like the photo in the post. Keeping your lift just go back to your point of control (wherever that may be) and then try to augment your lift as you return. If you could use a strap on your feet like I show in the photo it can help to open up the back over time. You’ll use your lift to pull yourself away from the strap to keep it tight and it can assist you. Slowly with frequent practice I think your point of control will increase until you can get all the way to the mat. But stay with where you are for right now and just mine the most out of this version of the Roll Up.
      The Tower can help you with the sticky spot in your back as long as it feels okay. You may benefit more from not going all the way up in the Tower but finding out where the stuck part is and staying a bit around there… if this is confusing and you’d like to have a look on Skype of course just let me know.
      Also on the Long Box Teaser – you can work on the seated part and the rolling down part only. You can work on these one or two elements without doing the rolling up part for a while. And the Cadillac Teaser is a glorious one. It may be the best one for now.
      Take care of yourself and keep up the good work. Again thank you so much for chatting here as I am happy to help 🙂

  2. Brilliant, as usual… You never cease to amaze me. This is why I teach roll up from sitting up instead of lying down, it’s so much easier for people to “get it” if they’re not having to heave-ho off the floor. You should come visit me sometime where I work, at red Mountain resort in Ivins Utah. Google it. It makes a nice vacation.❤️

    • Oh Steph you are too kind! Thank you so much for your compliments on this post. I am so familiar with the heave-ho – perfect description. And thanks for the invitation – I will google. If you think there would be interest in hosting an event or workshop in your location please let me know as I am relatively close by. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts here. Cheers to you!

  3. Any thoughts on helping beginners transition from a half roll down to the full roll up. I have a class of brand new Pilates students. They are all ages & shapes. They get the half roll down, but trying to come up from a lying position…oh my! It’s hard for them and I would love some tips on how to break it down or help them in the work to achieve their full roll up potential!

    • Hi Martha,

      Yes I have some suggestions for the transition to the full version of the Roll Up in a Mat class setting. I myself was in such a class when I began Pilates. My back is stiff and the Roll Up was really impossible for me at the beginning. Over time it got better, but it’s nice when you can have a studio mat with the strap for assistance. I know I would have loved one at the time. But of course this is not always possible in a Mat class setting.

      Now when I teach Mat classes – mostly in the Neck Pull – but you could do it in the Roll Up as well – I let the students pair up and have one person be the Strap for the other. This way they will learn about the oppositional forces – the 2-way stretch – as well. The person being the Strap can gently pull on the ankles or heels and the student doing the Roll Up can learn to pull in (lift!) with the stomach to progress and get more out of the exercise.
      And students love to get together for these types of exercises…adds to the fun because often it is a hard exercise for many people.
      Give it a try and see what you think 🙂
      Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts and questions here!

  4. Amazing!
    You know how to use words.
    Thank you very much.

  5. Angel Davis says

    I like the new name….may take a while to catch on huh?Lift your head up lift yourself up…or get up long damn it!? Or get yourself up and move less like a robot….
    You make my day!

    • LOL – let’s see if the name catches on – I owe you an email- thank you so much for writing me a sweet note. Please know there is a big hug for you from me – for now virtually – but hopefully we can see each other in person for reals 🙂

  6. “Long the Back!” = Classic. Since you guided me Friday on the Mat, specifically, the Roll Up, Neck Pull, etc. everything is different; like a whole new ball game. Mainly, the “gently pull yourself up via the thighs to keep the back long” and “stop when you loose strap tension” has completely changed my mind and body focus on how I get myself up while staying lifted! Quality.not.Quantity baby! I was (am) a big slumper (still working on that!). The “stacked hands” on the base of the skull…”lift-your-head-up-lift-yourself up” … GAME CHANGER! Man, I love this Pilates thing 🙂 Thanks so much! xoxoxo

    • OMG this is such good news! It is a constant lesson for myself as well – there can always be more lift! It was almost worth breaking my toe – my lift in Frog and Circles on the Reformer got so much better and it has totally changed my Leg Springs on the Cadillac and my Short Spine, Long Spine and High Frog on the Reformer. And it all simply more strength and more lift. Good for you!!! xox See you soon my Friday goddess…

  7. Alessandra says

    What a great post???????????????? and what a great exercise!! I’ve struggled with the roll up since my first matwork class and still find it challenging today with my tight low back! Recently I’ve found that if I am patient and work through exercises to find length and release in my back first, as you’ve discussed previously ????????- I can better connect to the #2waystretch which produces a less clunky roll up than usual!! It’s become another ongoing project, ????along with the short box… But of course it’s all #connected???? As you say – we only have one exercise…. #rockon Andrea???? #pilatesgeeksunite

    • Alessandra –

      Me too – the Roll Up was my nemesis when I was in my first Mat class! And thank you for your kind words on the post – I do have a great love for the Roll Up now 🙂 And yes #itisallconnected I used to be scared in Mat class for the Neck Pull and wanted to see how the Roll Up was gonna go… LOL Thanks so much for chatting here and when we see each other I will share some more Roll Up – how to be round – tips! xox

      • Alessandra says

        Excellent! Looking forward to more round-ness!
        #pilatesgeeksunite #LAedition!! #bringiton!!

  8. Hi, I’m a super beginner doing pilates in my living room. I cant seem to get enough lift to bring my arms close enough to wrap my arms around my thighs. i get close enough to put my hands barely on my thighs, but it doesn’t give me enough assistance to finish the lift. If I try to force it by using hand strength or thigh muscles, my feet come off the ground. I dont really have big thighs so I can’t figure out what the problem is! Could it be my back is too stiff or my arms are abnormally short? Any thoughts?

    • Hi Kate,

      Thanks for your question. Please know that without actually seeing you my answer is speculation, but I suspect your back may be a bit stiff to roll up from lying down…so there’s a really nice 1st version of the Roll Up called the Half Roll Down. It’s also in this post and in one of the photos. Essentially you’ll begin sitting up with your knees bent and your feet on the floor, planted firmly. You might even secure your feet under a piece of furniture or have a friend hold your ankles as a help. Okay, sit up as tall as you can with your hands behind your thighs, pull your stomach in and bring your head toward your knees. Just move yourself toward the mat behind you until your arms straighten (you’ll go about halfway down probably). Pause and pull your stomach in again. Pretend you could leave your stomach on the mat behind you as you come back up. Exhaling at this point may be helpful as well to bend yourself. See what you think. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts and questions here 🙂

  9. Hi Andrea, I’m absolutely loving all of your blog posts, it’s helping me so much with my understanding of the work, I too have a bit of a Pilates obsession :-p and love the original work. I can honestly say, Pilates has made me quite comfortable in my own skin, even 15 mins of Matwork per day can change a persons body – functionally, aesthetically you name it, mentally…I LOVE this work. None of this ‘bum lift’ in the mirror for a better – whatever, you do the whole routine and you uniformly develop in a graceful way (sigh), and it can be really cost effective too long term for your health. A few years ago I was a bit of a cash cow, paying quite a bit of $$ for privates, small group classes etc until I suddenly found I could no longer be so extravagant and stopped. After a year of feeling sorry for myself, I wiped all the dust from off of my Peter Fiasca Classical Pilates DVDs and the Romana’s ones too and watched them to jog my memory, thinking I would never get up to those exercises again. Needless say with regular practice I have redeveloped my Matwork practice, and can do the Powerhouse Mat Challenge (with the Crab) – the DVD (with Kathi Ross-Nash in the blue unitard I think it is) and I am invigorated and challenged each day with this work. Overtime, and with out any of the equipment I’ve been doing the Romana’s footwork daily (from the DVD) and strengthening my feet which is very exciting, not to mention my body awareness and everything else. I’ve earned my right to do privates / small group work again, and will be a better spender this time round too – as in there is a lot you can do yourself before you pay for the additional help and guidance. I hope that makes sense. My body is changing, and I’m talking more about functionality being my main focus, the aesthetics is just an added bonus. I can honestly say that I live each day to get up and do the mat work – the challenge and the improvements to my life on every level is so rewarding, I almost don’t want to die one day as I won’t be able to do my Pilates Matwork and that’s the truth. I cannot wait to go back to small group classes soon too. Thank you so much for these great posts on the original work.

    • Talia,

      Wow – thank you so much for sharing with us a little about your Pilates journey. I too dearly love the Pilates Mat exercises. I love the Reformer as well, but there is just something magical about you and the Mat and how will you do today?
      Pilates has it all – in my opinion. It’s great for the longevity of the body and the fringe benefits of looking good and tall and lifted and toned are a nice bonus. You said it all so beautifully 🙂 Thanks for your kind words on my blog and I am honored to have you along on the Pilates path. xox

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.