Pilates Mat Exercise #2: The Roll Up

Pilates Mat Exercise #2: The Roll Up

The Roll Up

The Roll Up deserves full credit for my immersion in/obsession with the Pilates Method.

In my very first Mat class, it was the Roll Up – the second exercise, mind you – that absorbed my attention in an instant.

OMG, disaster. What is. Happening??!

How could I fail so miserably, so early in the hour? Am I not flexible and strong?

The Pilates Method reveals valuable information about our body. We learn volumes about our strengths and weaknesses. A stunning attribute, really.

However, at first we may not appreciate our new intel.

We're gonna Roll Up like it's 1999

Back in the day, I could only complete the exercise when I wore my heavy Dr. Martens boots. Sadly, I could not wear them to class, but I would sometimes put them on when I would practice at home. Then I could roll up and down no problem and my legs would stay on the mat. I think I found it soothing…

But I agree, not ideal.

Jennifer Kries' The Method Pilates Precision Toning series assured me that someday I would be able to complete the Roll Up, so I kept at it, the Roll Up, and my Pilates classes.

Fast (Up and) Forward

Today, of course in true Pilates fashion, the Roll Up is one of my very favorite exercises. Using the strap on my proper Pilates Mat has really opened up the tight spot in my back, allowing me to find success in the exercise even on a hotel room floor.

Up against the wall

So if you are working at home to perfect your Roll Up, bereft of a Pilates studio mat with strap and handles, what's to be done? Use a wall to get more out of this vital exercise than mere frustration.

  1. Lie down on your mat so that you can place your feet on a wall. Heels on the floor, feet and legs together.
  2. I like to keep my knees just a little bent. If your Roll Up is not perfect (and whose is) sometimes you may find yourself sliding away from the wall as you roll back down. The knees bent helps in this regard. It will help you to open the low back, potentially the culprit in this whole Roll Up debacle.
  3. Push your feet into the wall as you begin your Roll Up. If your back is tight, you may not get all the way up with your feet still pressing on the wall. This is okay. You will probably get a good stretch in your back and over time you'll roll up a little more.
  4. Continue to reach your feet, heels especially, pressing into the wall as you roll all the way down onto the mat. The reach through your heels will help you to find the seat and lengthen the lower back.

The wall is approximating the assist you get from the strap on the Mat, and as such is a bit unforgiving.

But I bet you're up to the challenge. Give it a go.

Pilates: what kills our ego, does indeed make us stronger.

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  1. Hahaha, “I wore my heavy Dr. Martens boots.” I almost spit out my coffee!! That is fantastic. 🙂 Thanks for the Monday morning humor and inspiration.

  2. I’m forever voicing warnings about the roll up when teaching because it is such a deal-breaker. I once had a faithful student in my group class who could not roll through his back without pain but who would not stop doing it despite my ceaseless reminders. To me this is the challenge of the roll-up in a nutshell: that it reveals something important about our spine that we are often blind to, but we have to be paying careful enough attention to get the message. These days, I ask folks to focus on continuous breath and to really pay attention to the motion of their spine. And so it goes, the improvements are gained, one vertebra at a time.

    • Eliza,
      That is a great description of the Roll Up – ‘a deal breaker’ LOL. It’s amazing how clear the info is from this exercise, that we are, as you say ‘blind to.’ Perfect!
      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experiences 🙂 Now off to the Mat, right? xox

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