The original Pilates exercises require a high level of strength and athletic ability. Because of this Pilates for beginners workouts are usually modified versions of the original exercises. Although these may be similar in some ways to the original exercises, Pilates for beginners often ends up being more like mixture of posture correction and basic core stability. There’s nothing wrong with this type of program, but it’s not exactly Pilates.
Doing a modified version of a Pilates exercise doesn’t necessarily lead to being able to do the full version. For example, the ab crunch is often used as a modification for the Pilates roll up. But doing crunches isn’t going to lead to being able to do the roll up, because there’s more to the exercise than ab strength. This post builds up to the Pilates roll up step by step, using other exercises first to achieve the flexibility and controlled, flowing movement necessary for Pilates.
Benefits of the Pilates roll up
- Trains the rectus abdominis (6-pack) muscles through a greater range than a crunch
- Ab muscles also have to work eccentrically (that is, as they lengthen) to control the curling back down
- Deep core muscles have to work to stop the low back arching
- Improves spine and hamstring flexibility
- Improves coordination and movement control
Step by step Pilates for beginners – the Roll Up
Work through these 4 steps to achieve a perfect Pilates roll up and enjoy all the benefits above. See the full instructions for each step below. Once you can do the roll up, practice it regularly for strong abs and flexible spine and hamstrings.
Before you start exercising, please read these guidelines.
STEP 1 – standard crunch and hamstring stretch
The roll up requires strength in the “6-pack” muscles, which the crunch works. It also requires the ability to curl through the spine one vertebra at a time, sometimes called “segmental control”. So we’re going to start by doing crunches, focusing on making it a curling movement.
- Lie with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip distance apart
- Put your hands behind your head. You should just be supporting the head, not pulling on it. Keep your elbows out to the side.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and start to lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Concentrate on making it a curling movement, peeling the spine off the floor one segment at a time.
- When the shoulder blades have left the floor, start to reverse the movement. Again, it should be a smooth, curling movement. Ease the spine back down one vertebra at a time.
- Practice 3 times a week and aim to get up to 30 crunches
The roll-up finishing position needs good flexibility in the hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thigh), so we need to work on this.
Muscles should always be warm before stretching.. Do this stretch when you are warm from exercise or general activities like walking or household chores. Alternatively, see this post for some good warm up exercises.
- Lie on the floor with one leg bent, foot flat on the floor. Straighten the other leg and gently pull it towards you, holding onto it with both hands either on the calf or above the knee.
- Hold the position when you feel the stretch along the back of the leg.
- After holding for a count of 20, try to ease the leg in a bit further. Don’t force it, though.
- Hold for a further count of 20 and then release.
- Practice 3 times a week.
Step 2 The shoulder bridge
This exercise is good for learning segmental control, because it’s a comfortable, safe position for your back. Once you have got up to 30 crunches, start working on this. (Continue to do your crunches and hamstring stretch, though.)
- Start by lying on your back, knees bent and feet about hip distance apart.
- Press your lower back into the floor, so that your tailbone lifts.
- Now follow this movement through so that the lower back starts to peel off the floor. Concentrate on working through one vertebra at a time. You will probably find this difficult at first as parts of your spine will be less flexible.
- Continue with this movement until your weight is resting on your shoulders.
- Now reverse the movement, lowering the spine down one vertebra at a time. Control the movement and try to get movement through the whole spine.
- Repeat 5 times
- Practice 3 times a week, until you can control the movement smoothly all the way through.
Step 3 Roll down
Once you’re doing 30 crunches, have good hamstring flexibility and can do the shoulder bridge easily, you’re ready to start work on the roll up. In this step, we’re going to start in the sitting up position and roll down part of the way.
- Start by sitting with your legs together, stretched out in front. Your back should be straight. Take your arms to shoulder height, reaching forwards.
- Exhale as you engage your core muscles and start to lean backwards. Stop when you get to about halfway down, as shown in the picture above. Take a breath and exhale as you reverse the movement.
- Make sure your heels stay touching the floor
- Repeat 10 times
- Practice 3 times a week until you can do this easily
Step 4 The full roll up
Once you can do the roll down easily, you’re ready to try the roll up.
- Lie flat on the floor with your legs together, toes pointing towards the ceiling and arms stretched out above your head. Make sure your low back isn’t arching.
- Breathe in as you reach your arms up towards the ceiling.
- Breathe out as you start to roll up through the spine. Remember that you should be focusing on segmental control. It’s a smooth, curling movement, peeling the spine off the floor.
- When the whole of your spine has left the floor, keep stretching forward over your straight legs, as shown below.
- Stop when you have stretched as far as your hamstrings will allow.
- Breathe in and then breathe out as you roll back down to the starting position. Again, focus on segmental control – return one vertebra at a time onto the floor.
- Repeat 10 times
Once you can do the roll up, keep practising regularly to keep your abs in shape.
Find more Pilates for beginners on my Pinterest board:
Other posts on Pilates and core training: