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Movement Monday: Mastering the Pilates Roll-Up with Mindful Breathing

Malcolm demonstrating the Roll-Up, focusing on perfecting his form in a controlled Roll Up
Malcolm in action, showcasing the Roll-Up , emphasising core strength and spinal alignment.

As Pilates teachers, we often encourage our students to start the week strong by focusing on form and core engagement. Movement Monday is an ideal time to spotlight the classic Pilates exercise: the Roll-Up. This exercise is integral for building both deep and superficial muscle strength and offers a wonderful demonstration of the body's capability for controlled, fluid movement.

Understanding the Pilates Roll-Up

The Roll-Up is a foundational Pilates movement originally performed on the mat. It targets the abdominal muscles, promoting spinal flexibility and enhancing control over the body's core. The exercise begins flat on the back, with legs extended and arms overhead. The aim is to peel the spine off the mat vertebra by vertebra, stretching forward over the legs, then curling back down with control.

Modifications for Safety

It's crucial to recognise that each student’s body has its own needs and limitations. While the Roll-Up is traditionally performed from a lying position, starting from a seated position can serve as a helpful modification. This adjustment is particularly useful for those who find the full version challenging or are gradually working on their flexibility and strength.

For individuals with prolapsed discs, the loaded flexion involved in the Roll-Up might exacerbate their condition. Therefore, this exercise should be modified or avoided under these circumstances. Pregnant women should also approach this exercise with caution—after the first trimester and post-pregnancy until diastasis recti is resolved to less than two fingers of separation, alternative movements are recommended to prevent any strain on the abdominal area.

The Role of Breath in the Pilates Roll-Up

Breathing is not just a rhythmic component of Pilates; it is essential for enhancing muscular control and efficiency. In the Roll-Up, coordinating breath with movement is key:

  • Inhale to Prepare: Begin lying flat, inhaling to prepare the body, creating a sense of length through the spine.

  • Exhale to Move: As you lift the head and shoulders off the mat, exhale deeply. This exhalation helps deepen the abdominal engagement and supports the spine as you roll up.

  • Inhale at the Top: Once reaching the top of the movement, inhale to prepare for the descent, maintaining control.

  • Exhale to Roll Down: Exhale as you reverse the curl, ensuring the spine touches the mat sequentially, returning to the starting position.

Tips for Teaching the Roll-Up

  1. Warm-Up Appropriately: Ensure that the body is adequately prepared with a warm-up that focuses on the spine and abdominal muscles.

  2. Cue Breath Control: Instruct students to use their breath effectively—inhaling to prepare and exhaling to move—facilitating a deeper connection with their core.

  3. Focus on Segmental Movement: Emphasise rolling up and down one vertebra at a time to enhance spinal articulation and control.

  4. Use Props: For beginners, a resistance band can assist with the Roll-Up until they build sufficient strength and flexibility.

  5. Monitor Form: Keep an eye on each student’s form, correcting when necessary to ensure the exercise is done safely and effectively.


The Roll-Up is a versatile exercise in the Pilates repertoire, celebrated for its ability to strengthen and mobilise the core and spine. This Movement Monday, take the opportunity to reintroduce this exercise, focusing on precision and smoothness of movement. By accommodating individual needs and emphasising proper breathing techniques, we can help our students achieve greater body awareness and strength, setting a positive tone for their week ahead.

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