The Only Ab Move You'll Ever Need

Intro to Roll Up with Pilates Magic Circle

pilates ring
The Magic Circle is a Traditional Piece of Pilates Equipment.. Photo Courtesy of PriceGrabber

Edited by Alycea Ungaro

The Pilates magic circle as this metal ring is traditionally called, adds some new elements to the Pilates mat exercise, Roll Up.

When we use the Magic Circle with Roll Up, we get a lot of extra work for the arms and a greater opportunity to pair up the work of the breath, the abs, and the muscles of the back.

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If you have not done the Roll Up before, please review the basic instructions for this exercise before adding the Magic Circle to it.
See: Pilates Mat Exercise: Roll Up

Begin The Roll Up

Pilates ring exercise
Circle Overhead. Photo Courtesy of Kolesar Studios

  • Put the Pilates between your hands and extend your arms directly to the ceiling. 
  • Lie flat on the floor with your legs straight.

    Ideally, the legs are straight and together throughout the exercise. However, bending the knees slightly may be a good modification for those who have a hard time rolling up.
  • Pull your belly in and up in a scooping motion
  • Your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears. Take a deep breath to prepare.

The Ring Moves Overhead

pilates ring exercise
Ring Overhead. Photo Courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Exhale: Keeping your ribs and shoulders down, compress the circle lightly. 

Feel the pressure of your hands against the ring, helping activate the muscles of the arm and shoulders. Notice that this small pressure helps you feel how the arms are connected into the back. 

Upper Body Curls Up

pilates ring exercise
Curl the Upper Body Up. Photo Courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Inhale: Leave your shoulder blades down as you bring your arms up. As your arms pass your ears, let your chin drop, and your head and upper spine join the motion to curl up.

Feel your abdominal muscles, pulling in deeply to help you begin to curl up. Exaggerate the scooping of your Abs.

The circle helps you maintain a hollow feeling in the front of the body as you curl up.

Roll All the Way Up

pilates ring exercise
Reach Forward With the Ring. Photo Courtesy of Kolesar Studios

This is the moment of truth for just about everyone. If you have trouble with this step, be sure to read Tips for Mastering The Roll Up.

  • Exhale: Use the deep pull-in of your abs and a full exhale (not momentum and not a jerking motion from the back) to continue rolling all the way up. Your spine makes a long curve, arching up vertebrae by vertebrae as you roll up.
  • As you come up, squeeze the circle even further.

    Keep your shoulders down and work from under the arm and the back to squeeze the ring. Try not to get tight in the upper shoulders and neck.

    Squeezing the ring should give you some feedback that helps you exhale further and pull your abs in even more. It will also help you stretch your back.
  • Reach out over your legs with the magic circle. Work to keep the legs straight.

Roll Back

pilates ring exercise
Roll Back Until the Shoulder Blades are On the Mat. Photo Courtesy of Kolesar Studios


  • Release the compression on the circle but not completely. Continue to press between your palms.
  • Breathe deeply as you pull your lower abs in, reach your tail bone under, and begin to uncurl -- vertebrae by vertebrae -- down toward the floor.

    The inhale initiates this motion until you are about halfway down.


  • Continue to use your abdominal muscles to control your slow roll down, setting each spinal segment down one at a time on the mat.
  • Squeeze the ring during the last part of the roll down. Again, this will help you exhale fully. Use your abs, and maximize the curve of your spine.
  • Roll down until your shoulder blades are on the mat.

Roll All the Way Down

pilates ring exercise
Roll All the Way Down. Photo Courtesy of Kolesar Stuidios

Now that you are almost back to the start position, don't lose your alignment and control.

  • Exhale: Your abs stay in and your ribs and shoulder blades stay down as you uncurl the last bit of your spine onto the mat.
  • Coordinate the final roll down with bringing your arms overhead.

You are now in position to begin again. Keep your flow -- inhale and begin to roll up. Repeat 5 - 10 times before moving on to the next exercise.

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