Pilates Mat Exercise: Rolling Like a Ball

Rolling Like a Ball is a standard, excellent for the spine and deep abs

Four women sitting on floor in pilates class
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A classic Pilates exercise, Rolling Like a Ball is almost always included in Pilates mat classes.

Some people can roll up like a pill bug and have lots of fun with this exercise right away. For those of us with low backs that don't round as well, rolling exercises are a little more challenging, though they are worth the effort to develop.

Rolling exercises stimulate the spine, deeply work the abdominals, and tune us into the inner flow of movement and breath in the body.

Before You Begin

Supported Roll Back is an excellent preparation for this exercise. If you have not done rolling before, you might want to do Supported Roll Back first. If you have back or neck problems, stick with Supported Roll Back and pass on the full rolling exercises.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your rolled position throughout the exercise.
  • Use your breath to keep this exercise controlled and flowing.
  • Never initiate the roll by throwing your upper body backward! This is a very common mistake.
  • Make sure that you are on a surface that is padded. A thin mat on a hard floor is not enough padding for the spine. Learn more about Pilates mats.
  • For a more in-depth look at this and other rolling exercises, read Tips for Doing Rolling Exercises.

Instructions for Rolling Like a Ball

  1. Sit on your mat and clasp your hands over your shins, just above the ankle.
  2. Drop your shoulders, widen your back, deepen your abdominals and make a nice curve of your spine. Don't tuck your head; your neck is part of the long curve. You may want to review the C-Curve.
  1. Lift your feet off the mat and balance on—or just behind—your sit bones. See fig. 1 in the image box.
  2. Inhale: Pull the lower abs in and up to get yourself going and roll back on your inhale. Roll only to the shoulders. Do not roll onto the neck.
  3. Pause. See fig. 2 in the image box.
  4. Exhale: Stay deeply scooped with your spine curved. Use your exhale and abdominals to return to upright.

    Repeat 5-6 times.

    FAQs for Rolling Like a Ball

    I'm coming up crooked. Why?
    If you are coming up crooked, you may be working your abs unevenly, or pulling more on one side than the other with your arms. Try to focus on the center line. This will improve as you practice.

    I'm not rolling, I'm bumping and it hurts. What should I do?
    First, don't be discouraged. I have seen some top Pilates teachers have trouble with this one (watch for the bump/thump in videos). This exercise calls for a deep release of the lower back into a full curve. The curve is a response to the deepening scoop of the abs. It may take time to learn to let this happen.

    In the meantime, a tight low back can mean that the roll is more of a thump-thump action. Play with just the first part for a deepening of the low abs and a corresponding fullness of the back.

    If the bump/thump is very intense, don't do it. Work on exercises like Supported Roll Back and finding your C-Curve, as well as all of the other abdominal strengtheners. Eventually you will find the place where the back opens up in response to the depth and support of the abs.

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