How to Do a Pilates Full Body Roll Up

Fitness: Get Fit

By: // March 20, 2014

I call the Full Body Roll Up the mother of mat Pilates exercises. It has been said that one Pilates Full Body Roll Up is equal to six sit-ups and way more effective than a bunch of mindless crunches. Fitness magazine reports that the Pilates Roll Up is 30 percent more effective than the standard crunch when it comes to those six-pack abs. WOW, right?

Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) created Pilates almost 100 years ago. Originally called Contrology, the practice is all about slow controlled movements that deliver serious results.  When done correctly, Pilates requires a true mind/body connection and sculpts the abs like no other exercise routine I’ve ever tried.  Having taught this method for the past 10 years (and managing my own chronic back pain with it), I can’t help but throw in a few Full Body Roll Ups at the end of most of my live classes. (And I bet I’ve included Full Body Roll Ups on almost every single one of my DVDs.)

That being said, the Full Body Roll Up really works and it’s one of my favorites. You can do Full Body Roll Ups every single day because they are great for your core. Oh, but the good news doesn’t stop there: the Full Body Roll Up strengthens your core and helps lengthen and stretch your back and hamstrings. The fuller range of motion engages more muscle fibers.

Now let’s go back to anatomy class for a minute. As I always say, knowledge is power! If you want a powerful core, let’s solve the mystery of your ab muscles. You have four main abdominal muscles:

Rectus Abdominis – The rectus abdominis runs vertically, flexes the core and is the crunching muscle responsible for creating the ever coveted six-pack.

External and Internal Obliques – The external and internal obliques run diagonally on the side of the torso. They flex the trunk forward, back and sideways and are responsible for rotation of the trunk.

Transversus Abdominis – The transverse abdominis is deep muscle that runs horizontally around your body and often is referred to as your low abs.  I call it your “human girdle” because it helps secure and protect your low back while stabilizing and tightening your low belly. You can locate it by placing your hand below your belly button and coughing. This is the muscle I am always telling you to keep engaged.

Let’s review how to do a Full Body Roll Up:

Lie flat on your back with your arms extended overhead.

pilates full body roll up

Inhale arms to the sky, exhale and slowly roll up into a “C” curve reaching for your toes. (Think about threading your belly button to your spine, and activate your transverse abdominus.)


pilates full body roll up

Inhale and start to slowly go back in a C curve.

pilates full body roll up

Exhale as you uncurl your body one vertebra at a time back into the mat.

pilates full body roll up

The key is to keep your feet on the ground. Use your abs and back to gracefully articulate down to the mat and avoid using your hip flexors and glutes. If you have trouble keeping your feet on the ground, have someone hold your feet or use a resistance band around your feet and hold the handles in your hand. Or bend your knees as you come up. It’s always okay to modify!

Start with three to five and see if you can add a couple more each day. Remember, form trumps quantity! Let me know what you think of the Full Body Roll Up! I’d love to hear from you and hear what you think of your fab abs!

P.S. Want more exercises you can do from home? Try these!






Read This Next: Pilates Workout For Beginners



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on June 26, 2017 at 5:52 PM Reply

Hi Chris. I am 67 and trying to get into some exercising, after having done none most of my life. I have very weak abs and these roll ups are very difficult. I read this post a few weeks ago, and since then I have tried doing roll ups by anchoring my feet under an arm chair since I have no-one to hold my ankles down. Is this okay, or am I doing something wrong? It did help, but it doesn't give me enough room to stretch my arms all the way in front. I've only done this on occasion and I still haven't gained any ab strength, but if I find it's okay to start this way, I will work on doing it every day. Thanks in advance for any help.

    on June 30, 2017 at 12:23 PM Reply

    Hi Holly - yes, that is fine. You can anchor your feet under something until you gets stronger. Also, you can use a resistance band around the feet and hold the handles in your hands… it will help pull you up and then you can also stretch a little farther forward. Great exercise and perfect for you as she is getting started!

on June 22, 2015 at 12:18 PM Reply

Hi, I cannot manage one of these and I am embarrassed that the world assumes I ought to be able to. This constant embarrassment stops me going to the gym, classes and, now, from reading articles on line. I, perhaps naively, assumed that an article entitled 'How to do a pilates full roll up' would tell me how to build up this. I feel idiotic and ashamed with no idea how to improve.

    on June 26, 2015 at 5:29 PM Reply

    Don't be embarrassed! The full-body roll-up is a Pilates move and this article may help you. Lots of people struggle with various exercises, so just allow yourself time to work up to it! You can do it!

on December 30, 2014 at 8:57 AM Reply

I wish you'd put a screenshot of all the exercises in one spot so I don't have to scroll down for each exercise.

on January 22, 2014 at 8:18 AM Reply

How does someone 61 years old, very out of shape and just starting to stretch every morning and walk every day, even begin to do a full body roll up. Are there easy steps to work up to this exercise?

    on January 22, 2014 at 10:11 AM Reply

    Marie - It's great that you are walking every day and working to get in shape! That's wonderful. You can try doing a few full body roll ups by going slowly and having someone hold your ankles for support. Let me know how it goes for you!

on January 21, 2014 at 5:57 PM Reply

Hi Chris, I really love to the pilates full roll but I keep on having trouble with using my hip flexes, not so much glutes, to help me get up. My feet are planted on the floor, too. I am slowing refining the art of the roll down though. What can I do to help me use my abs muscles more rather than my hip flexes to help roll up? Do I need to really try and concentrate on pulling my abs in?

    on January 22, 2014 at 11:30 AM Reply

    Yes really need to focus on engaging the abdominals. First step is being aware that you are trying to use your hip flexors. Again as I mentioned use the resistance band around your feet to help you as you strengthen your core. If you are able to keep your feet on the floor without assistance you must be using a fair amount of your abdominals! Keep up the good work.

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