This week we're breaking down the roll up exercise. Whether you're just getting started or a roll up pro, tune in to hear some tips and tricks to improve, befriend, and explore the challenging roll up exercise from mat Pilates.
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today I've got a really cool adventure for you breaking down the roll-up exercise, uh, from mat Pilates, but it [00:01:00] happens a lot in your equipment classes as well and sharing some tips and tricks for you to do your roll-up in new ways, interesting ways, and possibly more supportive ways, if that's an exercise that you're working on in your personal practice.
I also do want to share kind of a hilarious update in terms of the sound quality, which I'm hoping is sounding a little bit different. And you know, all of these high-tech pop filters and isolation shields. They're amazing and wonderful and super cool. But, uh, what I found is actually just sitting in my closet and recording the podcast has a little bit better audio quality. So if you're like, Hey, that does sound different. Um, welcome to my closet. Welcome to the podcast. What a fun time.
Really important things to think about when you are doing the roll up. I do think that this is one of those exercises that can be really discouraging and really frustrating when you're in the midst of struggling with it. And [00:02:00] I just want to remind you that no one exercise is more important than any other exercise. You're still doing Pilates if you aren't doing the roll up, or if you can't do the roll up for any reason, if you have any issues or things going on in your spine, if you have osteoporosis or you have, you know, spinal fusions or anything, where that deep spinal flexion is just not on the menu for your body. That's totally fine. Your Pilates practice is a hundred percent valid.
The roll-up is not an exercise for every body, I would say. There are important lessons that we learn through doing the roll-up, but doing the roll-up is not the only way that we learn those lessons. Like we know in Pilates that it's the same shapes in the same activation and the same muscles, doing things for us in a lot of different ways. The roll-up is one. If the roll-up is [00:03:00] something that is groovy for your body and your spine is okay with it and you're interested in exploring it, I do have some strategies to look at the roll up and experiment with the roll up in a way that maybe is different.
Maybe you're doing some of these variations, or maybe you're playing with props in the ways that I'm going to suggest, but I want to share some things that have helped me kind of find my roll up as well as things that I've learned from some of my teachers that may also be of benefit to you.
There's lots of things that we do in the studio to work on our roll up or roll down. Notably, there's a piece of equipment called the roll down bar that is pretty much a dowel rod that attaches to springs either to the tower or the Cadillac or to a springboard if you've got that. And you have spring resistance as you start in seated and then roll backwards. Uh, that spring resistance is going to slow [00:04:00] down your roll up and help you articulate a little bit more on the way down, and then give you a little bit of a boost, a little bit of assistance as you're rolling up from lying down back to seated.
Like Pilates equipment has lots of springs. So maybe you've had handles on the chair and you were sitting in front of the chair. I know the Exo chairs have those little eyelets that we can attach springs or resistance bands to and you might've done your roll down sitting in front of the chair. You might have practiced rolling down and up, sitting on the box with your feet on the headrest and then rolling backwards onto the long box and then rolling yourself back up. The spring is going to give you a little bit of a tug. It just gives you something to kind of work against.
There's lots of ways that we play with that rolling sensation in classes. And so if you are taking class and you're talking with your teacher, you might ask like, Hey, could we explore some of those things? Like, I'm really interested in finding this [00:05:00] rolling shape and I'm sure they've got more ideas to share as well.
If you're working on your own, there are a couple of props that can really help you with that rolling sensation. One of them is a resistance band, one of them is the magic circle, also a towel can help. And then we can also work with no props at all. So if you're like my gosh, I love Pilates, but I've none of those things. Um, you can also work with, well, I mean, you probably have a towel. I'm pretty sure that you have a towel somewhere, but in terms of things that we can press against the resistance bands or the magic circle, you can also work with no props and get stronger and better and work on your roll up.
A good way to build strength is to work eccentrically, which means that you're working the roll down to get stronger for your roll up. And this is something I've heard from lots of teachers, and then I did a neuroscience workshop a couple of weeks ago. I was also told that, you know, research supports [00:06:00] this, that we build the most strength in our muscles when we work on the return action and not just the concentric shortening contraction, but the eccentric lengthening contraction, which would be- if you think of doing a bicep curl where you're bending your elbow and bringing your hand towards your shoulder, there's your bicep curl. Bringing your forearm towards your upper arm, pulling your forearm to your upper arm, builds strength. That's the concentric contraction. That's where your bicep muscle gets shorter to pull your forearm towards it. But the eccentric contraction, when you're lowering your forearm and opening that angle at the elbow, reaching the forearm away from your upper arm before you then bicep curl again. Like that uncurling action of your bicep is where we build the most strength. Research proven, that's how it works.
So how can we build that strength for our roll up? [00:07:00] Well, you do it by rolling down. So one thing that you can do is start seated knees, bent soles of the feet on the floor, hands behind your thighs, find your long spine first and then play with, okay, can I get into my c curve, can I tuck my tailbone and find that rounded shape as much in your lumbar spine, that spine that's between your ribs and your pelvis, as your rib cage. It's easier to round at your rib cage, because your rib cage, that thoracic spine that corresponds with your ribs already goes that way. Our lumbar spine goes the opposite way. So we want to find more of a tuck of the tailbone, more of a rounding at that lumbar spine.
And then you can play with going from, you know, bent arms, if your hands are behind your thighs, to rolling back halfway, can we come halfway down and maybe your hands can help to pull yourself back up, forehead coming towards your knees, and then we can rock it back, rock it forward.
And we can just work the roll [00:08:00] down. So you can do that with arm assistance. We can take our hands away from our thighs and just roll down halfway, come back up, roll down to the point that you know, you can't come up from, come just before and play with that rolling down, coming back.
And if you want to work totally eccentrically, and only do the eccentric movement, you can start in that same seated position with your knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor, find your C curve, that rounded spine and roll all the way down as slow as you can. And then however is most comfortable for you, come back up to seated and then roll down again so that you're just doing the eccentric roll down. You're not even messing around with the roll-up. You're just doing the eccentric contraction. And that's an amazing way to build strength. Um, it really is. Just slowing it down, just resisting gravity in your own body weight, as you roll down is awesome.
Another thing you can do is find your glutes as [00:09:00] you're doing that. This is kind of a game changer because I know a lot of us and what a lot of the things that I see in my clients or see in myself is that. You know, you're trying to roll up and your legs lift a little bit as you're rolling your torso up. And that's usually because we're turning on the tops of our thighs. We're using our quads to give us more assistance instead of using our upper body. That's not wrong. It's just using your quads to assist your upper body as you're coming up.
So finding your glutes, finding your hamstrings. When you go into your roll up is going to give you support from the back body so that your legs stay down, but you do get some extra strength. And a good way to feel your glutes here. I res- I like, I don't want to say I- you clench, like clenching is not the idea, but you do want to draw your sit bones together. So if you're in that same seated, As you're starting that roll [00:10:00] down. There's a point where you rocked behind your sit bones and this transition space between getting to the back of the pelvis and then getting into the lumbar spine.
As you're just starting that roll down, that if you engage your glutes, draw your sit bones together, send your tailbone to your heels. Like all of those sensations. That hugging in. Sometimes you can think of it as that inner thigh connection as well because inner thigh and glutes are very closely related. That will help you get a little bit more length in that lumbar spine.
A lot of us, especially if you've been like neutral spine-d out, or just like, depending on what the resting shape of your spine is, it can be difficult to access those lumbar vertebrate, which, to be fair, also don't move very much. Like they're more of our stable bones versus our like super mobile bones where we think of more like our rib cage in our thoracic spine is a bit more mobile. But we can get a little bit of space when we find a little bit of [00:11:00] glutes.
Coming up after the break. I've got some things that I learned from Maria Earle, from Jessica Valant and just a couple more ways to continue working your roll up. I mean, so far we've only talked about rolling down, but there will be rolling up in the next part. That's coming up next.
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So now we're gonna begin to add in some rolling up to our roll up work, because rolling down is a great way to build strength. Uh, lots of ways to do that. Rolling down slowly using your arms to help, using the resistance of the springs, using props, which I'll talk about in this part as well. But let's start to incorporate some of our rolling up bits.
So if you were to start lying on your back, with maybe your knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor. I personally like straight [00:13:00] legs because it's heavier. Like your legs are longer and heavier when they're like that. But when you start to do your roll up, when you exhale, you're lifting your head, shoulders, ribs, you know, there's your chest lift. And then you try to keep going.
There's usually a spot where you feel stuck and that's usually where we stop breathing, which doesn't really help. It's like, oh, that's as far as I can go. Right. So I learned from Maria Earle, that that sticky spot is a really great place to befriend. So if you rolled down to that place, that is the difficult part to get out of, if you roll down to that place.
So the hard bit is going up, right? So if we roll down to the place that it's hard to get up from, and then you curl in, it's like a pulse, but it's not just a bounce. It's more like you're drawing in. It's like you're doing two inches higher than that part of the roll-up and then going back to your sticky [00:14:00] spot, then curling into yourself two inches higher than your roll up and then going back.
And if you just do that, like 10 times forever, like any of those times, and then if possible, roll back up, if not possible, or you know, return to lying down. But this idea that you can workshop or get really familiar, really comfortable for yourself on like, okay, this is the part I get stuck. This is me getting out of being stuck. This is me going beyond being stuck. I'm able to go past this point. That can be really powerful. I really enjoyed that.
Um, for most people, I don't want to say most people, for most of the people I've worked with and I can say for myself, the sticky spot is usually just past your chest lift. Maybe you can go a little bit higher than your chest lift, but somewhere between chest lift and like halfway up there is a sticky spot. And so that really helps you get comfortable, get familiar with it.
Maria Earle also recommended ankle weights because that helps your legs be heavy as well. Especially if you're doing knees bent soles of the feet on the [00:15:00] floor, even with an open bend at the knees, it can feel like your feet want to lift off with a mat. So ankle weights are super awesome for that.
Jessica Valant has an excellent tutorial on YouTube that I've linked in the show notes, where she comes at this a little bit different way. And because as I mentioned, our low back, doesn't go, doesn't rest in that rounded shape. The way our spine curves, it curves in there instead of curving out like it would when you're rolling up or rolling. So her recommendation, um, and I really recommend you check out that tutorial. It's six minutes, it's worth checking out that.
She recommended taking a towel and folding it up so that the towel is about the same size as the space at your low back, and then kind of tucking it underneath your low back so that when you're rolling up your low back has something to press into, especially as you're working to develop your spine's ability to [00:16:00] round in that place. It gives you a little bit of feedback. It gives you something to press off of.
And you might think, Olivia that's absolutely ridiculous. There's no way rolling up a like hand towel and putting it in my low back is going to help me roll up. It really does. I was like, let me try this. And I'm posting it on Instagram too, because I'm like, ah, I like you, Jessica. But like, let's see what, how this goes. But it really does give you a, almost like a launchpad. It gives you something to press against and it's really quite interesting. And I recommend you check that out.
Props that you may have in your house that you can play with. Um, the magic circle is really great if you take the magic circle onto the arch of one foot and- you know the legs, like when you're holding onto the magic circle with your hands and the magic circles on your foot, you're not gonna be able to lie back all the way down with your leg on the ground. So your leg might come up a little bit towards the ceiling, or a lot bit towards the ceiling, possibly all the way to the ceiling, depending, but as you're [00:17:00] working on that rolled up shape, it's that same thing that you're, you have something to pull against, so you can deepen that rounded shape in your spine and then use the weight of the leg to almost leverage yourself to come up. That can be interesting. You can do that one leg at a time.
Using a resistance band is one of my favorite ways to work my roll up, where you can take the resistance band around both of your arches. Hold it in your hands. Start seated, roll yourself down. Anytime you have the resistance, you increase that resistance by doing a bit of a bicep curl, bringing your hands to your shoulders, and then allowing yourself to deepen your C curve, roll down a little bit slowly, as well as the resistance band, just like the springs, giving you a little bit of support and a little bit of oomph and a little bit of assistance as you're going through that roll up. Also a really great way to play with it. And then if you're holding the resistance band, I mean, why not do a bunch of fun little arm exercises while you're there, but like that's neither here nor there.
And the last thing I want to say about the roll up is [00:18:00] there's a mental component to exercises like this as well. That when you hear your teachers say roll up to seated, or you are in a class and then a roll up is happening, or you're doing a classical mat class, and you know that the roll-up comes right after the hundreds.
There's this mental component, because when we're stuck on an exercise and we feel like we're not doing the exercise well or good, or at all, and we start to dread it and then we anticipate it and we really get in our head about it. I'm definitely a storyteller in my own head telling myself like, oh my gosh, like, I can't do this. Like, this is the hard one. Ugh. I hate this exercise. Like all of that kind of negative self-talk can bubble up when we get around those exercises.
But I invite you to challenge those thoughts when they do come up and instead of trying to suppress them and being like, I love the roll-up, although that is a tactic. When you see yourself, oh, the roll-up is coming. I hate the roll up. Like [00:19:00] just open like a little doorway of possibility and be like, you know, I haven't done the roll up today or I haven't done this roll up and take your deep breath, you know, take your full exhale, go into it and keep at it.
I had a yoga teacher who, when I was younger and wanted to do cool, fancy upside down poses and I had just started doing yoga. I'd been doing it for like a month. And I was like, well, how long will it take to do, you know, forearm stands and handstands and all of this. And she said, you know, really kindly, but just like, she's like, well, you know, I want you to keep practicing what you've been working on and, you know, get back to me in 10 years.
And now I laugh about it because it's been more than 10 years and I'm like, you know what? She was right. Um, if you keep working at something, whether it's a roll-up or a hand stand for 10 years, odds are, it's going to get a little bit better. And it's going to get better in ways that you don't maybe notice unless you're paying really close attention.
So [00:20:00] you have all my support. I hope that those tips and tricks help you in your roll up. If you have your own tips and tricks that I have missed entirely do let me know, reach out on Instagram. Like let's have a conversation. Let's make the roll-up the most accessible adventure and, you know, work on it together.
Thanks so much for tuning in. Big thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. I appreciate your contributions and your feedback and all kinds of stuff. I look forward to talking with you in July for some awesome, you know, little zoom chats. I hope everyone has a great week and I'll talk to you again soon.
Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at [00:21:00] @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.