Breaking down the Pilates Roll Down

pilates_0081Chances are if you take a pilates class be it mat or reformer you will do some roll-downs. Or maybe quite a few! To get the most out of this exercise – you need to do it right. As with anything – there are ways to do it wrong either intentionally or not.

The scoop: This is an integral part of the pilates roll down. When we lower our body to the mat we want to scoop out our belly. Cues I like to use: imagine what your core would look like if a rolling pin went across it. Imagine what it would look like if I threw a medicine ball at your midsection! Pull your navel to the spine, and round your back towards the floor. The key is to begin with a tilt of the pelvis and lowering the low back first – while elongating the hip flexors. I often see students try to lower their shoulders and miss the tilt of the pelvis that is so important.

Let’s take it a bit further.  We divide the core in to sections or quadrants.  What should each of those quadrants do or feel?  I was recently at the PMA conference and heard this explanation:

Upper abs (quadrant 1 ) – these muscles pull together, the ribcage becomes tighter

Middle abs (quadrants 2 and 3) – these muscle pull together and also pull up.  Imagine trying to pull these muscles up and under your ribcage to create your scoop

Lower abs (quadrant 4) – these muscles pull together and flatten across the body. Many of us struggle with this – bellies pouch because our lower abs are not strong enough to support the weight of our body rolling down. Our pelvis and hips act like a rocking chair – rocking backwards towards the floor which allows the scoop of our abdomen.

Rolling up:

The movements are the same in the abs or quadrants but the mistake I often see here is folks start to lift their head and move their arms before engaging their core.  The core goes first!  Begin with a strong core- contract the upper abs to make the lift happen. Make sure the head is lifted and tilted in – it’s heavy so do yourself that favor!

One of the best ways I know to practice the rollup/rolldown is to hook your feet under your sofa or chair.  Or ask a friend/partner to hold your feet down. Find the sections you struggle with.  Engage the abs -really focus on the pulling in, pulling up and flattening while you keep your low spine reaching for the floor.  It may seem hard at first if you are used to powering through and using momentum.  Over time you will be come stronger and have the Abdominal muscles to prove it!

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