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Pilates Exercise Dive: The Rollover

exercises matwork pilates

I really want to start this post with: “There were four in the bed and the little one said, roll over, roll over, so they all rolled over and one fell out…”


Okay, now that that’s off my chest we can get down to the real content… dissecting the Matwork exercise Rollover!

This is what always strikes me first about this challenging exercise -

In Joseph Pilates’ original 34 exercises the Rollover’s #3 on the list! I always ask why and even though I have some ideas, I’m still not so sure I’ve figured out why it’s placed where it is in the flow, i.e. so dang early.

You see this exercise asks a lot from the body and it sometimes seems cruel to have to come up with the goods before you might feel physically (or mentally) ready to hoist your hips up and over your head, reach your feet towards the floor behind you, and then smoothly roll your back down on to your mat.

I mean, really?


Let’s back track just a bit and really try to get down the sequence of the exercise

The transition from your last Rollup (exercise #2 on the list) is to circle your arms up over your head, open them out to the side and then place them down by your hips and then lift your zipped together legs straight up off the floor to a 90 degree angle at the hip with softly pointed feet 👇

And then you begin…

  1. Lift the hips up off the mat, reaching the legs behind you, ending with them either parallel to the floor or closer to the floor with your your feet touching the ground.
  2. Open your legs mat width and flex your ankles.
  3. Sequentially roll your spine back down onto the mat one bone at a time until your spine is all the way down (back where you started)
  4. Continue to lower the legs so they are at a 45 degree angle away from your hips.
  5. Close your legs together and softly point your feet as you bring them back up to a 90 degree angle.
  6. Repeat twice more.


  1. When the legs are in the 45 degree position and zipped together with pointed feet, re-open them mat width and flex at the ankles.
  2. Bring them back over the hips to the 90 degree position and then pick the hips up, rolling the pelvis back up over the shoulders, reaching the legs behind you either parallel to the floor or with feet all the way down to the floor.
  3. Close your legs and softly point the feet.
  4. Sequentially roll your spine back down onto the mat one vertebra at a time until it’s all the way down.
  5. Continue to lower the legs so they are at a 45 degree angle
  6. Open your legs mat width with flexed ankles and,
  7. Repeat twice more.


It sounds so easy and simple written out but if you get down on your mat you’ll find that it’s actually not. This is a strong beginning to intermediate exercise.

Here are some ideas to help make it easier:

Your goals:

  • To find the strength and connection of the legs into the pelvis to make lifting the hips effortless (or at least appear that way, lol). What can help? turn on your under bum, use your legs muscles, draw your belly deeply in, back, & up, press down with your arms and lift from your tail.
  • To use the support of the upper back and triceps to create a platform so that the hips can stay lifted (even if the feet touch the floor behind you). What can help? again, press down with the arms but once the legs are up and over, lift the sitz/s bones to the ceiling so that the weight of the pelvis doesn’t collapse down onto your low back, chest and neck.
  • To stretch the whole back line of the body - feet to base of skull. What can help? reaching the legs longer and straighter than you ever thought possible!
  • To lengthen the spine, head to tail - tail to head, to decompress the spine as you roll it down. What can help? make yourself into a six limbed starfish by reaching fully through the fingertips and toes and the tail and crown of head. The head reach will help you not sink into your chest as you roll down.
  • To control the roll (in both directions) and find articulation, specificity, and smoothness in how you’re using your abdominals and spinal muscles. What will help! breathing fully especially trying to empty your lungs on the exhale.

Some Modifications:

  • Soften the backs of the knees as you begin to decrease the load on your belly and low back.
  • Use your hands as an assist to get you up and over.
  • Roll up a mat, towel, or blanket and place it under your pelvis so that your hips start a little higher. You can also use a Pilates barrel for this.

 All this is well and good but if we want to make the Rollover as simple as possible

We would only think of:

  • the lift
  • the loft
  • the length, and
  • the breath.


And now some musings on why this exercise is number three on the list of 34:

Perhaps it’s also simple?

Maybe it was just Joseph Pilates’ way of forcing you to get deep into his method right from the get-go.

Think about it.

He gave us the 100 to warm up, get into our breath, and figure out how to access the hips to hold up the weight of the legs.

He gave us the Rollup to move the spine, open up the hamstrings, and organise the body to the midline.

What do we add in the Rollover?

Gravity in a big way.

This makes us use the upper body into the floor to gain connection and strength in the shoulder girdle while we also find loft in the pelvis and decompression in the spine.

These things are challenging - and I’m not saying that the 100 and the Rollup are not - but the Rollover snaps us out of any complacency we might have had at the beginning of our practice and really embodies the mind body connection of the Pilates Method because if that’s not there, your Rollup with be not so flash.


Make sure to check out the Rollover tutorial video at the top of the page. In it I demonstrate the whole exercise + show a couple of the modifications. If you like that and want easy access to it and over 45 other short exercise tutorials & demonstrations join my resource library membership HERE.


Once again, keep the Rollover and all of the Pilates exercises simple by focusing on:

  • the lift
  • the loft
  • the length, and
  • the breath.

Be Well, x Bec



The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and Rebecca Forde disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this post

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