Back to Blog
person rolling back on their shoulders in a ball performing the Pilates exercise Rolling Like A Ball

Pilates Exercise Dive: Rolling Like A Ball

exercises life matwork pilates

Bottoms Up: Rolling Like A Ball

There’s nothing I like better than to dissect a Pilates exercise, cross pollinate it to other Pilates exercises, and then check out how it helps us in our every day life.

This post is about RLAB. which is my shorthand for Rolling Like A Ball. (when I’m making notes on my clients I don’t write it out , I mean it is a long arse name for a short and sweet exercise)

If you’re not familiar with this exercise, just imagine that you’re sitting in a tight ball, hugging your knees up towards your ears and you’re rolling back and forth between your shoulder blades to just behind your tailbone.

To give you a visual here are a couple of photos from that time I got to travel internationally and went to Kyoto - sigh... I can't wait to go back to Japan!

 photos by moi' on a timer, yep, I got skills


So, why do we roll?

Do you know the famous quote of Joseph Pilates?

“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60 you are young.”

This is one reason we roll, to keep our spines flexible and in my mind what Jospeh Pilates was getting at is that movement is medicine. We should all know by now that WE HAVE TO MOVE TO BE HEALTHY.

Another really key rolling reason is to develop our vestibular system. When we were kids it was important that we rolled, spun and tumbled to develop it. Our vestibular system helps with so many things. Here's a bit of a list:

  • Balance
  • Spatial orientation, i.e. knowing where your body is in space.
  • Muscle tone
  • Postural Control, i.e. the ability to make micro movements so you don't fall over or roll out of bed.
  • Eye movements which then help the brain keep you upright and seeing things clearly.

I'm sure it will come as no surprise that our vestibular system gets less robust as we age.


RLAB is considered a basic Pilates exercise and I include it in pretty much every Mat class I teach.

I would also say that rolling is a foundational skill in the Pilates Method so to figure out how to accomplish this particular skill is worth exploring. *However, it is contraindicated for some issues so not suitable for every body.

Here are a few more reasons that Rolling Like A Ball is so important. It helps us to:

  • Organise our bodies
  • Deepen our core connections
  • Go upside down
  • ‘Massage’ our spine
  • Decompress our spine
  • Assist with hip disassociation
  • Expand our breath into the back of our lungs


Whoa!! So many wonderful benefits but let’s break them down.

One of the challenges of RLAB is actually getting into the tight shape (Body Organisation) even though it looks pretty simple there are some key things to think about inside your ball...

I’ve already mentioned the knees pulling up to your ears (Hip Disassociation) but add to that:

The hands wrapped around the outside of your ankles, spine in one long, even curve, shoulders softly drawing down, belly lifted deeply in and up supporting the spine (Deepen Core Connections, “Massage” the Spine, Body Organisation), trying to keep space between the vertebra (Spinal Decompression).

The tighter the shape, the more challenging it is to perform and you want to try to keep your heels snugged into your sitz bones.

Now you can roll!

Go back on the inhale (fill up the lungs to Expand Our Breath, Stretch and Massage our Spine, Go Upside Down).

Exhale on the way up, emptying the lungs (Breath Expansion) as you simultaneously pull everything in more deeply (Hip Disassociation, Core Connection, Body Organisation).

While you’re rolling don’t forget to expand your body into space making your ball bigger from the inside out (Stretch of the Spine, Expansion of Breath)

Geez, that’s a quite a lot of stuff to incorporate inside this one small exercise.

You can see that there are tons of skills here that you can take & would need for your other Pilates exercises.

Here's the exercise Cross Pollination

On the Mat, just the Hip Disassociation would be useful in:

  • Single Leg Stretch
  • Double Leg Stretch
  • Single Leg Circle
  • Corkscrew
  • Saw
  • Side Kick Series  

And on the Reformer:

  • Footwork
  • Short Spine
  • Stomach Massage
  • Elephant
  • Knee Stretches

And every single one of those skills: better breathing, hip disassociation, stretching of the spine, engaging into your core, going upside down, etc. help us in our daily life as we move through our days! 

See what I mean about this exercise being so full and juicy?


However, let’s talk reality:

Sometimes RLABall can feel like RLACube, right? I’m sure I’m not the only one that's done a rep and gone, wow, what a clunker.

Remember JP said we want a flexible spine and I love that this exercise gives us direct feedback into where we’re not quite there yet.

Our goal is an evenly flexed, round spine from head to tail and if we’re tight-ish in our lower back or a bit stuck in our mid back, our roll might have some flat spots.

The good news is that because there are 8-10 reps of the exercise we have the chance to adjust it, improve it and change how it feels to do as we go.

Our last RLAB should be our best because we've stayed focused and used the previous reps embodying the list of benefits from above.


Let’s talk some images that can help:

You’re inside a FitBall and your job is to keep it inflated and evenly curved, this will help to decompress the spine

photo by moi', that's my dog Charlie


You’re in a hammock with both ends lifted up supporting you as you roll

photo by 


You’re sitting on the edge of a cliff not wanting to fall over but really curious as to what’s below you so you activate length from both ends of the spine. (pretend this person is sitting, okay)

photo by Erik Mclean 


You hollow out your hip sockets even though in that tight shape it feels impossible. (I always think of two melon ballers scraping them out - I know it’s a bit weird but try it!)

uncredited photo from internet


You’re wearing a pair of elf ears or bunny ears and lifting up from there as you return

photo by Philipp Lansing 


The exhale is a rocket booster propelling you back up on the return

photo by SpaceX 


You try not to let your hair touch the mat when you roll back (even if you hair is long, short, or non existent this image can work - remember you’re using your imagination)

photo by Kasia Serbin 


Let’s talk modifications:

  • Open up the shape by holding behind your knees instead of around the ankles.
  • Reduce the range of motion making it smaller, say back to your waist and up.
  • Have the hands on the floor to assist in the hip lift as you roll back
  • Pick the end of your mat up, snug it under your bum and lift up as you roll back to help get the feeling of the hips lifting.


OMG, I forgot the number one reason to Roll Like A Ball!



photo by Jason Leung


Well, are you ready to put some of these ideas into practice, roll around a bit and have some fun? 

Here are two short video tutorials for Rolling Like A Ball my Video On Demand Library that also will be helpful: & They're both available to rent for a small fee.


Thanks for reading and be well as you move and groove,



*I’m not saying everyone that practices Pilates should have this exercise or even the skill of rolling in their repertoire. It’s contraindicated for many issues: osteoporosis, having rods in your spine, herniated discs, and it can really suck to try and do if you have benign positional vertigo.


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

Let's move together 

Sign Up for my newsletter & as a thank you I'll send you my free guide Sedentary to Supple - five easy movements to feel more fluid, alert, and alive.

I hate SPAM just as much as you. I'll never sell your information, for any reason - promise.