The Rolldown – Reach Up Before you Roll Down

The Rolldown is a part of nearly every Pilates class I’ve ever taken or given, sometimes twice in one class.  This latest cue is one I’ve used a lot lately as I’ve tried to really emphasize to clients the space we want to create between our vertebra as we perform a roll down and the smooth, even curve we are going for over the length of the entire spine.

Bending over is such a standard movement – and one that people do every day.  It’s so common, in fact, that I find clients struggle to grasp the ‘why’ of this exercise in the Pilates repertoire.  It’s so natural to throw your hips back and reach down towards the floor – it’s a habit that needs to be broken, like biting your nails.

I’ve used the more common “dive up and over a beach ball” cue for ages without making much progress with regard to the hips specifically.  Without a wall (or me) behind them as a tactile reference, clients tend to just resort to the known movement pattern of sending the hips back.  Clients hear the “dive up and over” cue and are able to envision the roundness in the back and thus create some space between the thoracic vertebra, but what about the lumbar spine?  Hinging at the hips to bend eliminates the ability to maximize lumber spine curvature. So let’s edit out that urge to hinge.


Try this cue:  Have your clients walk up to an imaginary fence that reaches just a smidge over waist-height.  Then imagine it’s wrapped in barbed wire (for added motivation). Now ask your client to reach over and pick up an imaginary ball (or flower or candy bar) on the other side of the fence, without touching the fence rail.  Now, the key to this cue is the height of the fence…if it is at waist height or below, you can just hinge at the waist and reach over. The little bit of extra height is what requires the body to go UP and then over the railing, engaging strongly through the low abdominals and creating space and curve along the whole spine.  The barbed wire…that’s just sadistic 😉