Fitness: Strengthen your abs with the Roll Up

Classic Pilates mat exercise that’s a real workout for the stomach muscles

The Roll Up is a classic mat exercise for the back and abdominal muscles, and is considered by many to be more effective at strengthening abs and creating a flat stomach than regular sit-ups.


The Roll Up should be one continuous, controlled and flowing motion, synchronised with the breath. Make sure that your shoulders stay relaxed, neck long, and abdominals as flat as possible. Strengthen the exercise by hollowing your stomach strongly as your arms reach forward.

You shouldn’t practise the classic Roll Up if you have a back, shoulder or neck injury; instead, we’d recommend a variation called the Roll Back. Instead of keeping your legs straight throughout, bend your knees, placing the feet flat on the mat, and hold onto the back of the knees. Curve the spine into a ‘C’ and roll back until your arms are straight; come back up using your abdominal muscles.

How to do the Roll Up

The roll up:
Warren Rossiter

Step 1: Lie with your legs straight. Let your belly drop down towards the floor and ensure your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears. Keeping your back gently anchored to the floor, bring your arms straight up over your head and back so that your finger tips are pointing to the wall behind you.

Step 2: Inhale as you start to bring your arms up over your head. Keep your back and shoulders connected to the ground. As your arms come level with your ears, let your chin drop, and then allow your head and upper spine to follow the curl as your arms move. Your abdominal muscles initiate and carry the movement.

Step 3: Exhale and continue to curl your body in a smooth ‘up and over’ motion toward your toes. Pull in your abdominals and deepen the curve of your spine as you exhale. Keeping your head tucked, your abdominals activated and your back rounded, reach for your toes. If possible, keep your legs straight.

Step 4: Inhale and pull in your lower abdominals then start to ‘unroll’, reversing the exercise to come back down to the floor. Do this in a slow and controlled manner, vertebra by vertebra, and keep your legs on the floor – don’t let them fly up as you roll down. Check that your shoulders are relaxed and not creeping up.


Step 5: Exhale, keep your upper body curved and your chin tucked as you roll down slowly. Keep your arms outstretched and following the natural motion of the shoulders as you roll down. Once your shoulders come to the floor, allow your arms to follow on over the head as you roll down. This is one full round: do up to six repetitions.