The Roll Down Roll Up: An exercise selected, prepared and guided by Antonio De La Fe, Senior Instructor, Little Venice Pilates

Name of Exercise: The Roll Down/UP

Equipment Used: Cadillac and Mat

Main Muscles Worked: Core and Spine – Pelvic Floor muscles stabilizing lower spine and abdominal cavity, transversus abdominus, psoas and diaphragm working dynamically throughout.   In addition the multifidi muscles are engaged when creating axial elongation.  The movement of the spine involved the whole mid-anterior chain of the torso – all abdominal muscles, intercostals and deep neck flexors.

Arms and Shoulder-Girdle (with roll down bar on Cadillac) – biceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, infraspinatus, rhomboid, and trapezius

What exercise goals or targets does it help with? Core control, axial elongation and spine articulation.  Integration of upper limbs and shoulder-girdle with head, cervical and thoracic spines.

Beginners Level: Use Cadillac
Advanced Level: Use Mat

Originally an exercise from the mat repertoire, the roll down is an exercise that challenges the core muscles. Correct execution of this exercise requires a fine balance between use of the superficial and deep muscles of the torso, especially in the abdominal area. The challenge is to keep a balance between the muscles that assist in creating elongation of the spine and the muscles that produce the flexion of the spine, creating in this way what is commonly referred to as the “C-curve”. Excesive use of the muscles that create the curve of the spine will compress the vertebral bones reducing the amount of free movement between them. Space between the vertebrae is created by elongating the spine his extra space increases the amount of movement at the vertebral joints, helping to achieve an even curve throughout the whole vertebral column. However, if the intention of elongating the spine is exaggerated the long muscle of the spine may overwork resulting in stiffening the spine and rendering it devoid of mobility between the vertebrae. When this happens neck, lower back and hip flexor muscles over-work.

Apart from the balance between elongation and flexion in the spine this exercise requires the right initiation and sequencing throughout the spine for both rolling down and up.

The exercise starts by sitting straight on top of the sitting bones with hips flexed at a 90º angle and legs extended – if possible sitting at one end of the Cadillac and holding the roll down bar with springs attached. If short hamstrings present a problem a combination of bending the knees and a small tilt of the pelvis towards the posterior end of the sitting bones will help although the spine should be kept as long as possible trying not to hold any tension on the hip flexors or tightness in the abdomen.

To roll down the movement should be initiated by the tailbone lengthening down and forwards, both towards the pubic bone and the feet. This will allow the pelvis to tilt backwards creating the “C-curve” of the spine. As this happens the tummy flattens with the belly button being pulled inwards to the spine and upwards through the axis of the body, an action that helps to sustain the elongation and evenness of the curve. With this curve, the pelvis continues rolling down and back until the lower back makes contact with the mat or machine surface and eventually the curve is sequentially released – vertebra by vertebra from the bottom to the top of the spine, ending at the head and making sure the arms are pulling the bar slightly so the shoulder blades are resting against the mat or machine surface.

To roll up the movement is reversed – starting by elongating from the top of the head and gradually inclining the head up and reaching towards the ceiling. This should make the vertebrae of the spine move sequentially one by one until finding an even and long “C-curve” position resulting in the pelvis rolling up and forward until the head finishes in a position where a vertical line through the spine connects it to top of the hips and the curve is finally released on returning to the original sitting position.

The use of the bar attached to the springs on the Cadillac reduces the effect of gravity on the torso. In this way, the challenge to the muscles is reduced and it is easier to perform the exercise correctly. Therefore, the mat version of this exercise is a more advanced version. An alternative way to ease the challenge on the mat is to bend the knees or hold the back of the knees with the hands and use the knees as a counterbalance in this way reducing the weight of the head and shoulders. This will allow the core muscles to work efficiently without having to compensate with other muscles to execute the exercise.