Why Can’t I Do The Pilates Roll Up?

You are not alone! Many people struggle to do the Pilates roll up. It’s one of the exercises I most frequently get asked about. Clients often struggle to do the roll up in its entirety without being aided by a foot strap, pulling with their arms, or some other modification.

There’s no one reason why someone struggles with the roll up, the source of the problem is different from person to person. The roll up is a complicated exercise meaning it’s a lot harder than it looks. For this reason, the roll up is one of my favorite exercises. It’s a classic Pilates move. Let’s go over some of the things you need in order to do a full Pilates roll up:


Like a lot of Pilates exercises, the roll up requires a fair amount of ab strength. More specifically, we need our rectus abdominis muscles and our obliques which start the exercise by curling you up. 

Once you peel your upper back off the mat, you need to start bending at the hips. In order to do this, you need your hip flexors and even more abs.

A very common problem people run into at this point is having their legs lift off the ground. You may have super strong abs and hip flexors but if you can’t ground your heels into the mat, you can’t do a proper roll up. What’s missing in this case is hamstring strength. Your hamstrings are needed to anchor your lower body as you roll up the rest of the way.


Most (if not all) Pilates exercises require you to have some level of flexibility. Strength without mobility just isn’t functional. In order to perform a good roll up, you’ll need flexibility in your spine and the back of your legs.

The more you are able to curve your spine, the easier it is for you to be able to roll up. Curving your spine brings your weight forward, moving you in the direction you need to go.

Leg flexibility is equally important, and not just so your roll up looks nice at the finish. Having straight legs keeps weight in your heels and helps to anchor them. When you have tight hamstrings and need to bend your knees, your heels become closer to your body and much harder to anchor.


It’s important to get the rhythm right with the roll up. Use too much momentum at the beginning and you’re essentially cheating. Use too little momentum and you’ll never make it off the mat. Everything needs to be coordinated properly for the roll up to happen. The best thing to do is match your rhythm to your breathing. Take a deep inhale as you begin to roll up. Exhale fully as you reach for your toes. Inhale as you begin to roll back. Exhale at the bottom and stretch your arms back. If you’re breathing fully, your roll up will be paced perfectly.

I hope this helps those of you struggling with this deceivingly difficult exercise. For more help with your roll up, schedule a private Pilates lesson and do some investigating.

Rachael Turner Inertia6 Founder - Bellevue Pilates Studio

Rachael Turner

LMT, Pilates Instructor
and Founder of Inertia6

Rachael has a passion for movement and her athletic training and experience give her body-awareness and insight.
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Learn how you can do the Pilates Roll Up in a private one-on-one session.