We love our rolling* exercises in Pilates. If you do them right, using your breath and abdominal muscle control rather than momentum, they feel amazing and give your abs a real workout. Also, rolling stimulates the spine, circulation, and breath.
But, it really takes a lot of determination for some of us to roll well. And in the process, I have to say there are some, well, ways to cheat. Of course, they only keep us from getting the full benefits of the exercise. In my observations there are three classes of Pilates roll cheaters:
1) The Head-flingers: A head fling is pictured above. This will never, ever work. She wants to roll back so she throws her head back, but in the process she has lost the very shape she needs to roll. No only that but the point of the exercise is to use your abdominal muscles and breath. You need a strong C-curve with your neck and head continuing the curve of your spine. The head is in a head nod (not jammed down, but down) and it stays there. It helps to look at your belly.
2) The Back-flingers (sneaky advanced people do this): Oh, this is subtle but insidious cheat. What happens is a person rolls back but then, at the crucial moment, where the abs have to help switch direction, they panic, go into a quick little back extension then quickly return to the C-curve. It might be slight and barely visible but that little move is enough to help catapult them forward. You have to use control and stay curved. Be patient and find out how to get your abs and breath to bring you back. That's half the move, don't skip it.
3) The Leg-flinger/pullers There are two things going on here and sometimes they are related. One is that people sense that they can fling their legs ahead of where they want to go to add to their momentum for rolling. This works rolling forward or back but, of course, it's a cheat. Using your legs isn't using your belly.
The way to recognize the leg-fling is that it really wrecks the form of the exercise. One can't hold a curved rolling shape if the legs are breaking away. For example, in rolling like a ball it's often the lower leg that flies up and out to get things going, especially on the way back. Or, in an open shape such as open leg rocker there is sometimes a collapse of the shape when there is an effort to get the legs to lead the roll back instead of the belly -- just something to watch for.
The other thing is yanking on the legs to pull a roll back or front. This one is particularly distressing because it pulls on the back and shoulders as a resist to the legs. To roll well, the legs are held, from the powerhouse, in whatever shape -- extended or bent -- and the action is in the abs and breath with a supple, curved spine.
My rolls come and go. I struggle with a very flat back and I've been through some of these cheats myself. However, I also think the rolling exercises are special and somewhat unique to Pilates. It is worth taking your time with them an figuring out the inner roll that has to happen to get them to work for you. When you get it, it's really fun.
So what do you do? There are many tips for getting a good roll going. The following rolling exercise instructions all have tips on how to do a good roll:
*If you have neck or back issues, rolling exercises are not for you. Practice similar ab action with supported roll back.
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photo: Susie Haggas demonstrates a move we don't want. (c)2012, Marguerite Ogle