Roll ups can be one of those nemesis exercises that people struggle with and they can cause so much frustration. I’ve got a number of people in various classes who struggle with these so it’s made me get my thinking cap on. Why are they such a struggle? How can you get better at them? How do people suddenly manage to be able to do them?
What is a roll up?
A roll up can start from seated or lying down. I’m going to start from the mat. So we start with a curl up, chin towards the chest, working through the upper spine.
To do this you use primarily the rectus abdominus muscles (six pack muscles) and also the obliques (waist muscles). So this part of the exercise means you need to first off work on those curl ups.
The next stage is the most challenging part and brings more muscles into play. Bringing the ribs and torso off the mat. The aim is to do this segmentally, working vertebrae by vertebrae through the spine, keeping the shoulders down and not using momentum. So not only do you have too deepen and increase your curl up but you need to bend at the hips as you come up towards seated. This uses the hip flexors to pull your body up off the ground. Many people get stuck at this stage.
STUCK ON THE MAT: work on your breathing. If you get stuck at the ribcage, exhaling properly and using the diaphragm as you breath can help. It will open the ribs and help lengthen the spine. Also use spine stretches and the shoulder bridge to help mobilise your spine. Go back to the 1/2 roll back and focus on really deepening your C curve, this will stretch the tightness in your lower back and strengthen your abdominals. Think of scooping and bring your belly button towards your spine to really get the curve. When you try the full roll up, keep your ribcage heavy and down into the mat as you roll up, then once your ribs are up keep the lower back heavy on the mat and keep peeling the spine up.
For the roll up to work well you need your back to be flexible. It doesn’t matter how strong your abdominals are, if your back is stiff you won’t roll up segmentally. If you struggle with the rollover and rolling like a ball then this is likely you.
STIFF BACK: work on shoulder bridges. Get that spine moving piece by piece letting gravity help you. Focus on your breath as you do it. Breath out as you come down to the mat.
Use the spine stretch to stretch the upper-mid part of your back. Also work your C-curve. Focus on the half roll up and also rolling like a ball without rolling! So getting into that position really rounding the lower back and sinking into the tilted pelvis.
To learn more look out for part 2 of this post focusing on hip flexors.