No, it is never about touching the toes! (*gasp and eye roll*). Roll Downs are both easy and complicated, can sometimes flow or be over thought and tentative; one week you’ve got it, the next that giant beach ball you are supposed to be bending over has evaded you completely. They can baffle a new or experienced client. We can be scared to to go too far and feel a twinge in the lower back.
But we love them! They Rock and Roll! (*eye roll*)
So, why do them?
A Roll Down is often the first thing you do in Pilates as it helps you understand your back and gauge mobility, as well as your balance and stability. It’s a move that demands you think about each bit of your spine and how it moves. It also teaches us how to engage the centring muscles to help support and move the body.
And we keep doing them not just because we always need reminding to check in with our spine but also to keep it flexible and strong, all the way up and all the way down.
So, let’s break it down…(who’d have thought it could be so detailed??)
AIM: To mobilise the spine
Starting position: Standing correctly with proper alignment and neutral pelvis and spine. Think wide across the collar bones
First movement: Inhale, and as you exhale, nod you head a little way forward in a small chin tuck – leave room for that satsuma to avoid over flexing – soften the shoulders and begin to wheel the spine forward. Now, this is where the imaginary beach ball is needed – you need to think ‘up and over’ so that each vertebra gets some love and space around them. And our wonderful Rectus Abdominus (see October blog!) wants to lengthen as it goes over rather than be squished up. Think about lifting the tummy up into the ribcage, using the exhale to help this, closing the rib cage in and widening across the shoulder blades. Allow the arms to just hang from your shoulders. Get as much curve as you can out of that spine before closing up that crease in your leggings, keeping that lovely shape in the spine.
How far do I go? Go steady on your first one if just warming up, and roll down as far as feels comfortable. It is NOT about touching your toes. You should be looking at your knees, and not at your toes. If you feel you are getting close to them, try lifting the back of your waist up further to the ceiling to get more stretch in the lower spine that tends to feel the least mobile. But be brave as you repeat. Use those tummy muscles to support the lower spine on the way up.
Keep the knees soft and not locked back, trying to keep the weight even across the feet and not push your bottom back. Try it against a wall to check!
And then what? Don’t hang around literally, keep those front abdominals active as they are helping to hold the spine up. Inhale, feel the breath fill the lungs at the back, soften the knees a little if tight, and exhale, slowly roll the spine back up, opening up that crease in the leggings before re-stacking the spine, head up last. And repeat.
So…just working the back then?
Well, it is a brilliant back mobilisation exercise, and it is using all the muscles around your trunk to help you move and support the weight of the spine and your heavy head. But think about how the legs are staying strong to keep you stable too.
Remember: These instructions are to read and to support your Pilates in a qualified teacher led class environment. If you are practising at home remember no exercise should be undertaken without clearance from your medical practitioner.