Targets: Back stretch
Wall roll down is a simple standing mat exercise. Practice using your abs to achieve the articulated curve of the spine that is used so much in Pilates. It stretches the back and the hamstrings, as it works the abdominals, and teaches good posture. This is a good way to train for more challenging exercises like the roll up, where you also use the sequential activation of upper and lower abs to curl and un-curl the torso. You might practice it at home or as part of a warmup before a Pilates session.
This exercise is excellent for Pilates novices to practice activating the abdominals. As well as focusing on the abs, you also are concentrating on relaxing the shoulders, which is where many people store tension. You can use it as a stress-reliever at any time during the day. Scrunched up shoulders and tensed neck muscles contribute to poor posture.1 The body awareness you develop will help you achieve better posture, take fuller breaths, and improve your walking form. This will help relieve strain throughout your back, neck, hips, legs, and knees.
Stand tall against a wall.
- Leaving your body on the wall, walk your feet 6 to 10 inches away from the wall.
- Pull your abdominals in. Keep your shoulders away from your ears, your arms straight at your sides. your chest wide and your ribs down. Inhale.
- Nod your head and begin to slowly roll your spine down and away from the wall, vertebra by vertebra, while exhaling. The abdominals stay lifted and there is a sense of lengthening the spine as you roll down. Your arms track with your body, staying parallel to your ears. As the roll down progresses, you have the opportunity to deepen the scoop of the abs even more. Work slowly, peeling the spine away from the wall. Let your head and neck relax.
- Roll down as far as you can go without letting your hips leave the wall. Inhale. Your abdominals are very pulled in. Feel the curve evenly along the upper, middle and lower sections of your torso. You could be getting a good hamstring stretch here.
- Exhale and begin your return up the wall by initiating the roll up with your lower abs. This is a powerhouse move. Think of using the lower abs to bring your pelvis to an upright position. Continue up, placing each vertebra on the wall, one by one.
- As you come close to upright, you will feel a moment when you can let the ribs stay down as shoulders drop into place. It feels a bit like your upper body is rolling up between your shoulders.
- Bring your roll up to the starting position. Be sure your abs are engaged and your shoulders are dropped.
Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise and avoid strain.
Going Too Fast
This exercise is meant to be done slowly, vertebra by vertebra, with control. Doing it with any speed will not allow you to feel the connection.
Be sure that your shoulders are relaxed. Release the tension and get used to this feeling as it is essential for good posture. You might want to review your Pilates posture.
Forcing the Stretch
Do not force yourself to go lower than is comfortable. This is not a toe touch. Only roll as low as you can without the hips leaving the wall and without strain.
Modifications and Variations
There are ways to change this exercise to make it easier to do as you are a beginner and to deepen it.
Need a Modification?
Modify wall roll down by only going down as far as you are comfortable. You can also bend your knees slightly.
Up for a Challenge?
You can do this exercise with raised arms to vary it. Before starting the roll down, raise your arms straight up over your head. As you roll down, keep your arms parallel to your ears. As you roll up, your arms travel alongside your ears and the shoulders stay relaxed. Finish with arms overhead with wide shoulders and an open chest.
A further progression is the standing roll down, done away from the wall.
Safety and Precautions
Stop if you feel any pain during this exercise. Roll only as low as you can do comfortably while keeping contact with the wall. As this exercise involves a slight inversion, discuss it with your doctor to see if it is appropriate if you have glaucoma or high blood pressure. Stop if you feel lightheaded or dizzy.