Rolling like a ball - a Pilates exercise to stretch the lower back and a 'prep' version.

Rolling like a ball is the name of a deceptively simple looking exercise in the classical pilates repertoire.

It is useful for anyone that sits for long periods - whether that is in a desk or ona bike or in a  car.

The first video in the sequence shows a stretch that prepares your body for the exercise. This stretch, or 'prep' combines beautifully with the Cobra push up (video link) for general spinal health. In fact there are few 'pairs' of exercises/stretches I could recommend more highly for basic spinal wellbeing.

The video sequence extends the stretches to much more advanced exercises, all of which have Rolling like a ball as their root.

On the Blog I have gone into greater detail regarding muscles involved in the exercise, the benefits of the exercise and the progressions.

Rolling like a ball does three things very effectively when done correctly:

  1. it stretches the muscles of the inner thigh (the adductors and in particular the longer and larger of these muscles that work in unison with your hamstrings and hip flexors) and the muscle of the posterior (back) hip, your gluteals and deeper gluteals; Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus medius, Piriformis and quadratus femoris to more specific.
  2. Stretches the muscles of the lower, middle and possibly the upper back. When you are able to get a smooth, even roll in the movement (no square or flindstone wheels) muscles all along the spine are stretched and massaged by the movement. In particlaur the Qaudratus Lumborum. This muscle has twin aspects, sitting either side of the lower back (the muscle originates on teh transverse processes or sticky out side bits of all 5 lumbar vertebra and the bottom rib) when the muscle shortens or contracts it draws the bottom rib towards the posterior or back rim of the pelvis (the muscle inserts here and without getting tooooo nerdy, there is a significant interconnection between Quadratus Lumborum and Gluteus Maximus well supported in the emergent evidence regarding Fascia)
  3. This is my favourite aspect of the exercise. The abdominals. Trying the movement you will notice after a few repetitions that there is some abdominal work involved in generating the force necessary to roll 'up' onto your sit bones.

This is definitely not the easiest or most effective way to strengthen the abdominal wall.So here's the rub. 

Much of Pilates work is focused on hardening (strengthening) the abdominals. This is important and for people who are generally weak and new to movement it is very important to develop stability in the abdominals, Glutes and lower back. However, once that has been established there are layers of subtlety available for those interested.

II'll expand on this more in an upcoming post; in brief, if your abs are 'hard' which usually means a lot of activation in the Rectus Abdominus or the oft instagrammed six pack then this exercise will feel like there is a 'block' between your ribs and hips. A chunkiness to the 'roll' The ability to soften and fold the abdominals at the belly button crease becomes necessary and this action is paradoxically as much about strength as a body hollw hold. In this case though the strength needs to be supple, and driven by deeper abdominals. Specifically the Transversus Abdominus the fibres of which run in a generally transverse direction or around the body like a corset. 

If you have done any of my classes you will know that I frequently emphasise this, particularly in Stretch classes when we are forward bending or in twisting poses. 

I have created a series of short videos that start with this exercise - and a preparation version for people who find their lower back too stiff for the movement - and progress to much more dynamic and challenging versions.

As the sequence proceeds, the exercise moves from a gentle stretch of the lower back to a rolling squat (deck squat) and handstand preparations, and finally to full handstands.