Pilates Exercises

Pilates Breakdown: Rollover and Jack Knife

I am seeing such an increase in strength and flexibility in Pilates classes over the past few weeks. You are getting stronger and that's awesome! Some of you may have noticed some new additions in class: Rollover and Jackknife. These moves can lean towards the intermediate to advanced end of the spectrum of Pilates Mat exercises. These two moves are also a part of the original repertoire performed by Joseph Pilates.

I have gotten several questions about these two exercises, so I decided I would outline it all here, so you could have some written tips and advice. Let's break these moves down and understand the benefits, precautions, and mechanics. Even if you haven't done these moves before this a wonderful introduction. Roll Over and Jack Knife work so many different areas of the body at once and can be a great challenge!

Roll Over

In order to successfully attempt Jackknife it is important that you know how to do Roll Over. If you have neck or disc issues, you should not attempt this exercise. Roll Over is a great exercise because it produces a nice spinal stretch and articulation, builds core strength, and challenges your balance. It is amazing that ONE move can produce ALL of these actions and benefits at once.

The Stretch: Roll Over is great for stretch the back body, all the way through the back of legs and the torso. You want to reach through your toes and lengthen through your legs to increase the stretch.

Spinal Articulation: As you bring your legs over you want to roll through your spine, vertebra by vertebra. Then as you bring your legs back down you want roll down, vertebra by vertebra.

Core Strength: Roll Over is not a flop over with your legs nor do you roll down as fast as you can. Roll Over is all about going slowly with lots of control. Instead of swinging your legs, use your abdominal muscles to roll through your spine. You want to keep the movements of Roll Over within your body frame. Your legs will not move to the side.

Shoulder Stability: Keeping your shoulders connected to the ground and opening the chest are the two keys to this exercise. As the legs come over you can't let your shoulders come off the ground. Reach through your entire arm down into the ground. This acts as a counterbalance to the legs going over your head and stabilizes the exercise.

Pilates Roll Over

How Roll Over Works

Make sure you are warmed up before you attempt Roll Over. Hundreds, Roll Up, and Double Leg Stretch are several exercises that are great to do before you try Roll Over.

1. Start laying down on your back, arms by your side, palms down on the mat. Bring both legs off the mat and up to a 90 degree angle. Your toes are reaching up to the ceiling and your pelvis is connected to the floor.

2. Take a deep inhale through your nose, keeping your legs at 90 degrees. As you exhale through your mouth bring your legs up over your chest. Your toes are reaching back behind your head and your arms stay connected to the floor. Your abdominals are doing the work. Avoid using your arms to heave your body.

3. Once your legs are over your body open the legs into a narrow V. Start to roll back down, articulating through your spine. Rolling down piece by piece until your legs are back at the 90 degree angle and bring the legs back together.

Jack Knife

Once you feel comfortable with Roll Over you can progress to Jack Knife. This exercise should not be performed if you have neck or back issues. Jack Knife challenges your core strength and shoulder stability, and stretches are your spine and legs even more than Roll Over.

Shoulder Stability: It is more important than ever to keep the shoulders and arms connected to the ground and the chest open. Distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders as opposed to your neck. Keep your neck long as you reach the legs to the ceiling.

Position of the Hips: Think about reach your hips towards your head as your legs lift to the ceiling. This feeling of semi-opposition in your body will aid in balance and increase the stretch. Reaching my hips back as my legs go up really helps me as I hold Jack Knife.

Articulation of the Spine: Now that the legs are reaching up to the ceiling and your core is working even more it is imperative to use control as you roll down. Think about rolling vertebra by vertebra down to the mat. Avoid letting your back flop onto the mat and then letting the work in the legs go.

Pilates Jack Knife

How Jack Knife Works

Make sure you are warmed up and successfully completed Roll Over 3-6 times before attempting this exercise.

1. Start just like you would in Roll over. Begin laying on your back, arms by your side, palms facing the floor, legs up at 90 degrees. Take a deep inhale to prepare then exhale and start to peel your spine off the floor.

2. Reach your legs back behind you, so you are now in the Roll Over position. Keeping reach your hips outwards in the direction of your head as you lift your legs to the ceiling. The goal is to bring your legs to a 90 degree angle. Your chest stays open and the weight is distributed across your shoulders (not your neck). Arms are pressed firmly down into the mat.

3. Start to roll down, piece by piece, articulating through your spine. Keep your inner thighs glued together and core engaged. Don't let your spine and legs flop down. End how you started with your legs at 90 degrees.

Roll Over and Jack Knife are more advanced mat moves, so take care if you are trying this at home. If you have any questions about either of these moves feel free to contact me or ask about it at your next Pilates class.