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The roll up is a classic Pilates mat move that's perfect for spinal articulation and strengthening the abdominals, says Tracey Mallett, a certified Pilates instructor and star of the "Pilates Super Sculpt" DVD.
"This exercise is so effective because it teaches you not to rely on your bigger muscle groups (like your thighs) and focuses on using your abdominals correctly in a controlled manner without using momentum. The use of the ball gives you natural feedback of your weaker side so that you can adjust and work on symmetry of your musculature, preventing future injuries."
To do it: Lie down with a small ball (a small pillow will also work if you don’t have a ball) under your heels, both arms extended over your head, palms facing towards each other. Inhale to prepare as you lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor and then exhale as you continue to roll up by drawing in your abdominals, reaching up and over towards the feet. Keep your abdominals contracted, with your spine rounded in a ‘C’ curve, and then inhale to prepare and exhale as you roll down through each vertebra in a controlled movement, keeping your heels pressed evenly into the ball the entire way up and down. Do 15 reps as controlled and precise as you can.
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