Rolling Exercises for Core Strength and Coordination: by Paul Kevin Smith
When was the last time you rolled around on the ground? No, not foam rolling, I mean actually physically rolling from front to back. Being able to roll on the ground is actually a fundamental representation of motor control; it is a basic demonstration of timing and coordination that work behind the scenes to provide static and dynamic stabilization.
We’re all technically experienced rollers, as rolling is a fundamental movement pattern that we all mastered as babies. However, as we graduate to walking and spend less time on the floor, those movement patterns may have gotten broken or weakened over time, resulting in a lack of coordination when engaging in movements of higher complexity (think: gymnastics, plyometrics).
Let’s examine and practice three categories of rolling exercises: Rolling Upper Body, Rolling Lower Body, and Core Control Rolling With Knee Touch. Try out each of them, and be sure to move in a slow, relaxed way, breathing continuously throughout each. If you find any versions are difficult for you to perform comfortably, then that is revealing a movement pattern deficit that can be improved with practice.
Practice: Rolling Upper Body
- Lie on your back with arms overhead and feet hip-width apart.
- Keep the body totally relaxed from waist down.
- Lift one arm up and reach across to the opposite side of the body with the head lifting and eyes following the hand.
- Roll face down, keeping legs relaxed on the floor until they roll over following the upper body.
- To return, reach the moving arm out to the side, then toward the ceiling and across the body.
- Again, the eyes follow the hand and the lower body remains relaxed, passively following the upper body movement.
Practice: Rolling Lower Body
- Lie on back with arms overhead and feet hip-width apart.
- Keep the body totally relaxed from the waist up.
- Lift one leg up and reach it across to the opposite side of the body (the knee can bend).
- Let the upper body follow in a relaxed way as you roll to a facedown position.
- To return, lift the moving leg and reach it across to the opposite side of the body, letting the upper body follow in a relaxed way as you return to lying face up.
Practice: Rolling With Knee Touch
- Lie on your back with arms relaxed at your sides, feet hip-width apart.
- Flex one hip bringing the thigh parallel to ground with knee bent.
- Reach with the opposite side hand to touch the inside of the knee.
- Keep the hand in contact with the inner knee throughout the movement.
- Reach the other arm across the body, turning the head to look at the leading hand as you roll onto your side (the head stays on the floor throughout the movement).
- To return, reach the free arm across to the opposite side of the body, again looking at the leading hand as you roll onto your back to the starting position.
For each of these, try 5 sets of 5 repetitions on each side, every day. Remember: if any are challenging for you, that may be an indicator of weakness. So start with fewer sets and reps, and work your way up to fives over time. Putting these rolling exercises into practice will result in greater motor control over your core muscles, which will translate into higher level, more complex movements and activities.
Paul Kevin Smith is an Adjunct Professor of Exercise Science and Student Development at Austin Community College, as well as an experienced yoga teacher, trainer, and functional movement specialist. He has a M.Ed. degree in Kinesiology from U.T. Austin, and is a Level 2 certified provider of the Functional Movement Screen. His other certifications include ACSM Clinical Exercise Physiologist, ACE Health and Wellness Coach, PhysicalMind Institute Pilates Mat Work Instructor, and IAYT Yoga Therapist. For training, functional movement screening, or other queries, Paul can be reached at 512-731-7167, [email protected], or at @pksmithatx on Instagram.
Cook, Gray, Movement. Santa Cruz, CA: On Target Publications,
Functional Movement Systems, (2020, June 26) Exercise Library, Retrieved from