Are you still stuck doing old fashioned crunches and sit-ups? It’s time to move on, to use your abdominal muscles to lengthen your body and support your spine, not to shorten and crunch. I am convinced that once you switch from conventional sit-ups and crunches to the roll-up, roll-down and many related exercises, you will never go back.

When I go into a gym and see people doing sit-ups with a weight on their ankles, a partner holding their feet down, or their feet held down by a bar, I cringe. Think about the bio-mechanics in this situation. While the inner transverse abs are doing little or nothing (often the person is unaware this important muscle exists) the rectus abdominus is pulling the pelvis and ribs toward each other, shortening the front of the body. But, why do the feet want to rise from the floor?

The feet rise from the floor because the person is using the powerful hip flexors (primarily Psoas & Iliacus) to pull their legs and feet towards their head, when they think they are using their abdominals to lift their upper body and carry their head toward their feet. Since the Psoas connects the lumbar vertebrae to the femur, and Iliacus connects the back of the pelvis to the femur, the result is a lot of stress on the lower back (toward lordosis) at the same time as the Rectus Abdominus is shortening the front of the body. This combination, when practiced repeatedly, is a recipe for back problems.

The elegant solution, one which will enhance your abdominal workouts, is to recruit and strengthen the inner transverse abdominal muscle. When you take control of this muscle and learn to use it you will be able to do roll-ups and roll-downs while actively pressing your legs and feet into the mat rather than having to have someone hold them down. And with each repetition you will lengthen your body as you roll out your back and lengthen through your core.

The following downloadable .pdf’s  will guide you through the process of learning to recruit the “T/A,” as it is often called, do a proper roll-down and back up, and to learn more related exercises from the Pilates repertoire.

Introductory Level: Finding your transverse abdominal muscle

Basic Level: Grounding

The Roll Up: Not a Sit Up


As a caveat, let me add that the written word is the worst way to try to teach movement and exercises. Pictures help, but none the less it’s a difficult method at best. Demonstration, in person or on video, is a better way to teach. Verbal instruction can work too. But hands on, the student doing the exercise with the teacher instructing and using touch, physical cuing, is the best.

So while you will gain some sense of the exercises from these pages, only by working with a good teacher will you be able to master them.