This ab exercise is better than crunches — so I did 40 reps a day for a week

a photo of a woman doing a pilates roll up
(Image credit: Getty/JLco - Julia Amaral)

When it comes to working your abs, you’ve probably tried most of the best ab exercises, with crunches, sit-ups, and planks topping the list. But what about ab roll up? Apparently, this simple-sounding move is more effective than crunches when it comes to working your abdominal muscles and sculpting your core. To find out more, I did 40 reps a day for a week. Read on to find out what happened next. 

It goes without saying that 40 reps a day of any exercise is a lot, especially if you’re new to the move. What works for me might not be right for you and your body, so if you’re returning to exercise following an injury, or you’re a complete beginner, it’s a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer before increasing your repetitions, to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk of injury. 

How to do an ab roll-up 

The ab roll-up is a classic Pilates exercise, which is said to be as effective as a full sit-up when it comes to working your core. It might look simple, but the key to this exercise is to move slowly and with control. To do an ab roll-up, start by lying on your back on an exercise mat with your legs straight. Bring your arms over your head so they are straight and your fingertips are pointing out behind you. 

Engage your core and slowly raise your arms up overhead, as they pass your ears, squeeze your abs and let your chin drop to your chest as you peel your torso up off the floor. Continue curling your body forward until your hands touch your toes. 

Keeping your lower abs tucked in, slowly start lowering your spine back down to the floor, one vertebra at a time. Make sure your legs stay touching the floor as you unroll. The arms should still be outstretched. 

Make sure the entire move is done slowly, with control. Remember that the movement should come from the abdominal muscles, so make sure you’re not rocking your body back and forth. 

an illustration of a woman doing an ab roll up

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I did 40 ab roll-ups a day for a week — here’s what happened

Ready to hear what happened when I did this Pilates ab exercise every day for a week? Here goes. 

I really felt more of my core working hard

Some ab exercises are harder than they look, and this is one of them. The key here is to really move slowly; if you rush, you’ll struggle to keep your abs engaged. The roll-up is said to be an excellent exercise for working on your core strength and endurance, and I definitely felt this one in my abs from the get-go. 

To make things slightly more bearable, and ensure I didn’t rush the move, I did four sets of 10 reps for the first few days, taking a short break in between to re-set.

I found it just as difficult to roll back down

This exercise feels like two different moves entirely — the roll up and then the roll back down — and both are equally challenging. At first, I struggled to keep my upper body curved as I started to roll back down to the floor, often finding I was sitting back up straight, then almost moving into a v-sit, before lowering back down to the mat. I set up my phone to video myself, then made a conscious effort to keep reaching for my toes until my lower back was reaching the mat. 

It’s worth noting that due to the c-shape of the upper body in this move, it can be tricky for those who suffer from lower back pain. If you do fall into this category, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor, or a personal trainer, before trying this move. 

I had to work on keeping my legs on the mat

Another problem I had during this exercise was my legs peeling up off the mat as I lowered back down. According to my Pilates trainer, this is normal, as when the hip flexors engage to help you lift your torso, your legs naturally want to lift off the mat too. 

She told me to think about sucking my stomach in and my ribcage down during the curl-up — you’re working the transverse abdominis in this move as your round your spine and raise your torso up. This is the deepest layer of your abdominals. 

I’ll be adding them to my ab workouts in the future

I really enjoyed spending time on this exercise, and will definitely be keeping it in my ab workouts in the future. It’s also an adaptable exercise — if you’re still finding it difficult to get your torso off the ground, grab one of the best resistance bands and loop it around the balls of your feet. Hold the other end of the band in each hand and this will help give you some support as you curl up. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? Read what happened when our fitness writer did ab wheel roll outs every day for a week

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.