Ashley Graham is a longtime fitness buff who isn’t afraid of complex and challenging exercises. BOSU curtsy squats, banded hip bridges, and double-banded sumo deadlifts are just a few of the many tough workout moves the model has shared with us over the years.
Now, thanks to a recent Insta share, there’s another move we can add to that very long, very impressive list: the tuck-n-roll, an on-the-floor, core-centric exercise that requires serious abdominal strength.
On Wednesday, Graham posted an Instagram Story series documenting part of her workout with celebrity trainer Kira Stokes, New York–based fitness instructor and creator of the Kira Stokes Fit app, and the tuck-n-roll seemed to be, hands-down, the most difficult of the day.
Here’s a glimpse at Graham attempting it:
To see the move in action, check out this video Stokes shared via @kirastokesfit in May 2018 (just disregard the squat and push-up portion):
In case you’re wondering just how difficult the tuck-n-roll is, Graham captioned one of her Insta Stories with “THIS IS SO HARD!!!!!!!” and Stokes, in her own video of the move, wrote “[the move] may look innocent but HOLY ABS.”
Why it works
As Stokes mentions, the tuck-n-roll demands serious core strength. “It makes you feel like a kid,” Stokes tells SELF of the tuck-n-roll, which she also refers to as the roly poly. “It’s one of those moves you feel is ridiculous as you are doing it.” Performing it correctly is definitely not child’s play, she adds.
The move involves placing a mini stability ball (also sometimes called a Pilates ball) on your thighs and then compressing yourself around it as you rock back and forth. To do it correctly, you need to keep your elbows and quads firmly connected to the ball as you rock and use the strength of your abs—and your abs alone, no outside momentum—to drive that movement. “When you tell people to take momentum out of it, it becomes a totally different beast,” says Stokes.
This movement pattern will likely feel odd at first. You may feel “like you don’t have control of your body,” says Stokes, particularly at the bottom of the move, when you're on your back. The natural tendency in this position will be to flail your arms and kick your heels to power your body back up, says Stokes, but the goal is to fight that and keep your body compressed as tightly around the ball as possible. Then, at the top of the movement, you'll attempt three micro rocks back and forth, which is sneakily the most difficult part of the exercise, says Stokes. Throughout the move, you'll continually engage your abs with no break. This time under tension makes the move a great core challenge, says Stokes.
Though the move is pretty low-risk, she adds that because it does involve a rounded back, if you have a history of any back pain or injury, check with your doctor or physical therapist before attempting it.
Here’s how to do the tuck-n-roll:
You’ll need a soft, lightweight, medium-sized ball. Stokes recommends starting with a 4-pound (or lighter) leather medicine ball or a rubber ball like Graham uses.
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat, hip-distance apart. Place the ball on top of your thighs.
- Tilt back slightly onto your tailbone so that you feel your core engage.
- Clasp your hands together in front of your face and press your elbows (and forearms, if the ball is large enough) into the ball. Lift your feet and drive your quads into the ball.
- If you can, drop your heels towards your butt.
- Driving your elbows and quads into the ball as hard as you can, tilt farther back until your entire body rocks backward and you roll onto your back and shoulder blades. Then rock back up.
- Balance on your tailbone and rock forward and back 1 to 2 inches, focusing on moving from your abs. Perform three of these micro rocks.
- That's 1 rep. Try for 8 to 10 reps.
Remember, these are harder than they look, so it may take some time to work up to even eight reps, and that's totally fine. After however many reps you can eke out, flip over and hold a forearm plank for 30 to 45 seconds. Then do two more sets of tuck-n-rolls with a plank after each, suggests Stokes. After having your body in such a contracted position with the tuck-n-rolls, the elongated position of the plank will likely feel nice on your back, she says. It will also add some extra core work by engaging your transverse abdominis (the deep core muscle that wraps around your spine and sides).
Though dropping your heels toward your butt is “not imperative,” says Stokes, it can be a helpful cue so that you don’t kick your heels as you rock up. Doing so would incorrectly engage your legs, not your abs. Try to keep your heels as close to your butt as possible throughout, and continuously press your elbows into the ball as if you are trying to pop it, says Stokes.
To make the move easier, try using a bigger ball, suggests Stokes. Also, “be patient,” she adds, as there is a learning curve with this move. On your first set, you may feel like you are “all over the place,” and for most people, "there will be a moment where you do lose connection [with your elbow and/or quads to the ball] when you try to roll back up,” she says. But with focus, you’ll likely see improvement on the second and third sets.