Have you seen those big round stability balls at the gym or a sporting goods store? They look like oversized beach balls but believe it or not; the stability ball is a great tool to improve your balance and strengthen imbalances between your left and right sides and your center of power, the core, and glutes.
My introduction to the stability ball was not exercise-related. When my wife and I had our first child and was pregnant with our second child, she would hold our baby and bounce up and down on the ball to comfort him. If you have ever had to settle a tired, screaming, uncontrollable baby, you will try anything.
I don’t remember if it worked, but our baby might have had fun. Not sure about mum, however.
But let’s bring it back to exercise. Here I’ll go into a brief history of the stability ball, its benefits, and four stability ball exercises to get you in tip-top shape.
Stability Ball’s Brief History
The stability ball was invented way back in 1963 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer. He came up with a foolproof process of molding large puncture-resistant plastic balls.
Stability balls were first used in treatment programs for newborns and infants. Then in the physiotherapy and Physical Therapy settings, treating clients with orthopedic and medical issues.
Who knew you could have so much fun with balls?
Stability Ball Training Benefits
If you have used a stability ball, you know how tricky it can be because it constantly shifts around every rep you do. If you haven’t used one, what are you waiting for? The stability ball instability ensures you’re engaged and have fun from the get-go.
Here are a few excellent benefits of using the stability ball.
Sitting on the stability ball, you feel your core, so imagine what happens when you do something on it. The major advantage of stability ball exercises, as opposed to the ground, is that your body engages more muscle to stay balanced. (1)
Increased Intensity Without Weight
The instability of the ball increases your ability to recruit more muscle without an increase in weight. This is because of the greater involvement of your body’s stabilizer muscle to stay upright. (2)
Performing exercises on the stability ball, like push-ups and ab crunches (as opposed to on the ground), increases the activation of core stabilizers which helps provide greater resistance to injury. (3)
4 Stability Ball Exercises
My clients and I perform these four exercises regularly to strengthen the core, challenge our balance, and keep our bodies out of the Physical Therapist’s office.
Stability Ball Fallout
Your lower back is not made to flex or extend. It likes to stay neutral, particularly under load, otherwise known as anti-extension. The stability ball fallout trains this along with your anterior core, and the unstable ball slows down the movement to give your body more time under tension. Trust me when I say this is a good thing for your gains.
Benefits: The instability of the ball helps you focus on good technique and gives your core extended time under tension.
How to do it: Having something soft underneath your knees helps if you have old knees like me. Get on both knees with your hands on the stability ball and straight arms. Get upright, squeeze your glutes, and roll the ball forward until your upper arms are on the ball, keeping your torso straight. Roll back to the starting position and reset and repeat.
Set & Reps: 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Stability Ball Walkout With Push Up
The stability ball walkout with push-ups challenges your core, shoulder strength, and balance. while ‘walking out.’ The moment you’re slightly off-track, ‘walking’ there, back, or doing the push-up, your face could meet the floor.
Benefits: Puts the chest, triceps, glutes, and core under more time under tension due to the control needed to do this.
How to do it: Roll the ball to your stomach with your hands and feet on the ground, and then take small steps with your hands until your feet touch the back of the ball. With your hands underneath your shoulders, do a push-up and walk back the ball to your stomach. Reset and repeat.
Set & Reps: 3 sets, 6 to 8 reps
Stability Ball Single-leg Hip Extension Hamstring Curl
This exercise strengthens the hamstrings as hip extensors and knee flexors, giving you more bang for your hamstring buck. Due to the stability ball’s nature, your stabilization demands increase, making your muscles work harder and longer. Plus, doing all the reps on one side will help strengthen imbalances between sides but be warned. This is a real bum burner.
Benefits: Strengthen the hamstrings, hip extensors, and knee flexors to give you a sexier backside without using weights.
How to do it: Put your foot on top of the stability ball with the other leg bent and engage your working glute to keep your lower back neutral. Come up into a single-leg hip extension and curl the ball towards you till your foot is flat on the ball and your body is in a straight line from hips to shoulders. Slowly reverse the movement, lower your hips to the floor, and repeat.
Sets & reps: 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Stir The Pot
The stir-the-pot exercise takes the front plank up a notch or two. Adding movement to the front plank position trains anterior and posterior core, shoulder stability, glute strength, and your love handles (obliques). This exercise feels like your abs will tear in two. Don’t worry; you can thank me later.
Benefits: Strengthens your deeper core muscles that protect your spine from unwanted movement, and it will give your sexy abs.
How to do it: Dig your elbows into the stability ball the entire time. Wider circles and feet closer together make this exercise challenging. A wider stance with your feet with smaller circles makes this exercise easier. Squeeze your glutes, perform all your circles to one side, and then perform them on the other.
Sets & Reps: 6 to 10 circles in each direction for 1 to 3 sets.
You’ll have a ball ‘playing’ with the stability ball while strengthening and improving your core and balance. Plus, there will be no crying baby in sight. Lucky for you.
- Vera-Garcia FJ1, Grenier SG, McGill SM. Abdominal muscle response during curl-ups on both stable and labile surfaces. Phys Ther. 2000 Jun;80(6):564-9.
- Silva FHO, et al. Comparison of the Electromyographic Activity of the Trunk and Rectus Femoris Muscles During Traditional Crunch and Exercise Using the 5-Minute Shaper Device. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 Jan;34(1):1-10
- Anderson, G. S., Gaetz, M., Holzmann, M., & Twist, P) EMG activity during stable and unstable push-up protocols. European Journal of Sport Science, 13(1), 42–48. European Journal of Sport Science Comparison (2013