Stability balls – lightweight air-filled fitness balls ranging in circumference from 55 to 75 centimeters – were first put into use as a rehabilitation tool for neuro-development treatment in the 1960s and ’70s, before making their way into mainstream fitness facilities in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
The concept behind stability ball training is simple: Balance and stability are important facets of sports-specific fitness, and performing exercises on an unstable surface requires the body to recruit more muscle groups to maintain balance. Over time, stability ball training can improve proprioception, balance, and coordination, while simultaneously improving strength, particularly in the core. And with a price range of $15 to $50 (depending on brand and size), a stability ball is an inexpensive piece of fitness equipment you can easily store at home.
Exercises on a Stability Ball
For best results, incorporate balance training into your normal fitness routine at least twice a week. Even if you don’t dedicate an entire routine to stability ball exercises, add one or two full-body moves to your current strength training routine.
1. Wall Squat
Strengthen your butt, quads, and core by performing a stability ball wall squat.
- Stand against a wall, pressing a stability ball against the wall between the center of your back and the wall. Step your feet out slightly, positioning them a little wider than hip-distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward.
- Bend your knees and slowly lower your hips toward the floor, as though you were sitting down in a chair. Allow the ball to roll up your back as you sit down. Keep your torso upright so you can maintain the pressure against the ball.
- When your knees form a 90-degree angle, hold the position for five seconds, then reverse the movement and press yourself back to standing.
- Perform 12 to 15 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat.
2. Stability Ball Lunge
Strengthen your lower body and core by performing a stability ball lunge. Start this exercise without extra weight, and as you become accustomed to the movement, hold dumbbells in each hand to make it more difficult.
- Stand about six inches in front of a stability ball, your back facing the ball. It’s a good idea to stand near a wall so you can place your hand against the wall for balance, if needed.
- Bend your right knee, raising your foot so you can place the top of your right foot on top of the stability ball. The goal is to have the tops of your toes centered on top of the stability ball. It may take some time to find the “sweet spot,” so use the wall to balance yourself as you adjust your foot position.
- Once you’re balanced, bend your left knee, lowering your torso toward the floor as you begin straightening your right leg behind you. Use your right foot to roll the ball backward, so that your entire right shin eventually rests on top of the ball. Keep your torso upright and forward-facing throughout the movement. Be sure to keep your left heel planted on the ground.
- When you’ve lowered yourself as far as you comfortably can, reverse the movement, straightening your left knee and drawing the ball back toward your body with your right foot.
- Perform 10 to 12 repetitions on each leg. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat one more time.
3. Chest Press
Strengthen your chest and core by performing a chest press while using a stability ball in place of a traditional bench.
- Sit on the center of a stability ball, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be hip-width apart, your feet planted firmly on the ground.
- Step your feet forward, tighten your core, and slowly roll the ball up your back until it’s centered between your shoulder blades. Keep your hips and core tight with your hips lifted toward the ceiling so that you’re forming a “table top” with your torso and thighs. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, your feet planted firmly.
- From this position, hold the dumbbells at chest-height, your elbows bent and pointing out to the sides. Grip the dumbbells so your palms are facing toward your knees.
- Hold this body position and press your arms straight up over your chest, extending your elbows fully, forming an 11 with your arms. Stop just shy of locking out your elbows.
- Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back toward your chest.
- Perform 10 to 12 repetitions. Rest for 30 seconds, then perform two more sets.
4. Decline Pushup
Challenge your chest, triceps, and core by performing a pushup with your feet balanced on a stability ball.
- Kneel in front of a stability ball with your back to the ball. Bend forward, placing your palms on the ground beneath your chest. One leg at a time, lift each leg from the ground and place your shins on top of the stability ball, tightening your core to protect your lower back. The end result should be a “table top” created with your body, your body forming a straight line from your head to your toes, your shins on top of the stability ball, your palms on the ground under your chest, and your arms straight.
- Keeping your core tight and your body straight, bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Just before you touch the ground, reverse the movement and press yourself back to the starting position, stopping just before your elbows lock out.
- Continue the movement, performing 8 to 12 repetitions. Rest for 30 seconds and perform a second set.
5. Shoulder Press
Strengthen your core and shoulders by performing a shoulder press while sitting on a stability ball.
- Sit on the center of a stability ball, your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet planted on the ground, hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Tighten your core and sit up straight, shoulders back and chest lifted. Raise your arms up so that your elbows are pointing out to the sides bent at 90-degree angles, dumbbells at head-height and palms facing forward.
- Press the dumbbells directly up over your head, straightening your elbows, and stopping just before your elbows lock out.
- Reverse the movement, bending your elbows and lowering the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Perform 10 to 15 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds, then perform a second set.
6. Hamstring Curl
Work your hamstrings, butt, and core by performing a hamstring curl while balanced on a stability ball.
- Lie on your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet planted on the ground, a stability ball sitting directly in front of your feet. Place your arms on the ground at your sides, your palms pressing into the ground.
- One at a time, lift each foot from the ground and place it on the center of the stability ball so that your legs are straight with your calves and heels resting on the ball.
- Tighten your core and press your hips up off the ground so that your body forms a straight line from your heels to your shoulder blades. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core tight, press your heels into the stability ball, then bend your knees, using your hamstrings to pull the stability ball in toward your hips.
- When you’ve pulled the ball as close to your body as you can, reverse the movement and straighten your legs, returning to the starting position.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times. Rest for 30 seconds, then perform a second set.
7. Back Extension
Strengthen your lower back and core with the back extension exercise.
- Kneel on the ground with a ball directly in front of you. Lean forward, placing your torso against the ball, then extend your legs behind you, balancing on the balls of your feet. Spread your legs wider for greater balance and stability. Your stomach and chest should be lying across the top and center of the ball, your back straight.
- Draw your hands up to the outside of your ears, your palms facing the floor and your elbows pointing out to the side. This is the starting position.
- Tighten your core and keep your legs and hips stable as you use your lower back to draw your chest and shoulders up and away from the ball. When you’ve pulled your torso as far away from the ball as you can, reverse the movement and lower your torso back to the ball.
- Perform 15 to 20 repetitions. Rest 30 seconds, then perform two more sets.
Strengthen your abs and core by performing a sit up on a stability ball.
- Sit on the center of a stability ball, your torso straight and tall, your feet flat on the floor, and your knees bent at about a 90-degree angle. What you do with your hands is up to you, but you want to avoid using your hands and arms to assist you as you perform each sit-up. I like to hold my hands together in front of my chest, but you can cross your arms over your chest, place your hands on your hips, or hold your hands next to your ears if those positions are more comfortable.
- Tighten your core and slowly roll your torso backward, vertebra by vertebra, until your upper body is parallel to the floor.
- Reverse the movement and roll yourself back up to start. Perform 20 to 30 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat two more sets.
Strengthen your abs, hip flexors, and core by performing a pike on a stability ball.
- Start in a pushup position on top of a stability ball so that your shins are resting on the ball, your palms flat on the ground under your chest, and your body forming a straight line from toes to head.
- Tighten your core and use your hips and abs to draw your hips up toward the ceiling. Keep your legs straight throughout the movement and use your feet to roll the ball closer to your hands so that you’re forming an inverted “V” with your body. When you’ve pulled your hips up as high as you can, reverse the movement, lowering your hips back to the starting position as you roll the ball back to its starting point.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times, rest 30 seconds, then perform a second set.
10. Stability Ball Leg Raise
Strengthen your core, hip flexors, and adductors with the stability ball leg raise.
- Lie on your back on the ground with your arms at your sides, your palms pressing into the ground. Your legs should be straight, and the stability ball should be resting on the ground between your calves.
- Lift your legs slightly off the ground and grip the stability ball between your calves and feet, using your inner thigh muscles to help squeeze the ball tight.
- Keeping your lower back pressed into the ground, tighten your abs and raise your legs up toward the ceiling, keeping your legs straight throughout the movement. When your hips form a 90-degree angle, reverse the movement and lower your legs back toward the ground, stopping just before the ball touches down.
- Perform 8 to 12 repetitions, rest 30 seconds, then perform two more sets.
While stability balls are an excellent way to enhance balance and stability while improving core strength, they’re not the only option. If you’re a member of a gym or you have access to other pieces of equipment, try performing similar exercises on stability discs, BOSU balls, or balance boards. The more you can mix up your workout, try new things, and challenge yourself physically, the greater results you’ll see.
Have you used a stability ball? What’s your favorite exercise?