Some people call them stability balls, exercise balls, Swiss balls, or fitness balls. Whatever you call it, this piece of exercise equipment is undeniably helpful in targeting important group muscles like the back, core, arms, glutes, and hamstrings. So, go grab your stability ball and let’s have some fun doing cardio and strength exercises. Yes, you heard me. You can perform both cardio and strength exercises on this bouncy ball. However, before jumping on one, make sure it’s the right fit for you. Simply sit on the ball, if your knees and hips form a right angle, then you found the right one.
Here are the 24 most effective stability ball exercises for a stronger and shapelier you. First up, let’s emphasize some core exercises.
Place your forearms on the Stability Ball™, shoulders over elbows, fingers interlaced, legs together or hip-distance apart, knees bent, hips lowered, and body in long diagonal line. Inhale and prepare to exhale as you extend your knees and hips to come up to a plank position. Hold for a few breaths. Then, exhale as you lower back your knees. To make the forearm plank more challenging, Michelle Vodrazka of Inspired Bodies likes to place her feet on a bench instead of the floor. Aim to complete 5 to 8 reps. Here’s a photo of a perfect plank shared by Agata Kazimierski, director of MERRITHEW™.
Photography © Merrithew Corporation
2. Plank to Pike
This is a challenging, yet highly rewarding move for most people. Are you ready? To do this exercise, place your feet on a stability ball with your hands on the floor, directly under your shoulders. From there, you contract your entire abdominal core tightly to pike up (butt leading), drawing the stability ball under. Hold the pike and return to your plank position. Try to do 3 to 5 sets with 8 to 10 reps each set. Watch Tosca Reno (New York Times bestselling author of Your Best Body Now, the Eat-Clean Diet® series, and The Start Here Diet) as she demonstrates this killer core workout.
3. Pike it up!
Do you want to target and strengthen the deepest abdominal muscles in your body? Trying to master pressing to handstand? If yes, then there’s no better prop than a stability ball. Roll one out, and let’s have some fun with Ally Hamilton, a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher, writer, and life coach. She streams online yoga classes all over the world. Hamilton is also the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com. This is a fun variation of your Plank to Pike exercise. The difference? It’s hella intense! Start off like your Plank to Pike exercise. Instead of flexing, your feet should be extended on the ball. Inhale, then exhale as you slide the ball towards you. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
4. Plank with Knee Stretches
Yes, that’s right. Even your knees need some good old stretching from time to time. Start in plank position, with the stability ball placed underneath the shins. The body is in a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Exhale. Round the spine and use your abs to roll the ball in towards the hands, shins staying on the top of the ball, knees bending in towards the chest, eyes gazing at the abdominals. Inhale. Roll the ball away from the hands, then back to plank position. Try to do 15 to 20 knee stretches.
5. High Plank Hip Extension
This intense core exercise shared by Ella Magers of Sexy Fit Vegan requires not only core strength, but also a keen sense of balance. Start in a high plank position with your hands on the floor and the top of your feet on the ball. Make sure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders. Engage your core to stabilize your body. Using your right glute muscle, raise your right leg off the ball about 6 inches. Hold the position for a few seconds before gently placing it back down and performing the same movement with your left leg. Make sure to keep your leg straight (do not bend at the knee). Repeat until you reach failure.
6. Leg Circles
Coach Noelle of Fitness A Way Of Life takes core training a notch higher. How? Lie on your back and place the stability ball between your legs. Elevate your legs up so your feet face the ceiling. You then lower your legs in a circular motion while still holding the ball. Each time you rotate your legs, aim to make the circle wider until you reach the point where your feet almost touch the ground. Do this in both directions. Repeat 10 times for beginners, 15 to 20 times for advanced training.
Who would have thought that a stability ball could help you achieve rock-solid abs? This intense variation of a stability ball core exercise, as demonstrated by Ben Greenfield, will give you that sculpted six-pack in one single move. So, grab that ball, and let’s get on to it. Start on a push-up position with hands on the floor and feet on the ball. Rotate your body to one side by lifting a leg over the other then back to the ball— that’s one rep. Try to achieve 10 to 20 reps per leg before switching to the other side.
8. Leg Beats
Kathy Corey Pilates, one of the original founding companies of the Pilates Method, shared this fun yet effective core training exercise. To start, lie on top of the ball, placing it below your stomach with legs together and straight. Point your toes. Place your hands on the floor, and walk forward until the ball is below your thighs. Your fingertips should be angled inward. From there, lower your arms as you lift your legs toward the ceiling. Separate your legs until they are slightly wider than hips. Close and open your legs with small, quick beats, then bring your legs together as you drop them low at the level of the ball. Straighten your arms and walk backwards until the ball is below the torso. Fun, right? Now repeat 10 to 20 times.
9. Single Leg Teaser with a Twist
There’s literally a twist in this exercise. To start, lie on your back while holding the stability ball above you with both hands, legs straight and together. Curl the torso, reach the fitness ball forward, and lift one leg off the ground. Bend the knee of the lifted leg while simultaneously rotating the torso to twist to the direction of the bent knee. The opposite leg on the ground is straight and firmly pressed down. Straighten the lifted leg and lower the torso a few inches. Repeat the movement three more times on this side and switch legs. Watch Pilates Anytime trainers as they literally put a twist to this core exercise. Having fun? The girls from Pilates Anytime are giving Lifehack readers an exclusive 30-day free trial. Just use the coupon code LIFEHACK. You’re welcome. Enjoy!
10. Ab Roll to Back Extension
This is an intense, deep core exercise as well as a great spine opener and stretcher. Who doesn’t love that? Start by sitting upright on the stability ball, legs straight, and feet planted wider than hips distance apart. Draw your navel in and extend your arms straight forward for balance. Begin by rounding the spine and rolling backwards onto the ball, one vertebrae at a time. Make sure to keep your abs tight. Lift your arms overhead and lie all the way back to a supported back bend on the stability ball as shown by bi-coastal fitness expert and personality Shay Kostabi. Draw your navel in, and reverse the movements to come up to sitting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
11. Boat Pose
Tone your core and increase your lung capacity with the boat pose exercise, featuring Yogist Amy Ippoliti. From a seated position, hold the ball in your hands, lean back, extend your legs straight out, and spread your toes. Do your best to keep your lower back engaged so that you’re rolling toward the front of your sitting bones, rather than the rear of your sitting bones. Elongate your legs so your quads stay toned but not stressed. Breathe in three full deep breaths and then relax. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Photography © Taro Smith
Here are some exercises emphasizing the upper body.
12. Military Press
Get ready to burn those guns! The Military Press or Shoulder Press on a stability ball not only targets your arms, but also strengthens your core. That’s two-in-one, baby! It mainly focuses on the deltoids, but to avoid swinging from one side to the other, you must stabilize the core as well. The execution of this exercise is simply to press upwards and simultaneously inwards while keeping the core tight and keeping the stress and tension on the shoulders as shown by fitness expert Alex Carneiro. Repeat as many times as you can.
13. Triceps Dumbbell Extensions
Don’t you just hate those flabby, lifeless arms? This exercise will target the triceps. It’s a great exercise for both men and women if they are trying to tone all three heads of the triceps. Full extension of the elbow is required for contraction of the triceps. Ensure that you get a full stretch at the bottom as well. Repeat as many times as you can.
14. Dumbbell Chest Fly
This is a great exercise for developing the inner and outer portion of the chest. It is performed on a ball to enhance range of motion of the exercise, but for those who aren’t experienced, they have to be careful so they don’t open too much and over stretch the shoulder and elbow joints. Repeat as many times as you can.
15. Arm Circles from a Plank
Drop down to a forearm plank on the ball, and gently rotate the ball in a circular motion in both directions using your arms while keeping your core tight and lifted. Coach Noelle says, “It’s a great way to engage the arms with the core.” Repeat 10 times for beginners, 15 to 20 times for advanced training.
You think you know everything about push-ups? Think again. The push-up on the stability ball adds difficulty to the common push-up. Even the most fit will feel the burn with this one. Christie McGonagle of Model Fitness shares a modification to this exercise to isolate the movement. McGonagle suggests not coming back to a plank from a push-up. Hold for 5-10 seconds and work up to longer holds. Repeat as many times as you can.
17. Flat to Incline Dumbbell Press
Move over bench, stability balls are in! To do this exercise, lay down with your upper back on the ball, keeping your lower back and glutes unsupported. It’s the same position you would be in when doing a flat dumbbell press on a bench, except that your lower back is off the bench. Press the weights up from that position. Now, before you start to lower the weights you will drop your hips/glutes toward the floor, so that you are in the position of an incline dumbbell press.
Lower the weights slowly, under control, while staying in this inclined position. Once you’ve lowered the weights all the way down, you will bridge your hips back up so that you are in a flat dumbbell press position once again. Press them back up, then repeat the sequence. Aim for 10 to 20 reps with this exercise.
Do you wonder why there’s all this fuss of changing positions? Let Coach Jason Ferruggia enlighten you, “You are stronger in a flat position than an incline. By pressing up from the flat position and then lowering on an incline, you can overload the upper pecs eccentrically with more resistance than normal. The eccentric portion of the rep is very important for muscle growth, and this is a cool way to emphasize it on the Swiss Ball”. Well said, Coach.
18. Back Crunch
Do you suffer from chronic back pain? Oh man, then this exercise is for you. Grab a stability ball, and let’s get to work. These are the same muscles we target and strengthen in all the Salabhasana variations. But when we use the ball, we kick it up several degrees. There’s no reason you need to deal with frequent back pain. Let’s start solving that for you right now. Do 8 to 10 reps per set.
These exercises emphasize your lower body.
19. Jump Squats
This is a very intense and swift move. Holding the ball at your chest level, lower your body into a squat position. As you jump up, extend the ball from your chest as you straighten your arms. Pull the ball back to your chest-level as you return to a squat position. Repeat 10 times for beginners, 15 to 20 times for advanced training.
20. Hamstring and Glutes Bridge
The key to safe backbends is active legs. Use the stability ball to target your hamstrings and work your glutes (but don’t grip them!). If you’re working on scorpion poses, there’s no better way to find the contraction you need in the hamstrings to complete the pose. To begin, lie on your back and place the ball under your heels. Keep your arms flat on the ground as you do the bridge by lifting your hips towards the ceiling. Remember to use your legs and engage your glutes. For advanced training, raise one leg as you lift your hips to a bridge pose. Aim to do 15 to 20 bridges.
21. Supine Hip Extension with Knee Flexion
This is another variation of your hip bridge shared by Coach Paul Chek, one of the innovators who brought the use of Swiss balls into the fitness industry in the mid-1990s. By the way, it comes with a challenge. Lie on the floor, calves on the ball, arms out to your sides, and palms facing up. Extend up from the hips until you reach a straight line, feet-hips-shoulders. Keeping the hips lifted, draw the ball towards you by bending your knees. The hips should remain in line with the shoulders and knees. The challenge? Do not let your butt drop towards the floor! Slowly straighten the legs, then lower the hips to the starting position. Aim to do 15 to 20 of this bad boy.
22. Crunch and Leg Curl
This is a two-in-one exercise which targets the abdominal and leg muscles, all in one easy move. Start with your back on the floor, legs extended, heels on top of the ball. Place your hands behind your head. Breathe in then breathe out as you bring in your knees towards your chest. Hold that position for 3 seconds, then return to your starting position. It’s like your regular crunch but with your feet on top of the ball. Click here to watch a crunch and leg curl exercise from Franklin’s iBodyFit. Aim to do 15 to 20 crunches.
23. Prone Leg Raise
Strengthen your lower back muscles with this easy move. Place the stability ball under your hips close to your navel, hands on the floor aligned with your shoulders. Make sure you can freely move your legs. Your toes should be pointing to the floor, legs straight as you exhale, and lift your legs as high as you can towards the ceiling. Inhale as you slowly release your legs down. Coach Nicole of SparkPeople emphasizes that this exercise is all about slow and controlled movements. You shouldn’t use momentum to swing the legs. No cheating! Try to do 15 to 20 slow repetitions.
Lastly, a cool down exercise.
24. Legs Up The Ball
Hold the ball as you lay down on your back. Bend your knees up and rest your calves on top of the ball. Make sure the ball is nice and close to your butt. Stretch your arms out at your sides. Make sure that they are at a 45 degree angle with your palms facing up. Close your eyes and rest here for 5 to 15 minutes, being mindful of your breath. This is a great restorative pose when you need to get grounded, rejuvenate after a stressful day, or help to calm the nervous system.
Photography © Taro Smith