Have a Ball: Using The Stability Ball In Your Workout Routine
Swiss balls, also referred to as stability balls are one of today’s top fitness tools. This one, inexpensive piece of equipment can improve the strength of your abs, the lower back, butt, thighs, and more.
Using the stability ball creates an unstable surface, forcing you to engage your core throughout every exercise in order to maintain your balance. The constant shifts to maintain your form and position result in improved balance, coordination, and flexibility. The stability ball can be used alone, with free weights, or in combination with a medicine ball.
Where Did It Come From?
The Swiss ball was originally used in the 1960′s by physical therapists and chiropractors in Switzerland, who used the ball to in rehabilitation treatments. It was brought over to the US in the early 1980’s, where its use stretched far beyond rehab. In the late 1980’s coaches and personal trainers saw the effectiveness of using the Swiss Ball to develop balance and core strength.
While it is still used for physical therapy today, the stability ball is now used in gyms across the world as part of a regular workout routine. Everything from resistance training to weight lifting and stretching can all be done using the stability ball.
Today we’re covering resistance training, but first it’s important to know how to choose the right size ball for your exercise needs.
Size Matters—What Size Ball Is Best for You
Before you run out and buy a stability ball, make sure you know the right size ball for your height. You can test it by sitting on the ball and making sure your hips are level or just slightly higher than the knees. When seated on a fully-inflated ball with your knees directly over your ankles, your knees should be bent at a 90 degree angle.
These are the size recommendations based on height:
- 55 cm – 4’11″ – 5’4″
- 65 cm – 5’5″ – 5’11″
- 75 cm – 6’0″ – 6′ 7″
I find it best to try out the size that is listed for your height, and also the next size up, if possible. There are many exercises that I prefer to do with a larger ball. I’m tipping the charts at a whopping 5-feet tall, and I use a 65cm ball for the majority of my stability ball exercises.
I do agree though, that if you are doing seated exercises with weights, it is best that your knees are bent at that 90 degree angle. There’s just a lot more fun to be had then just doing exercises while seated on the ball.
I Have My Ball . . . Now What?
The following group of exercises are done without weights, using only your body as resistance. They are a great addition to any workout and can also be used in interval and circuit training.
Double Leg Drop and Reach – Laying flat on your back, place the ball between your ankles and lift your legs up off the floor with your heels pointed to the ceiling.
Lift your shoulders up off the floor with arms lifted straight up. This is your beginning position. From here, lower both your arms and legs simultaneously, making sure to hold your abdominals in tight and keeping your spine in a neutral position. As you return to your starting position, grab the ball with your hands and repeat the movement.
Continue to alternate the ball between your hands and feet for 25 reps or until your abdominals have reached their limit.
Push-ups on the Ball — Roll onto the ball leaving your legs on the ball and placing your hands on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder distance apart. Lower your chest to the floor and return to starting position for the completion of one rep.
Advanced exercisers should start with their shins on the ball, while beginners should modify this position by starting with their thighs on the ball to decrease the difficulty of this exercise.
Bridges on the Ball – Lay down on your back with your lower calves or Achilles tendons down on the ball. With your arms down at your sides, slowly roll up off the floor, one vertebrae at a time until you reach a bridge position with your hips lifted off the floor. Should you feel any pain in your knees, re-adjust your position by bringing the ball in closer towards your body.
You should maintain a nice diagonal line from your ankles to your shoulders. Remember that during this exercise it is important that your weight is placed on your shoulders rather than on your neck.
Hold this position by squeezing both your abs and your glutes. Beginners should start by holding this position for 20 seconds and slowly returning to the floor, lowering yourself down one vertebrae at a time.
A phrase my class hates to hear is: “Hold on . . . there’s more!” To increase difficulty, while maintaining the bridge position with hips lifted off the floor, bring your knees in towards your body and slowly back to starting position. It’s important to focus on keeping the hips lifted throughout the exercise.
After 20 reps of this variation, your hamstrings and glutes will be screaming for mercy.
Oblique Crunches — While this exercise can feel awkward at first, when you find the correct positioning, it is an amazing oblique workout that increases your range of motion by allowing you to extend over the ball.
Lay down sideways on your ball. Place your feet wide apart against a wall with your toes pointing forward. I tell my class to make sure their hips are stacked one on top of the other, with one hip pressed right into the ball.
Place your hands behind your head and slowly extend down over the ball. Exhale as your squeeze through the obliques and bring your elbow towards the wall. As you lift, try and bring your lowest rib right to your hip. Slowly lower and repeat.
After 15 to 20 reps, switch sides.
In and Outs/Pike — Laying with your shins on the ball and hands directly under your shoulders, you begin this exercise in a push-up plank position. Pull your belly button up towards your spine as you slowly roll the ball in, bringing your knees toward your chest then return to starting position.
For an extra challenge, you can turn this move into a pike. Instead of bending your knees in, keep your legs straight and slowly roll the ball in. You should try and bring the ball in far enough so that as you come up, your tailbone points to the ceiling. Slowly return to starting position.
Pikes on the ball are definitely for the advanced exerciser. Focus on pulling your knees in and out for the first few times you do this exercise. As your strength and balance improve, pikes are a great way to challenge yourself.
Wall Squats – Standing up, place the stability ball between your back and a wall. You want to place your feet far enough away from the wall, so that when you squat down into a sitting position, your knees are directly over your ankles. As you lower and lift into and out of your squats, press your lower back against the ball and pull your abdominals in tight.
With my class, we usually alternate between slow squats, quick pulses, and just for fun I also make them hold the sitting squat position for 20 seconds at a time.
Stationary Lunge – With your stability ball behind you place you left shin on top of the ball. Your front leg should be as far away from the ball as possible, while maintaining a good level of balance and comfort. Slowly lower yourself down by bending the front leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep the left leg firmly on the ball and slowly return to your starting position.
For this exercise, start with 15 reps on each leg. This exercise may seem awkward at first and you will rely heavily on your core muscles to stabilize yourself throughout the movement.
Superman – Laying face down on the ball, place your hands on the floor directly beneath your shoulders. Your hip bones and lower abdominals should be pressed onto the ball. Turning your toes out, lift your legs up as you squeeze your gluteal muscles. The trick to this exercise is lifting just high enough to feel the burn in your hamstrings and butt, but not too high to engage the lower back.
With this exercise I do 25 reps lifting and then hold the position for 30—yes 30—seconds.
Coming Soon . . .
I almost feel bad giving you this workout and not covering the many wonderful stretches that can be done using the stability ball, but you’ll have to check back next week for that article. Given the fact that the stability ball was initially used for physical therapy, there was just too much to include in one piece!