Stephanie Thielen by Stephanie Thielen

Red, green, blue, gray, pink…what’s with all those big, colorful bouncy balls taking up space around the gym? Stability balls—also referred to as Swiss balls, physioballs or fitness/exercise balls—are large, vinyl balls you can use to strengthen and stretch the body, improve cardio endurance, and improve core stability and balance.

The stability ball is usually associated with exercises such as crunches to tone up and strengthen the core, but training on the ball offers so much more. Add the ball to traditional exercises such as squats, push-ups and rows, and you’ll get more bang for your buck, as more muscle groups are involved to perform the exercise and keep you balanced on the ball.

Let’s Have a Ball

Perform eight to 12 repetitions of each of these four exercises, completing between one and three sets.

Anchored Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers

  • Set Up: Place the ball up against a wall. Place the hands on the ball, feet on the floor and assume a full plank position.
  • Action: Drive the right knee into the chest, and then return to the floor. Repeat with the left leg.
  • Stability and Cardio Challenge: Increase intensity and challenge stability by picking up the pace of the legs and quickly alternate knees to chest.

Knee Tucks

Knee Tucks

  • Set Up: Assume a full plank position with the hands on the floor and the ball placed beneath the front of the thighs or knees on the ball.
  • Action: Exhale and slowly bend the knees towards the chest, ideally keeping the knees under the hips and shins on top of the ball.
  • Stability Challenge: Move the ball closer to the ankles.
  • Muscular Challenge: Add a push-up in between each tuck.

Supine Hip Bridge With Leg Lifts

Supine Hip Bridge

  • Set Up: Lay on your back with the ball placed beneath the calves, with the legs glued together and toes pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Place the arms on the floor in the “A” frame (5 and 7 o’clock), with the palms facing down.
  • Action: Contract the glutes, lifting the hips up toward the ceiling. Hold this position and lift the right leg 6 inches off of the ball, and then lower the leg back to the ball. Repeat with the left leg. Release the bridge back to the ground.
  • Stability Challenge: Move the ball so heels are in contact with the ball.

Sidelying Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Sidelying Dumbbell Lateral Raise

  • Set Up: Lay on your right side, with your hip and armpit pressed against the ball, the left leg extended and the right knee on the ground. With the dumbbell in your left hand, place your arm on top of your left leg, palm facing down.
  • Action: With a straight arm, lift the dumbbell up toward your ear, and return back down.
  • Stability Challenge: Straighten both legs or place the ball closer to the hips.

Before beginning stability ball exercises, it is important to take certain safety precautions. Here are some great tips:

Use the Correct Ball Size: The color of the ball does not matter, but the size does. You need to use a ball that is properly inflated and the right size for your height. Height recommendations are listed below, but a general rule to follow is that when sitting down on the ball, your thighs should be parallel to the floor.

  • 45 cm: Under 5’
  • 55 cm: 5’ to 5’7”
  • 65 cm: 5’8” to 6’3”
  • 75 cm: Over 6’3”

General Rules for Stability: Play around with your body position to find the most comfortable and stable place to begin an exercise. The options are endless—there is always a way to increase or decrease stability by changing the base of support, by holding onto the ball, or by moving the ball up or down the body. Here are some tips on maintaining balance in different positions:

  • While seated: A wider stance will provide more stability, while bringing the feet closer together will challenge stability.
  • While prone (ball underneath the legs): Performing an exercise with the ball closer to the hands will be easier, while moving the ball closer to the feet will be more intense.
  • While supine (ball underneath the legs): Keeping the ball closer to the hips will be easier, while moving the ball closer to the feet will increase the intensity.
  • While side-lying: For more support, place more of the body onto the ball (hip to armpit); for a greater challenge, place the ball closer to the hip.

Workout Area: Make sure you have plenty of space to move and remove any obstacles that could make the ball off-balance (weights, water bottle, keys). Perform all ball exercises on a clean surface, because dirty floors and carpet could potentially make the ball slip out from underneath you. If needed, try placing the ball on a yoga sticky mat.