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October 25, 2022 13 min read

Exercise balls, aka stability balls, balance balls, fitness balls, and Swiss balls, are great exercise tools for strength enhancement, balance, and even cardio endurance. Unfortunately, stability balls don’t get the deserved attention. Dedicated strength trainers, bodybuilders, and lifters associate exercise balls with physical therapists, Pilates classes, or tools for carving the core.

Stability balls’ initial purpose was as rehabilitation tools for neuro-development treatments between the 60s and ’70s.

They didn’t become popular in fitness centers until the late ’90s and early 2000s. The original design and concept of stability balls were the improvement of balance and stability.

Even though an exercise ball might not help you build serious strength like barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells can do, the wobbly ball can certainly benefit your muscle endurance significantly.

Stability ball core workout – Image from Shutterstock

Since your body engages more muscles to maintain balance, many of which are small muscles that your regular workout routine would not activate, balance balls can be a great way to enhance your workout. Intelligently designed stability ball exercises can increase balance, stability, coordination, and proprioception, while also improving your strength.

Things to know before you use a Stability Ball

Although the gym ball might look like a fun piece of fitness equipment, knowing how to use it properly is crucial—not only to maximize benefits but also to avoid injuries. The Swiss ball acts as a workout machine and a surface weight.

The instability of the wobbly round ball works on all your major and minor muscle groups. It adds resistance to all your movements on the ball, thereby activating muscle power and strength to complete the movements of each exercise.

Before you use a balance ball for a full-body workout, consider these guidelines and tips for how to properly and safely use a stability ball.

Stability Ball Sizes

1. Choose the appropriate size stability ball:  Stability balls come in different sizes, based on your height, and selecting the right size can provide the necessary support throughout the workout and reduce injury risks.

  • If your height is up to 5’5”, select the 55-centimeter ball.
  • If your height is between 5’5” and 6’0”, pick the 65-centimeter ball.
  • If you are taller than 6 feet, choose the 75-centimeter ball.

Some brands of stability balls indicate their weight capacity

Gym Ball - inflate - Image from DesignJunction

2. Ensure the stability ball has the correct air pressure:  An over-inflated stability ball is dangerous. It should be bouncy but firm. Test it first, it must give slightly when you sit on it. Release or add air to ensure it is safe to use.

Sitting on Stability Ball - Image from Shutterstock

3. Sit squarely on top of the ball:  Proper form or posture is crucial, and a safe position is to sit with your upper body in a straight line, and your lower body at a 90-degree angle flexed at the hips. Your knees must be bent at a 90-degree angle, your feet should be shoulder-width apart and firmly on the floor. If you need more stability, you can place your feet further apart.

4. Ensure you have enough space: You need a wide-open area to move around when you use a stability ball. Note that some exercises will require you to roll out your entire body length, so you’ll need to ensure the available space can accommodate your size.

Best Stability Ball Exercises

When your stability ball workout is smartly planned, it will provide a full-body workout. It will help strengthen your stabilizing muscles, improve your exercising technique, and strengthen imbalances to improve your lifting performance.

Here’s what happens when you perform stability ball exercises. All the core muscles and those surrounding your shoulders and hips work together to keep your body balanced and stable while they’re put through a full range of motion to make them stronger.

To optimize the strength benefits of stability ball exercises, perform all the eccentric phases very slowly and controlled. An eccentric movement is the lowering phase of a move. That's when your muscles work in their lengthened state, for example, your glutes when you lower into a squat, or like your biceps when you lower a dumbbell after a curl.

Stability ball workout - Image from Shutterstock

You might not be aware, but every muscle fiber in your entire body is at its strongest as it moves eccentrically. So, for the full benefit of every eccentric movement, if at all possible, do the lowering movements to a 5 to 6-second count. During the eccentric phase, your muscles must work against gravity to control the lowering of a weight or your body weight to prevent it from dropping in an uncontrolled manner because of gravity.

When asked to name the 10 best stability ball exercises, the answers may depend on your goals.

This list shows ten of the best.

1. Swiss Ball Decline Push-Up

Target — Upper Body — triceps, biceps, shoulders, chest, upper back, wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and the core.

Starting position:

Start in a high plank position, but place your lower legs on the stability ball, one at a time. Place your palms on the floor, facing forward. Walk forward with your hands until your shins and knees are resting on the ball, with your hands and arms supporting the rest of your body weight.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. While balancing your feet on the ball, brace your core and keep your spine neutral as you flex your elbows, inhale and slowly lower your upper body to a push-up position.

  2. Don’t arch your back or sag your hips. Keep your legs and back straight with your body in a straight line from your heels to the back of your head.

  3. Just before your chin touches the floor, exhale and straighten your arms to push your body up into the starting position, while maintaining plank form throughout.

  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 5 reps, with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — As you progress and master the stability ball decline push-up, you could increase the reps to make this exercise a bit more challenging.

2. Stability Ball Incline Push-Up

Target— Upper Body — triceps, biceps, shoulders, chest, upper back, wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and the core.

Starting position:

Place a stability ball on the floor in front of you, bend over and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the ball, with your fingers pointing slightly outward. While balancing your upper body weight on your arms on the stability ball, extend your legs behind you, flexing your toes.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Inhale, brace your core, look down at the floor and flex your elbows as you lower your upper body until your chest almost touches the stability ball.

  2. Exhale and straighten your arms to push your upper body up to the starting position.

  3. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 5 reps, with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — As you progress and master the stability ball incline push-up, you could increase the reps to make this exercise a bit more challenging.

3. Exercise Ball Crunches

Target— Core — lower abs, middle abs, upper abs, lats, obliques, and shoulders.

Starting position:

Place an exercise ball on the floor behind you. Sit on the ball and place your feet flat on the floor. Slowly walk your feet forward to roll your body down until your back rests on the stability ball. Slightly tuck your chin to keep your neck and spine neutral. You can let your arms rest beside you on the ball, or cross your hands on your chest.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Squeeze your abs and tuck your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine.

  2. Push your back into the ball and keep your neck in line with your spine.

  3. With your feet firmly planted, exhale and lift your upper body and crunch.

  4. Inhale and slowly lower your torso back to the start position — this is a great ab exercise, and you should feel your abdominal muscles pinch.

  5. You’ve now completed one rep.

  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — As you progress and master the exercise ball crunches, you could increase the reps to make this exercise a bit more challenging.

4. Swiss Ball Jackknife aka Knee Tuck

Target -– Core — shoulders, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles.

Starting position:

Put a Swiss ball in front of you on the floor. Rest your hands on the ball and your knees against the Swiss ball. Lean forward until your upper body lies on the ball. Roll forward and place your hands on the floor in front of the Swiss ball. Walk forward with your hands until the ball supports your knees and shins. You should now be in the decline push-up position.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep your head down, engage your core, and ensure your hands are shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of the ball.

  2. Exhale and use your legs to roll the ball toward you, flex your knees and pull them as close as you can to your chest, while keeping your hands in the same position.

  3. Inhale and roll the ball back until your legs are straight, and you are back in the starting position.

  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIPThis is an advanced exercise that should be done under a personal trainer’s supervision if you are a beginner. Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the Swiss ball Jackknife exercise.

5. Stability Ball Pike Crunch

Target -– Core — glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles.

Starting position:

Position the stability ball behind you, place your hands hip-width on the floor and place your legs on the ball behind you. Support your upper body with your hands on the floor. Lift your hips into a plank position, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your pointed toes.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Exhale and push your hips up towards the ceiling, allowing your legs to pull the stability ball closer while you drop your head and look at your thighs.

  2. Hold this position for 2 seconds.

  3. Inhale and slowly push your hips down and let the ball roll back to put you in the starting position.

  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 5 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP This is an advanced move. Ask your trainer to help you if you are a beginner. Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the stability ball pike crunch.

6. Exercise Ball V-Pass

Target — Core — upper abs, lower abs, hamstrings, shoulders, quads, and glutes.

Starting position:

Lie down on a mat facing up. Keep your legs straight on the floor, and your outstretched arms above your head, holding the exercise ball with both hands.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. With your core engaged, and your abs squeezed, exhale and lift your legs and arms simultaneously to move the exercise ball from your hands to between your calves and ankles, thereby creating a V-shape.

  2. Inhale and slowly lower your arms and legs as you return to the starting position, BUT don’t let the ball touch the floor.

  3. Repeat the curling movement, this time passing the exercise ball from your legs to your hands, again stopping short before the ball touches the floor.

  4. Continue passing the ball between your legs and hands until you reach the desired number of reps.

  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 5 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the exercise ball V-pass core exercise.

7. Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl

Target — Lower body — Hamstrings, gastrocnemius muscles.

Starting position:

Lie down on a mat, facing up. Lift your legs, keep them straight and place your calves on the Swiss ball. Place your hands beside you with palms facing down.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Squeeze your glutes, engage your core, and lift your hips off the floor to create a straight line from heels to shoulders.

  2. Exhale and drag your heels to roll the ball as close as possible to your hips or until your knees are at 90 degrees.

  3. Inhale and straighten your legs to roll the ball away from your butt, and return to the starting position.

  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the Swiss ball hamstring curl.

For a more intense workout, you can do the single-leg version of the Swiss ball hamstring curl by using alternate legs to roll the ball toward your butt, instead of both legs.

8. Stability Ball Wall Squat

Target — lower body — Glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and develops hip and core strength

Starting position:

Stand up straight, facing away from the wall with your feet hip-width apart, facing forward. Place the stability ball between your back and the wall.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Press your back into the ball, inhale and roll the stability ball down. Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.

  2. Hold for a moment before exhaling and pressing your heels firmly down to straighten your legs and roll the ball back up to the starting position.

  3. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the stability ball wall squats.

9. Swiss Ball Russian Twist

Target — Upper body — upper back muscles, triceps, biceps, shoulders, chest, wrist extensors and flexors, and core muscles.

Starting position:

Lean with your upper back on the Swiss ball with your feet firmly planted, your hips straight out in front of your body and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Your body should be straight from knees to shoulders throughout the exercise. Hold your arms out straight in front of your chest with your hands clasped.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to hold your hips up.

  2. Rotate your torso and arms to the left side with the ball rolling across the back of your shoulders.

  3. Roll until your arms are parallel to the floor.

  4. Pause, and then return to the starting position.

  5. With your hips still elevated, roll your torso and arms to the right side.

  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 5 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — This is one Swiss Ball Exercise in which a faster pace brings additional benefits. Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the Swiss ball Russian twist.

10. Swiss Ball Mountain Climber

Target— Core — obliques, glutes, quads, and core muscles. Improve muscular endurance and has cardiovascular components.

Starting position:

Stand in front of a Swiss ball. Bend over and place your hand palms shoulder-width apart on the ball. Another option is to flex your elbows and rest your forearms on the ball. Extend your legs behind you so that you are in a high plank position.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Use your arm strength to balance your upper body and prevent the Swiss ball from rolling forward throughout the exercise.

  2. Engage your core, inhale, and push your left foot down while bringing your right knee to hit the Swiss ball, and back to the floor.

  3. Push your right foot down and lift your left knee to hit the Swiss ball before returning to the starting high plank position. This completes one rep.

  4. Continue switching between the left leg and right leg for the desired amount of reps.

Aim for 3 sets of 12 reps with a 45- to 60-second rest before moving on to a new exercise.

PRO TIP — Beginners may place the Swiss ball against a wall until they master balancing their upper bodies on the ball while working their legs.

Increase the reps as you progress and become more comfortable with the Swiss ball Mountain climber. Stability and cardio intensity can be amped by picking up the pace of the legs climbing the mountain.

Benefits of stability ball exercises

Stability ball exercises as a part of your workout routine will isolate and activate muscles you don’t typically engage in bodyweight exercises.

For example, your transverse abdominals, the deepest of the 6 abdominal muscles. It extends between the ribs and the pelvis, wrapping around the trunk from front to back. Other known hard-to-target deep core muscles like the pelvic floor and lower back extensors are reached when you do Swiss ball exercises.

The use of these muscles improves your core strength, balance, and stability while increasing your workout’s overall effectiveness.

Strong Core – Image from Shutterstock

Most importantly, greater activation of the core muscles when working out with the stability ball enables you to recruit more muscle groups without the need to increase the load.

Core stability is an essential component for improving athletic performance and injury prevention.

Research indicates that exercises done on a stability ball are significantly more effective than those done on the floor.

Also beneficial is the versatility of the stability ball. You can use a size Swiss ball to suit your unique needs, based on your choice of exercise and your goals for muscle workouts.

Furthermore, the level of inflation can be used to control the challenge. Softer Swiss balls offer less stability and will increase the muscle challenges related to body weight and resistance.

Along with toning your core muscles, stability ball exercises enhance your strength, agility, and endurance.

How to Work Out Safely and Avoid Injury

Safety is crucial for any workout routine. If you have any pre-existing or previous health condition, it is best to consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.

Proper exercise technique and form are essential to ensure the effectiveness and safety of any exercise program, whether you do strength training or fitness workouts. However, for your own safety, you might have to modify some exercises based on your health and fitness level.

Always select an appropriate weight to ensure you have full control throughout the movement.

When performing any exercise, pay close attention to your body, and stop immediately if you experience pain or discomfort.

Never disregard the importance of warm-up and cool-down routines, which are vital for continual body strength progress and overall wellness. However, proper rest and nutrition are equally important facets of your exercise program if you want to achieve your goals.

After workouts focused on specific muscle groups you should rest those muscles for 24 to 48 hours before targeting them again.

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