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What’s the deal with those big bouncy balls taking up space around the gym? Stability balls — also called exercise balls, balance balls, Swiss balls, or fitness balls — are more than just fun to sit and bounce on; they’re a great way to improve strength, cardio endurance, and balance.
By tackling basic moves on an unstable surface, your muscles may get more bang for their buck. A 2007 study found that doing crunches on a stability ball could not only train the abs but also significantly increase muscle activity. Sternlicht E, et al. (2007). Electromyographic comparison of a stability ball crunch with a traditional crunch. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17530978
A 2006 study showed that stability balls are also great for getting back into shape after an injury because they can reduce muscle and spinal strain for certain movements. Drake JDM, et al. (2006). Do exercise balls provide a training advantage for trunk extensor exercises? A biomechanical evaluation. DOI: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2006.04.011
While newer research is sparse (maybe researchers are too busy bouncing around), a 2013 study found that stability ball exercises were effective for those with lower back pain. Chung S, et al. (2013). Effects of stabilization exercise using a ball on multifidus cross-sectional area in patients with chronic low back pain.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772599/
And a 2014 study found that older adults could significantly improve muscle activity in the back, abs, and glutes by working with a stability ball for 20 minutes five times a week for two months. Seong GK, et al. (2014). The effect of trunk stabilization exercises with a Swiss ball on core muscle activation in the elderly. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4175260/
To get the most from a bouncy fitness routine, make sure to choose the correct size stability ball. Most balls come in three diameters based on the user’s height, though some come in four or five.
- People between 5 feet and 5 feet, 5 inches tall should choose a 55-centimeter ball.
- People between 5 feet, 6 inches, and 5 feet, 11 inches should grab a 65-centimeter ball.
- Tall drinks of water between 6 feet and 6 feet, 3 inches should work with a 75-centimeter ball.
Recommended height ranges vary a bit among stability ball manufacturers, but here’s a good rule of thumb: Sit on the ball and check out your hips and knees. If they’re at right angles with the floor, you’re good to go.
Note: Some of the moves below use a larger- or smaller-than-normal ball. For most exercises, though, it’s best to have the correct size equipment.
Your reps and sets will depend on your fitness level. For most of these exercises, we recommend doing 3–5 sets of 10–20 reps.
After a few workouts, try bumping up the reps to really test that strength. Ready to go? These moves take the stability ball way beyond the basic crunch.
1. V-sit with ball
V is for victory… in the killer abs department, that is. Lie faceup on the floor with ankles resting on top of the stability ball. With arms pointing toward feet, roll your torso up so your body forms a V with hips on the floor.
Hold for five counts (long enough for a serious case of the ab-shakes). Slowly roll back down to the floor. Repeat for 6–10 reps.
2. Ball jog
Get your heart pumping and release that inner child all at once. For this blood-pumping move, sit tall on the ball with abs engaged and feet firmly on the floor.
Lift knees up and down to bounce as high as possible on the ball. Try bouncing for 2–5 minutes to keep your heart rate up mid-workout (or try it as a fun warmup).
Work those abs with this tough move. Lie faceup on the floor with arms and legs extended. Grab the ball overhead with both hands.
In one smooth motion, lift arms and legs, transferring the ball from hands to feet, in between your ankles to be exact.
At this point, only your hips and butt should be touching the floor. Lower your arms and legs to the floor with the ball between your ankles. Stay strong with the correct form for 6–10 reps.
4. Knee tuck
Start in a push-up position with toes resting on the ball and straight arms, keeping hands on the floor under shoulders. Bring knees toward the chest until knees are directly under hips. Extend knees back to push-up position and repeat for 10–15 kick-butt reps.
5. Hanging knee raise
Use this move to crunch those hard-to-find lower abs. Place the ball in front of a weight bench or another sturdy piece of furniture. Lie back on the ball, with shoulders and back touching the surface.
Grab the weight bench with your hands and keep legs pressed tightly together. Flex abs and bring knees toward chest, using arms for stability. Bring those abs out of hiding with 10–15 reps.
Tip: For a more advanced move, try holding a free weight.
6. Ski step
Wondering where the obliques come in? Try this Alpine-influenced move to work the sides of your abs. Sit tall on the stability ball with feet together. In one smooth motion, swing feet to the right and arms to the left.
Don’t be afraid to get into this move — the higher the enthusiasm, the better the workout. Bring arms and legs back to center and repeat for 12–15 reps, alternating sides.
7. Side squat
Finish up an ab-tastic routine with a bit of a stretch. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, grasping the ball overhead with both hands.
Keeping back straight and abs engaged, bend down and bring the ball to the outside of your left foot. Lift the ball again and repeat on the right side. Stay strong and limber for 10–15 reps.
8. Overhead ball squat
For this one, complete a traditional squat while holding the stability ball with arms extended overhead. Adding weight while keeping your torso in an upright position engages your shoulders and deltoid muscles. Go for 10–15 reps of this bad boy.
9. Wall squat
Put those quads to work with this power move. Stand about 3 feet from a wall with feet shoulder-width apart and back to the wall.
Place the ball between your lower back and the wall. Squat slowly until legs form 90-degree angles at knees. Use the ball to support your back as it rolls from your lower back to your shoulder blades. Slowly stand up again. Repeat for 10–15 reps.
10. Standing ball squeeze
If you’re easily embarrassed, try this move at home. It may look funny, but it seriously works your hips, lower back, and inner thighs.
Stand upright and place the ball between your legs, so the center is about even with your knees; it should not be touching the floor.
Squat until knees form 90-degree angles, squeezing the ball to stay balanced. Hold the position as long as possible, working up to 30–45 seconds per set.
For this move, consider using a ball that’s not the perfect fit. A larger ball makes this move more difficult, while a smaller ball is a little easier on your thighs.
Tip: If you’re a beginner, you can also use a chair or wall for help with balance.
11. Hamstring curl
Lie on the floor with arms extended perpendicular to the torso and lower calves and heels on the ball. Engaging glutes and abs, lift hips up from the floor. Use your outstretched arms for stability — you’ll feel a bit wobbly, but that’s OK.
Exhale and slowly bring knees in toward hips, so feet are resting flat on top of the ball. Pause for a few seconds in this position and then inhale, straightening legs again.
Keep those hips up the whole time to get maximum gluteus maximus benefits. Aim for 10–12 reps of this total-body move.
12. Squat and reach
Get the blood flowing with a slow-and-steady squat. Plus, it works your arms and abs as well as your legs.
Hold the ball with straight arms so it’s about level with your face. Squat, bringing the ball all the way to the left side, just above your left foot. Hang tight in this position for three slow breaths, then untwist your torso and return to standing before repeating on the other side.
For the best results, keep your butt down in the squats and hold arms straight out in front of the torso. Try 10–15 reps of this twisty move to get your arms, core, and legs in tip-top shape.
13. Ball lunge
Ready for the balance of big leagues? While standing, place the ball behind you and put one foot top-down on the top of the ball. Step your other foot out about 6 inches and bend both knees in a deep lunge.
Make sure the knee of the front foot does not go past toes. This advanced move will test stability as well as strength, so shoot for 8–10 reps on each side, or as many as you can do with proper form.
Tip: A chair or railing can provide extra support.
14. Reverse extension
Last but certainly not least in this sequence, time to work that booty. Start with your chest on the ball, with fingertips and toes resting on the floor. Roll forward so hands are under shoulders and hips are directly touching the ball.
With feet together and core engaged, lift legs straight from the floor until they are in line with the torso. Hold for a beat, and then repeat. Try for 12–15 reps before heading back to solid ground.
15. Balance push-up
These ain’t your mama’s push-ups! Take this basic bodyweight move to the next level with a stability ball.
Lie facedown on the ball with hands and feet touching the floor and stomach on top of the ball. Walk hands out until shins are resting on the ball and torso is in a flat push-up position.
Lower torso toward the floor until upper arms are parallel to the floor. Return to the “up” push-up position and continue for 8–10 reps — or more, if you can hang.
16. Standing plank
Pump up the intensity of a standard plank with this move. Using a wobbly stability ball gives your shoulders and arms an extra-tough workout.
With one leg extended behind you, rest elbows and forearms on the ball. Step another leg back so feet are together. Hold the position as long as possible, working up to 30 seconds per set.
Tip: For a really tough challenge, try this move with straight arms.
17. Roll out
This multitasking move works your arms and core — score! Kneel behind the ball, with palms down on top. Slowly use your hands to push the ball forward until triceps are resting on top of the ball.
Your legs will be near all the way extended, with knees on the floor. Remember: A tight core will keep your body moving straight ahead. Concentrate on maintaining the proper form for 10 reps straight.
Tip: Feeling the pressure on your knees? Place a towel or yoga mat under them for a little extra TLC.
18. Back extension
You can do it — put your back into it! Start with stomach and hips on the ball, legs extended straight behind, toes resting on the floor.
Hold on to the ball with your hands for balance. Raise your chest high, like a Cobra Pose or Upward-Facing Dog in yoga. Bring hands to the back of the head. Hold for a beat or two, then return to a relaxed position. Repeat for 12–15 reps.
Tip: If this position is difficult to maintain due to slippery shoes, try placing your feet against a wall.
19. Triceps dip
Get stronger tris with this adapted dip exercise. Sit on the ball with legs forming 90-degree angles and feet hip-width apart. Place hands on either side of hips and slowly scoot hips forward so they’re a few inches in front of the ball.
At this point, your heels are on the floor and your hands are on the ball supporting the rest of your body. Use triceps to lower arms down a few inches, then return to the starting position. Keep back straight and abs engaged for 10–15 reps.
Been there, done that? This super-advanced move will have even fitness buffs sweating. Start in push-up position (as in No. 15), but with toes resting on top of the ball instead of shins.
With straight legs, use abs to pull toes toward chest. When this move is done properly, your torso will be in a push-up position with your back straight (no arching or sagging) and legs angling down toward the ball. This move ain’t for the faint of heart, so give it a shot for 5–8 reps.
Want your very own stability ball? Here are some great exercise balls to do these moves at home.
- GoFit Professional Stability Ball: A nubbly blue surface will keep this basic ball from getting slippery during a sweaty workout. Plus, it has exercises printed on the surface of the ball.
- SPRI Elite Xercise Balance Ball: This weighted ball comes with plastic pellets that can be poured into the ball for a more challenging workout. Prying the plug off was tricky, but once we inflated it, the ball was much thicker and sturdier than a regular stability ball.
- TKO Fitness Ball: This ball is made of special Anti-Burst Material, so feel free to use it wherever. These are great to use as office chairs as well.
- Gaiam Eco Total Body Balance Ball Kit: This ball has the perfect amount of giving, plus grippy bumps around the sides to prevent slipping.
- URBNFit Exercise Ball: This ball comes in all kinds of fun colors and includes a workout guide and pump.
- Trideer Exercise Ball: We’re fans of this ball because of its solid reviews. The 12-month warranty is nice, too.
Whether at home, at the office, or in the gym, your workout options with stability balls are basically endless — not to mention super convenient.