You’re at the gym staring at the ab equipment. On one side you have a workout bench in a declined position. On the other side you have a stability ball. Your time is limited, and you want to get the best results for your efforts. It’s time to make a choice. And in almost every situation, with only a few exceptions, the stability ball will be the clear winner.
Define Your Goal
In order to decide which piece of equipment you want to use, you first need to evaluate your goals including which area of the abs you want to work. If you are targeting a specific area such as the lower abs or obliques, your choice might be different than if you want to work the entire ab section. Determining your purpose for the session will help you make the right choice in equipment.
Total Ab Workout
If your goal is to get a total ab workout, the answer is easy with the stability ball being the clear winner. According to "Fitness Magazine," although a bench is beneficial for certain moves, a stability ball engages the abs on a deeper level, incorporating not only the entire ab group, but also the lower back, which gives you greater overall results in fewer moves. And because it requires you to focus on maintaining balance while performing each ab exercise, it works additional muscles throughout the entire core. It’s clearly the best bang for the buck.
Targeting the Lower Abs
If, instead, your goal is to target your lower abs, either the stability ball or the declined bench can be a good choice with the slight edge going to the declined bench. According to Muscle and Fitness, reverse crunches on a declined bench are one of the best moves you can do to strengthen this hard-to-target area. You can take two approaches to crunches on the bench with your head positioned either at the top or the bottom of the decline. Both provide an incredible burn as you work. When using the stability ball for lower ab work, there are a greater number of moves from which to choose. Try ball leg lifts, ball bridges and general ball crunches for great results.
Targeting the Obliques
When toning and strengthening the side muscles of the abs, the obliques, the stability ball, again, offers more options and a greater overall experience than the declined bench. Because you are focusing on stability and balance while on the ball, the obliques are engaged whether you are targeting them or not. However, for side-strengthening moves specifically, the ball offers a greater variety of choices. Some of the most powerful oblique-enhancing moves on the stability ball include side planks, side wall crunches and what "Fitness Magazine" calls “wall-ups,” in which you lie face up on the ball with your lower back in the center and knees bent at a 90-degree angle and flat against a nearby wall. After placing your hands behind your head, crunch up and twist to the side, completing 10 reps in each direction.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.