Exercise balls, or stability balls, aren't just for folks sweating it out in rehab. Even the fittest of the fit appreciate the ball's value as a tool for building core strength. In fact, working on the ball might fire up your core muscles --- including your obliques -- more effectively than some traditional abdominal exercises. As an added bonus, ball exercises can be easier on the back than standard core exercises, which is good news if you're prone to back pain.
Kneel on the floor within arms-length of the ball, resting your buttocks on your calves. Clasp your hands together and place them on the ball, keeping your arms slightly bent. Raise your buttocks to fully extend your hips and then hinge your torso forward slightly. Brace your abs and slowly lean farther forward, rolling the ball along the underside of your arms. Roll as far forward as possible without allowing the lower back to collapse. Reverse the direction, raising your torso upward as you pull your arms back. Repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of one to three sets.
Loop a resistance tube around a stationary object -- such as a heavy piece of exercise equipment -- and place the stability ball on the floor in front of the object. Lie with your lower back resting on the ball. Grasp one handle of the resistance tube in each hand and pull the handles forward until your hands are over your shoulders, elbows directed in front of you. Tighten your abs and slowly curl your upper body forward, raising your head, neck and shoulders up and toward your pelvis. Hold the position briefly and then lower down to your starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of one to three sets.
Grasp a medicine ball firmly with both hands and lie with your upper back on the stability ball and your feet hip-width apart. Extend your arms, positioning the medicine ball directly over your chest. Twist your upper body to the right, keeping the medicine ball in line with your chest. When you've rotated as much as is comfortably possible, rotate back through the center and over to the left, completing one rep. Complete one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps, keeping your abs engaged and your hip bones level.
Lie with the top of the ball under your middle back and your feet hip-width apart. Carefully rotate your hips to the left until your right hip is directed toward the ceiling. Your feet should be staggered, with your left foot in front of your right. Clasp your fingers behind your head and open your elbows to the side. Pressing your left hip into the ball, raise your shoulders and rib cage toward your legs. Hold the position briefly and then lower your torso to its initial position, avoiding movement in your neck and pelvis. Repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of one to three sets.
Lie on your back with your knees bent toward the ceiling and the soles of your feet on the floor. Grasp the stability ball with both hands and raise it directly over your chest, extending your arms. Slowly lower the ball to your left and your knees to your right. You should feel a light stretch along your left side. Relax and breath evenly as you hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times and then switch sides.
- NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training; Jared W. Coburn and Moh H. Malek
- Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy: Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Swiss Ball Abdominal Crunch With Added Elastic Resistance is an Effective Alternative to Training Machines
- ExRx.net: Stability Ball Rollout
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Russian Twist
- American Council on Fitness: Strengthen Your Abdominals With Stability Balls
- Warm up with 10 minutes of general cardio activity before working with your ball. Take a brisk walk, jog in place or use an elliptical machine. When you break a light sweat, it's probably safe to proceed with your workout.
- Rest for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
- Work with a ball that suits your height. When you sit on the ball, your knees and hips should form 90-degree angles.
- If you're just starting out, avoid working with a ball that is too firm.
- Working with a ball that is over- or under-inflated can result in injury.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.