Fitness buffs adore their toys. Stability balls – as big and perky as they are – are particularly beloved. The ball is great for boosting core strength, but it offers awesome flexibility benefits as well. If the muscles that cross your hip are getting tight and short from too much sitting or over-training, stretching with a ball can loosen things up and increase your hip range of motion. That translates into an easier, more graceful stride, greater agility and enhanced protection from sports-related injury. Who wouldn't want all that?
Warm up with 10 minutes of light cardio work to raise your core body temperature and prepare your hips for activity. Take a brisk walk around the block, jog on a treadmill or jump rope until you break a light sweat. Better yet, stretch out your hips after a full-blown workout, when your muscles are particularly warm and receptive to flexibility training.
Perform a set of hip isolations. Sit on the ball with your feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Tighten your abs and slowly draw your buttocks forward. Return to a neutral position and then shift your buttocks to the right. Return to neutral and shift your buttocks to the back. Return to neutral and then shift to the left. Repeat the rotation three times in a clockwise direction and then reverse direction. For a more advanced option, rotate the hips smoothly in continuous circles, circling slowly three times to the right and three times to the left.
Sit on the ball with your legs open in a wide “V” in front of you. Sit tall and place your hands on your hips for support. Engage your abs and shift your weight toward your right foot, rolling the ball with you. Keep your torso upright and your right knee over your right instep. When you feel a light stretch along your left groin – or hip adductor – hold for up to 30 seconds. Shift back to a neutral position and then shift over to your left side. When you feel a stretch along your right groin, hold for up to 30 seconds. Continue alternating your right and left legs for a total of two to four times.
Kneel on the floor with the ball in front of you. Step forward on your right foot, placing it on the floor to the right of the ball. Place your right hand on your right hip and your left hand lightly on the ball. When you find your center of balance, step farther forward on your right foot and slowly roll the ball forward, bending your right knee over your right instep. Your pelvis should shift forward, gently extending the front of the left hip. When you feel a stretch in your left hip flexor, hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat two or three times and then switch to your left leg.
Lie on your back with your calves resting on top of the ball. Place your right ankle on your left thigh, near the knee, opening your right knee to the side. Use your left heel to draw the ball toward your buttocks and use your right hand to press gently on the inside of your right knee. You should feel light tension on your outer right hip and buttock. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat two or three times before switching to your left leg.
- Follow the manufacturer’s directions for proper sizing and inflation of your ball and check inflation regularly before use.
- Perform all exercises in a slow, controlled manner.
- Breathe evenly throughout every exercise to achieve a deeper, more effective stretch.
- Bouncing can trigger the stretch reflex, causing your muscles to contract and tighten, which inhibits flexibility.
- Stretching should result in a pleasant sensation, not pain. If you experience pain when using your ball, stop immediately.
- If you have had a hip injury in the past, speak to your doctor about the advisability of specific exercises. If you have had trouble with joint instability or inflammation, speak to your doctor before working with a ball.
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.