Looking for a fun yet challenging lower body workout? Try incorporating a stability ball, also known as a Swiss ball or physio-ball, into your workout routine. Stability balls are one of the most versatile workout tools you can use. They were created in the 1960s to facilitate recovery for patients in rehabilitation and started becoming more main stream in the 1990s. Now they are in most fitness centers and homes. There are tons of workouts -- including a workout DVD -- dedicated to using the stability ball. So grab your workout gear, an appropriately-sized ball for your height and get to work.
Wall squats are a perfect exercise to transition to the stability ball. Place the stability ball between your lower back and the wall. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly in front of you. Slowly bend your knees until they are at a 90 degree angle while keeping your head and shoulders forward and your back straight. The ball should roll down the wall with you. As you squat, make sure you can see your toes over your knees. If your knees are bending forward over your toes, there is increased pressure on your knee joint. Fix your position by walking your feet forward a step. Start out holding the squat position for at least 10 seconds and as this exercise gets easier, build up to one minute. You can also perform one-legged squats. Be sure to be near a stable support surface the first time you try one-legged squats so you don't land on your bottom.
Bridging exercises are significantly harder on a stability ball. Start by sitting on the ball and walk your feet forward, rolling your back down the ball until your head and shoulders are supported. Make a “table” out of your trunk, keeping a straight line between your shoulders and hips with your knees flexed to 90 degrees and your ankles directly under your knees. Holding this position can be challenging initially. You can advance by lowering your hips towards the floor and lifting back to the start position. You can also perform isometric gluteal squeezes in the bridge position by tightening the muscles in your bottom and slowly pulsing your hips upward.
Hamstrings are notoriously weaker than they should be because we spend so much time working out our quadriceps muscles. Doing hamstring curls with an exercise ball will whip them into shape in no time. Lie down with your back on a mat or the floor and with your knees straight and heels on the stability ball. Gently lift your hips off the floor and bend your knees, pulling them and the ball toward your body. As this exercise gets easier, try one-legged hamstring curls. In the starting position, lift one leg in the air and hold it up while you pull the ball towards you with the other leg.
With any exercise program, you must work your muscles to fatigue to see strength gains. Start with eight to 10 repetitions of each exercise. When you can do three sets of 10 repetitions without fatigue, you need to advance the exercise by adding resistance or changing the mechanics to make it harder. Make sure your stability ball is properly inflated and place a mat under or in front of the ball in case you fall.
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