Training with a stability ball can improve flexibility and range of motion in your spine. That’s good news if you often experience stiffness or pain in your back. Because exercise balls are inherently unstable, they aren't appropriate in all situations and you might find some exercises challenging. If you're a beginner, try deflating the ball slightly until you gain confidence. Warm up before stretching and work in a controlled manner. It's also wise to clear your technique with a trainer.
For a light, dynamic stretch of the lumbar area, lie on your back on a soft, firm surface with the ball several feet in front of your tailbone. Bend your knees and place the backs of your lower legs on the ball. Tightening your abs, slowly draw your knees toward your chest, using your lower legs and feet to pull the ball closer to your buttocks. When you feel light tension in your lower back, hold briefly, then extend your knees, moving the ball back to its initial position. Repeat the exercise three to five times. Breathe regularly and aim for fluid movements without any sudden jerking.
Isolating your pelvis while sitting on the ball loosens up and increases range of motion in the lower back. Sit on the ball with your feet on the floor in front of you and place your hands on your hips or behind your head. Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly tilt the pelvis forward, drawing your hips forward to flatten and elongate your lower back. Release to a neutral position, then slowly arch your lower back, drawing your hips backward. Hold briefly, then release to a neutral position. Repeat 10 to 15 times, and then isolate the hips from side to side 10 to 15 times. Keep your movements smooth and continuous.
Use a face-up position to counteract the effects of sitting hunched over your desk or steering wheel. Sit upright on the ball with your arms relaxed at your sides. Engage your abdominal muscles and slowly walk your feet forward, maintaining a straight spine as you lean your torso backward. The ball should roll slowly upward along your spine. Relax your arms over your head and straighten your knees as the ball settles under your middle back. Relax your entire back into the ball. Breathe and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds if you can do so comfortably. To release the stretch, slowly bend your knees and lower your arms as you walk your feet backward. Continue rolling the ball downward along your spine until you return to your initial seated position. Repeat the stretch up to three times.
Belly Flop and Torso Twist
Lie face down over the top of the ball with your arms relaxed in front of the ball and your toes resting on the floor behind you. Inhale and exhale at regular intervals, relaxing completely into the ball. Consciously release tension from your entire back, neck, shoulders and legs. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds if you can do so comfortably. From this position, straighten your arms and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Slowly rotate your torso to the left, extending your left arm toward the ceiling. Feel your chest expand, breathe and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Return to your initial position and repeat the trunk rotation to the right. Alternate your right and left sides for a total of three to five times.
- Spine-Health: Commonly Prescribed Exercise Ball Workouts for Back Pain
- MayoClinic.com: How to Choose a Fitness Ball
- American Council on Exercise: Sample Flexibility Workout
- The Swiss Ball: Theory, Basic Exercises and Clinical Application; Beate Carrierre and Renate Tanzberger
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.