The classic sit-up is a great way to target your abdominal muscles, but when you want to take your core strength to the next level, or are ready to mix up your workout with something new, consider using the stability ball as a prop in your routine. Why? Because balancing on the ball works your core from a variety of angles—not only your abdominals, but all of the muscles that support your spine, including your back and hips. In fact, more core muscles are activated on a stability ball than when similar moves are performed off the ball. So, give the routine below a try and you’ll feel the difference.
A Caveat for Stability Ball Beginners
If you are new to core work, be sure to speak with your doctor or exercise physiologist before beginning this routine, especially if you have an injury, osteoporosis or back or neck pain.
You’ve no doubt seen the stability balls near the mats in the stretching area at your gym, but if you’ve never used one before, be sure to find the right size for you: Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor and make sure that your knees form a 90 degree angle. With any moves that involve looking at the ceiling, you can put your hands behind your head for extra support.
How to Do This Stability Ball Routine
Do these moves three times a week on nonconsecutive days. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions unless otherwise noted. If you can’t do that many reps or sets, that’s okay—these are challenging moves. Do the best you can, adding more reps as your core strength improves.
1. Ball Crunch
Sit on a ball, with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly walk your feet forward and roll your torso down until your buttocks and your middle and lower back are on the ball. (If you want more of a challenge, inch down until the bottom of your buttocks are just off the ball.) Your feet should be positioned hip-width apart. Support your head with your hands and lean back, then as you exhale, contract your abs and curl forward until your upper back lifts off the ball—that’s as far as you need to go to activate your core muscles, no need to sit up all the way. If needed, you can press through your feet to feel stable throughout each repetition. Lower yourself back to your start position and repeat.
2. Back Extension
Kneel in front of the ball and position it under your hips and lower stomach. Now, put your hands behind your head and lift your chest off the ball until your body makes a straight line. To make it more challenging, walk your feet out until your knees are straight.
3. Roll-Out Push-Up
Lean over the stability ball, so your belly is on the top and both of your hands reach down to the floor, with your palms flat. Walk your hands out to a plank position, until the ball is under your thighs and your hands are directly under your shoulders. (Need more of a challenge? You can modify the exercise by rolling out to your shins.) Contract your abs and back muscles and pull your belly into your spine. Bend your elbows and lower your chest to toward the floor. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the floor and push back up. Repeat.
4. Oblique Roll
Get in plank position with your thighs positioned about hip-width apart on your stability ball and your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor. Keeping your feet on the ball, draw your right thigh toward your right shoulder—your left thigh will move in the same direction. Return to center to complete one rep. Repeat on the opposite side. If you want to make this harder, try positioning the ball beneath your shins instead of your thighs and draw your right knee (your left knee will also move) toward your right shoulder.
5. Back Roll-Out
Kneel in front of your stability ball and place your hands on top of it, shoulder-width apart, with your arms straight. With your knees on the floor, roll the ball out in front of you, keeping your core tight. (The ball can roll under your forearms.) Roll the ball back to your start position.