How do you like to train? Some are in love with the barbell, others enjoy working with just their body. But why limit yourself to one type of exercise, or one piece of equipment? From time to time, it pays to mix things up.
The stability ball was invented way back in 1963 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer. Stability balls were used for newborns and infants to help them walk and for treating clients with orthopedic and other medical issues in physical therapy. Nowadays, stability balls are used in gyms and homes worldwide.
Stability balls alone will not get you stronger. The big three (that’s the bench press, back squat, and deadlift) as well as the Olympic lifts are among the best tools for gaining strength, but stability balls can help “set the table” for those gains.
When the stability ball is programmed intelligently, it will help improve technique, reinforce stabilizing muscles, and address imbalances to improve your overall fitness. Here are the five best stability ball workouts to improve your lifting performance.
The stability ball and the core is like a match made in exercise heaven. With the stability ball’s demand for balance and its freedom of movement, you can train the core from all angles with various exercises to bulletproof your anterior and posterior core.
You have two options when using this core training circuit below. First, before you hit the barbell, you can use it to prepare your body for the work ahead. Or, put it after your main strength work for the day to enhance core stability and balance when you are fatigued.
Dumbbells, barbells, bands, machines, and cable machines are great tools to strengthen the legs. But don’t forget about the stability ball.
Although you might not be able to use as much absolute load, the stability ball improves your balance and provides an intense workout without requiring heavy weights. You’ll also strengthen your side-to-side leg development and proportion, and give your legs a break from the barbell.
Select and perform your main lower body strength move for the day, whether it be a deadlift or squat variation, that best aligns with your goals.
Then, use the training below to complement this by strengthening the prime movers for these movements. These exercises are great for addressing any discrepancies between your left and right sides, for better muscle development and technique.
The stability ball isn’t necessarily the best tool to train your upper body, and somewhat pales in usefulness compared to free weights like dumbbells and barbells. The load will always be an issue when lifting on a stability ball because of the constant shifting of your center of gravity; you’ll simply have to deal with lower resistance.
But what the stability ball does is make you more aware of your pressing and pulling form and helps strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the core and shoulders.
Pick and perform your big upper-body moves before moving on to this upper-body circuit. Here, you’ll focus on performing each movement with pristine technique and refined motor control to accumulate lots of time under tension.
Plus, you’ll strengthen the critical core and shoulder stabilizing muscles that are important for lifting heavy safely.
You shouldn’t need to be convinced that unilateral training is the bomb. Unilateral, or single-limb, training can help remedy imbalances between sides, give you extra core work without needing to perform even more crunches, and improve muscle development overall.
The stability ball takes this all up a notch due to the balance-related demands of working with the implement. You’ll need to be aware of your technique on each and every rep, or you might find yourself falling right on the floor.
Performing back-to-back unilateral exercises is demanding on your balance and your body as a whole. So, pay attention to your form because you really want to go for quality over quantity here.
This circuit can be performed as a standalone workout as a form of active recovery, or after your strength moves for the day to ensure balanced physical development and teach you to hold your posture under fatigue.
Muscular coordination refers to your ability to move your body as a synchronous unit. A 2015 study found that proprioceptive training — exercise that challenges your bodily awareness — can improve your balance and coordination by more than 50 percent. (1)
The stability ball is a great way to induce some targeted instability into your exercise regime, without risking harm or working with ultra-heavy weights that may throw you off balance in a bad way.
This workout is best performed before weight training or entirely on its own because mounting fatigue can affect your coordination. Pay attention to your body’s position in space and ensure the area you’re exercising in is free of obstacles, debris, or other trainees.
Rep quality is essential here as well; you don’t want to be teaching yourself any bad habits.
If you have used a stability ball in your workouts, you know how tricky it can be to stay focused while the ball constantly shifts around with every rep. There is no easy version of stability ball training because the implement itself ensures you’re engaged.
If you aren’t locked in, you and the floor become one. Besides challenging your posture and technique, there are a few significant benefits of incorporating a stability ball into your training.
Just sitting on the stability ball engages your core, so imagine what happens when you perform exercises on it. The most significant advantage of stability ball exercises as opposed to exercising on the ground is that the inherent wobbling engages more of your core’s musculature. (2)
The ball’s instability increases your ability to recruit more muscle units without an increase in load. This is due to the greater activation of the core muscles. For example, stability ball push-ups not only torch your chest, shoulders, and triceps, but involve your abs as well. (3)
Performing stability ball push-ups or sit-ups (as opposed to on the ground)increases the activation of your deeper core muscles.
Properly training and developing intra-abdominal pressure and isometric control has been linked to reducing the risk of acute injuries in some cases. (4)
With many stability ball exercises using just your body weight, there may not be a need for you to perform an elaborate warm-up as you would for, say, barbell training. However, it’s still essential to warm up for exercise in general. This will ensure that your body’s stabilizing muscles are prepared for the challenge.
When using these stability ball workouts as standalone workouts, try out this priming circuit before you grab the ball itself:
It’s all too easy to look at a “beginner” piece of equipment like the stability ball and dismiss it. If you’ve been training for a while, you might think such a bouncy piece of equipment to be irrelevant for you.
But, like most things in health and fitness, it’s all about the execution. If you program your stability ball workouts intelligently, you can strengthen your stabilizing tissues and provide a new challenge to your body at the same time.
It’s also a great way to break a sweat without having to do long-distance cardio. The stability ball is more useful than you think; grab one for yourself and have a ball with it.
Now that you have a handle on the five best stability ball workouts to strengthen your entire body, you can also check out these helpful stability ball training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
1. Aman JE, Elangovan N, Yeh IL, Konczak J. The effectiveness of proprioceptive training for improving motor function: a systematic review. Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Jan 28;8:1075.
2. Vera-Garcia FJ1, Grenier SG, McGill SM. Abdominal muscle response during curl-ups on both stable and labile surfaces. Phys Ther. 2000 Jun;80(6):564-9.
3. Silva FHO, et al. Comparison of the Electromyographic Activity of the Trunk and Rectus Femoris Muscles During Traditional Crunch and Exercise Using the 5-Minute Shaper Device. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 Jan;34(1):1-10
4. Anderson, G. S., Gaetz, M., Holzmann, M., & Twist, P) EMG activity during stable and unstable push-up protocols. European Journal of Sport Science, 13(1), 42–48. European Journal of Sport Science Comparison (2013)
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