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By Leslie McNabb

Created: 10/15/2009
Last Updated: 08/08/2012

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Q: I was recently given a large stability ball to use for fitness improvement. What are some good exercises I can do with it?

Originally a favorite with physical therapists working in medical settings, the stability ball is now a common piece of equipment in many fitness centers and home gyms for all types of exercisers. The secret of the stability ball, interestingly, lies in its instability—which is caused by the motion its shape produces when you sit or lie on it.

To keep your balance and maintain control on a stability ball, you need to call your body's core muscles into action. This strong core activation is necessary to help you complete each movement successfully. That's why even simple movements done on a stability ball will help strengthen your core and improve overall fitness.

Exercise choices for the stability ball range from basic balance functions (sit on the ball with your legs together and close your eyes) to very advanced balance skills (stand or kneel on the ball) appropriate only for those with ample stability ball experience. Other exercises for more advanced levels include complex full body stabilization and strength challenges. Do not attempt any advanced stability ball movements without instruction and support from a professional trainer or physical therapist.  

If you have some experience on a stability ball, you may want to try the following intermediate-level exercises to challenge your deep core strength: 

Straight Leg Bridge

  • Lie on your back with your feet resting on top of the ball.  
  • Holding your abdominal muscles tight and legs straight, squeeze your gluteal muscles (in your rear end).
  • While squeezing, lift your lower body off the ground until only your head, upper back and arms are on the ground. 
  • Maintain a straight line through your knee, hip and shoulder, and hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Slowly lower your body to the ground. 
  • Repeat 5 to10 times. As you get stronger, hold the exercise longer (up to 30 or 45 seconds) and do fewer repetitions. 

straight leg bridgestraight leg bridge

Bridge with Hamstring Curl. Once you can hold the straight leg bridge exercise (see above) for 30 seconds, add this extra challenge for your core and hamstrings:

  • Start with the first three steps of the exercise above. 
  • While keeping your lower body off the ground and your heels on the ball, draw your knees toward your chest. The ball will roll toward you as your knees bend.
  • After your knees have been brought in as far as comfortable, then straighten your legs to roll and return the ball to the starting position, keeping your heels on the ball.

bridge with hamstring curl

Walk Out Plank

  • Start on all fours with the ball underneath your stomach. 
  • While keeping your spine straight, walk your hands forward, lifting your legs and allowing the ball to slowly roll toward your feet. The farther away the ball is from your pelvis the more challenging the exercise will be on your core.
  • Walk out as far as you can while still holding your body in a straight line. Hold that position for 5 to 10 seconds. As you get stronger, hold the position longer and do fewer reps.

walk out plank
walk out plank
walk out plank

Photos by Jeffrey Mosier Photography