Exercise balls - also known as stability balls, balance balls, or swiss balls - are not only fun, but they’re also a great way to add variety to your fitness routine, and challenge and improve your strength and stability! Below I’ve collected 10 of my favorite exercise ball moves, as well as my top tips for making the most of your exercise ball workout at home!
Benefits of Exercise Balls
Exercise balls are a great tool for creating an unstable surface to exercise from. The instability of the exercise ball will present a challenge to your balance, coordination, stability, and strength when used to perform regular exercises.
Exercises on exercise balls aren’t always easy, and it may take a few tries to get the hang of each one. Keep working at it, research shows that doing crunches on a stability ball significantly increases muscle activity in comparison to regular crunches(1), which makes working out on an exercise ball a great option for taking your workout at home to the next level.
Choosing the Right Size Exercise Ball for You
There's no one-size-fits-all for exercise balls, but in general you can use the guide below.
- Height: 5'3" and under - Ball Size: 55cm
- Height: 5'4" - 5'10" - Ball Size: 65cm
- Height: 5'11" and up - Ball Size: 75cm
The size of exercise ball you want to get may change based on the intended use for your exercise ball. For example if you'd like to use it more like a workout bench during bench press or other arm exercises, a bigger ball may be better; whereas, if you plan to use it for core exercises - the smaller the ball, the more challenging the core exercises will be!
How to Use This Workout
Sprinkle these exercises here and there into your regular workouts for an extra challenge, or complete all of the exercises below for a great full body workout. I recommend 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps of each exercise, feel free to take your time, focusing on controlling each rep. If you can’t do 10 reps to start out, that’s okay, just practice getting the hang of it, and you can work up to a higher range of reps.
If you’d like to increase your heart rate, perform these exercises circuit style, completing each exercise in the list back-to-back. Once you’ve finished, rest 60 seconds, and repeat!
Lie flat on your back, with your arms and legs extended. Start with the ball between your hands. With control lift your arms, and upper body off the floor, while simultaneously lifting your legs to bring your hands and feet towards each other. Exchange the ball from your hands to your feet, gripping the ball between your ankles. Slowly lower your feet and hands back towards the ground. Repeat, alternating between having the ball in between your feet and your hands.
To perform knee tucks, get up on the ball into a plank position, with your shins resting on top of the ball. Bend your knees and press into the ball to roll it in towards your chest, keeping your core tight and controlled. Then reverse the motion to extend your legs back out to their starting position.
Just like regular knee tucks, start in plank position up on the ball with the ball below your shins. Bend your knees, pressing into the ball to roll it towards your chest. As you bend your knees, swing them out to one side in a rainbow shape, activating your obliques to control the motion all the way through. Return the same way you came, then repeat on the other side!
To perform back extensions, start with your stomach and hips resting on the ball, legs extended straight behind you, and toes on the ground for support. Actively work to balance your body as you extend your back, raising your chest, squeezing those lower back muscles. Hold at the top for a count or two, then slowly lower back down towards your ball.
Push-ups are already challenging enough for most on their own! But if you’ve mastered the pushup and want to make it more interesting, give this exercise ball push up a try. Start in a plank position on your ball, with your shins resting on top of the ball. Hands should be placed directly below your shoulders. Bend at the elbows to lower your chest towards the floor, keeping elbows tight towards the sides of your body. Press into the ground to push yourself back up to starting.
With this challenging version of glute bridges, you’ll be feeling the burn in no time. Lay with your back flat on the ground and place your feet on the upper/middle portion of your exercise ball. Press into your ball through your heels to lift your hips off the ground, keeping your core tight and activating your glutes. Squeeze your glutes at the top, pausing for a few seconds, then slowly lower back down to the starting position.
This exercise is just like a glute bridge, but this time you’ll only be supporting yourself with one leg, making the exercise even more challenging. Building single leg stability is so important for correcting strength imbalances and transfer directly to activities involving single leg movements like running and cycling. Keep in mind, as you press into the ball to lift your hips off the floor, you can place your arms down by your sides for support, which is a nice safety net, helping you to stay safe and balanced on your ball.
To complete a hamstring curl on your ball, start in that same position as your glute bridge, lying with your back flat on the floor, with your feet in the upper middle portion of your ball. Raise into a glute bridge, squeezing your glutes to raise your hips off the ground - this is your starting position. From here, extend your legs and roll the ball away from you until your legs are fully extended. Move with control, working to keep your hips high and level throughout the full motion. Now roll the ball back to you, squeezing those hamstrings and glutes as you roll.
Overhead squats are a great exercise that gets your whole body involved - upper body, lower body, and core! Stand with your feet shoulder width apart (or a little wider if that feels more comfortable to you). Raise your exercise ball overhead, keeping your chest proud and upright. Focus on good posture, engaging your core before you initiate your squat. Now start by sitting back with your hips as if you were going to sit back in a chair, keeping that ball straight overhead. Squat down to 90 degrees, or as far as you can comfortably go. Then pressing into your heels, and squeezing through the glutes, stand back up to your starting position.
Split squats are a great single leg exercise that is so fun to do on an exercise ball. Rather than using a bench to support your back leg, place one foot top down on top of the ball. Squat down into a deep lunge, bending both knees. Make sure when lunging to keep your front knee behind the front toe. Dip down as low as you can go into each lunge, taking your time to get that full range of motion! Remember to repeat on the other side.
Exercise balls are so great for increasing your at-home workout possibilities, the options are versatile and endless. Use the exercises above or get creative and come up with some of your own. Thanks to the added balance challenge - they can make even basic exercises like those above feel totally new and challenging!
(1) “Electromyographic Comparison of A Stability Ball Crunch with a Traditional Crunch”. National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2007, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17530978/. Accessed 18 January, 2021.