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4 Stability Ball Exercises for a Stronger Core

Use a stability ball to more directly target your core to improve your big 3 lifts.

There isn’t a shortage of tools to train the core. They range from the great – TRX, ab wheel, resistance bands, kettlebells – to the not so great – all varieties of the ab crunch machine.

Although some lifters argue compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and carries are all that’s needed to train the core, in my opinion, most lifters need some sort of direct core work to fully strengthen and develop their core.

Training hard and heavy is great core training but there are times when you need to give your body a break from heavy lifting. Direct core work can help strengthen imbalances that may exist, as well as have a positive overall effect on your big three lifts. An underrated tool for core training is the stability ball.

Stability Ball Plank
Image via Shutterstock/guruXOX

A Brief History Of The Stability Ball

The stability ball was invented back in 1963 by Italian plastics manufacturer Aquilino Cosani. He came up with a foolproof process of molding large puncture-resistant plastic balls.

Stability balls were first used in treatment programs for newborns and infants before being used in the physiotherapy and physical therapy settings to treat clients with orthopedic and medical issues.

Their use is commonplace nowadays in most gyms and homes around the world.

Benefits Of Exercising On A Stability Ball

  • An advantage of the stability ball as opposed to exercising on the ground (or bench) is compelling the to body engage more muscles to stay balanced (1).
  • The instability of the ball 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-up (2).
  • Performing push-ups or sit-ups, on the stability ball increases activation of core stabilizers which helps provide greater resistance to injury (3).

[Related: Learn a proper core progression from elite gymnast Jaime Da Silva.]

4 Stability Ball Core Exercises

Here are four stability ball core exercises to spice up your training, keep your core in tip-top shape, and help prevent injuries.

Stability Ball Side Plank

What It Trains 

The instability of the ball takes the side plank to a new level. Your hips are more involved, particularly the adductors. The adductors are prime movers to help get you out of the bottom of the squat, so it pays to strength them.

Form Tips And Programming Suggestion

Actively press the ball with your legs and push your elbow into the ground. Start with 15 seconds on each side and work into the 30 second range when you get more proficient.

Seeing you’re already on the ground, treat yourself to this core exercise pair:

  • Stability ball side plank – 15-30 seconds
  • Dead bug – 6 reps

[Related: Learn the right way to breathe when you’re doing a plank.]

Stir The Pot

What It Trains

Adding movement and instability to the front plank position trains your core stabilizers. You’ll feel like your abs are going to almost tear in two. You can thank me later.

Form Tips And Programming Suggestion

Dig your elbows into the stability ball the entire time. Wider circles while your feet are closer together makes this more difficult. Conversely, wider stance with smaller circles make this exercise easier.

Pair this with another stability ball exercise like the hip extension hamstring curl to train the posterior core also. For example:

  • Stir the pot – 8 circles in both directions
  • Stability ball hip extension hamstring curl – 12-15 reps

Stability Ball Fallout

What It Trains

  • Spinal anti-extension
  • Glute strength

This is similar to the ab wheel as it trains spinal anti-extension except the starting position is higher and the unstable ball makes this a bit more interesting. It may look easier than the ab wheel equivalent, but don’t be fooled.

Form Tips And Programming Suggestion

Having something soft underneath your knees helps. It’s really easy for the spine to slip into extension, so make sure to squeeze your glutes the entire time to prevent this.

Pair this with a stability ball side plank to give your core a double whammy. For example:

  • Stability Ball Fallout – 8 reps
  • Side plank – 15-30 seconds

Stability Ball Walkout With Push-Up

What It Trains 

  • Shoulder stability
  • Chest
  • Triceps
  • Glutes
  • Spinal anti-extension  

The stability ball will challenge your core and shoulder stability while ‘walking’. The moment you’re slightly off-track ‘walking’ there or back, you’ll meet the floor. The push-up is the cherry on top.

[Related: Try these 10 simple plank variations to strengthen your core.]

Form Tips And Programming Suggestion

Take small steps with your hands until your feet touch the back on the ball. Try not to touch your feet to the ground until you’ve finished your set.

Pairing this with a chin-up or row variation will give your upper body more than it can handle. For example:

1A. Stability ball walkout with push-up – 6 reps

1B.  Chin-ups – 6 reps

Wrapping up

You may have mocked the stability ball in the past but don’t knock it until you try it. It is a useful tool to increase the intensity of your training without adding weight. If you’re not careful, it will humble you.

References

  1. Phys Ther. 2000 Jun;80(6):564-9. Abdominal muscle response during curl-ups on both stable and labile surfaces. Vera-Garcia FJ1, Grenier SG, McGill SM.
  2. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 Jan;34(1):1-10. Comparison of the Electromyographic Activity of the Trunk and Rectus Femoris Muscles During Traditional Crunch and Exercise Using the 5-Minute Shaper Device.Silva FHO1, Arantes FJ1, Gregorio FC1, Santos FRA1, Fidale TM1, Bérzin F2, Bigaton DR2, Lizardo FB1.
  3. European Journal of Sport Science Comparison (2013) EMG activity during stable and unstable push-up protocols. European Journal of Sport Science, 13(1), 42–48. Anderson, G. S., Gaetz, M., Holzmann, M., & Twist, P

Feature Image via Shutterstock/guruXOX

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