Stability balls don’t get a fair shake. Serious lifters associate them with physical therapists or, at best, a tool that you can use to carve your core. Both of those statements are true, but you’re really missing out if you don’t include stability ball exercises into your routine (even just one or two exercises).
Stability ball exercises won’t help you get stronger. (To gain strength, you need barbell compound movements and a smart program.) But when the stability ball is programmed intelligently, it will help improve technique, strengthen stabilizing muscles, and strengthen imbalances to improve your lifting performance. Here are the six best stability ball strength exercises.
Best Stability Ball Exercises
- Stability Ball Walkout With Push-Up
- Single-Leg Hamstring Curl
- Stability Ball Incline Push-Up
- Stability Ball Side Plank
- Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension
- Stability Ball Split Squat
The stability ball walkout with push-up challenges your core and shoulder stability while ‘walking out.’ This helps improve your upper back strength, too. You’ll work your chest during the push-up portion of the movement and tax your shoulders to a greater degree as you walk your body back and forth on the ball. If you aren’t balanced or stable throughout the walking portion of the movement, then you’ll get automatic feedback in the form of falling off the ball.
Benefits of the Stability Ball Walkout With Push Up
- Improves core stability, shoulder stability, and push-up technique.
- Places more tension on the working muscles due to the control needed to perform this exercise.
How to Do the Stability Ball Walkout With Push-Up
Roll the ball to your stomach with your hands and feet on the ground. Engage your glutes and take small steps with your hands until your feet touch the back of the ball. With your hands underneath your shoulders, perform a push-up and then walk back the ball to your stomach. Reset and repeat. Try not to touch your feet to the ground until you’ve finished the set. Each rep takes time, so keep the reps low, around six to eight per set.
The single-leg hip extension hamstring curl strengthens the hamstrings both as hip extensors and knee flexors. And because of the unstable surface of the stability ball, the stabilization demands increase, too, forcing your muscles to work harder and making you more aware of your technique. Plus, doing all the reps on one side will help improve imbalances between sides, too, helping improve your deadlift lockout.
Benefits of the Single-Leg Hamstring Curl
- Strengthens the hamstrings and hip extensors, and knee flexors.
- The increased stabilization demands improve hip and core stability
How to Do the Single-Leg Hamstring Curl
Lay down on the floor and place both feet on the stability ball, flexing your toes. Lift one leg off of the ball and then bend it 90 degrees. Raise your hips, and then flex your hamstring to curl the planted foot toward your butt. Hold that position for one second, and then extend your leg. Do si reps on one leg, and then switch sides and do six more reps.
Stability ball incline push-up takes your push-ups and your stability ball plank to the next level. The stability ball forces you to slow down the movement, which achieves two things: It increases your time under tension and improves your push-up form since you need to move slowly and with intention. The stability ball push-up increases activation of core stabilizers which helps provide greater resistance to injury. (1)
Benefits of the Stability Ball Incline Push-Up
- Increases the activation of your shoulder and core stabilizers.
- Increases the chest, shoulders, and triceps time under tension for improved muscle-building potential.
- It helps to improve your pressing technique.
How to Do the Stability Ball Incline Push-Up
Assume a standard push-up position, but place your hands on the ball. They will be closer together. Now, squeeze your abs, glutes, and legs to get stable, and then slowly lower your body until your chest touches the ball. Press yourself back up. That’s one rep.
The addition of the stability ball makes the side planks even tougher (if you can imagine that). The ball messes with your balance, and because your ankles, knees, and hips are not stacked, it further reduces your stability. Keeping the ball in between your legs strengthens your adductors which is important for injury prevention. A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 concluded that hip adductor strength was one of the most common risk factors for groin injury in sport. (2)
Benefits of the Stability Ball Side Plank
- It helps prevent groin strains by strengthening the adductors.
- Strengthen the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors, which play a role in strengthening the spine/pelvis area and protecting it from injury.
- This exercise leads to a more stable and stiffer core that can better transfer power from lower to upper.
How to Do the Stability Ball Side Plank
Place a stability ball between your ankles and calf muscles, making sure it’s firmly in place. Then place your elbow underneath your shoulder and use your opposite hand to push yourself into a side plank. Raise this hand above your shoulder, squeeze your glutes, the ball and hang on for time. Do between 15 to 30 seconds on each side as part of your core routine.
The stability ball reverse hyperextension is a great alternative if your gym doesn’t have the reverse hyper machine. It trains the same muscles but with less weight. But the lack of weight is made up by the stability ball. The unstable ball forces you to hones in on your technique, and the increased range of motion has mobility and hypertrophy benefits. This exercise isn’t for the faint of heart, so be careful and perform the exercise with control.
Benefits of the Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension
- It trains your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back without taxing your grip or loading the spine.
- Improved hip extension because your hips extend powerfully on each rep, helping to improve glute lockout strength.
- Strengthening the glutes improves hip mobility and helps protect the lower back from injury.
How to Do the Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension
Place the stability ball on a training bench, and then put your stomach on the ball, with your hips slightly off the ball. Take a firm grip of the bench on either side, and with your legs straight, raise them off the ground until the glutes are fully contracted. Then, slowly lower your legs down back until your toes touch the grounds and reset and repeat. Do between eight to 12 reps as part of your accessory exercise routine.
Split squat variations strengthen the quads, glutes, and imbalances between legs. As a result, they improve leg drive, which is important for squats, deadlifts, and running quickly and efficiently. The stability ball split squat put a little more emphasis on the front leg, further strengthening the quads and glutes. Plus, they help improve technique and single-leg balance because any deviation in the form will lose balance.
Benefits of the Stability Ball Split Squat
- Improves single leg balance and technique.
- Strengthens quads and glutes with less weight.
- Put further emphasis on your core and hip stabilizers.
How to Do the Stability Ball Split Squat
Get into the split-squat position with your left foot on top of the ball and your right foot on the ground with a slight bend in the knee. Keep the chest up and shoulders down chest high and drop your left knee toward the ground, pause and drive through your right foot to the starting position. Due to the time under tension of every rep with control, start with eight to twelve reps per side.
Stability Ball Training Benefits
Many lifters turn a blind eye to the stability ball seeing it as a useless tool outside of doing crunches on. But the stability ball does have a few benefits to help improve balance and core stability.
When you use a stability ball instead of exercising on the ground or bench, the body engages more muscle to help stay balanced. For example, performing an elevated split squat on the ball instead of a weight bench. (3)
Recruits More Muscle
The stability 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, a stability ball push-up. (4)
Improves Push-Up Technique
Doing push-ups with your hands on the ground is great, but push-ups with either your hands or feet of the stability ball any hitch in your form or control will result in a loss of balance and a potential blooper video.
More Stability Ball Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the six best stability ball exercises to strengthen your entire body, you can also check out these other helpful stability ball training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- 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.
- Jackie L Whittaker, et al. Risk factors for groin injury in sport: an updated systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2015; 49:803-809
- Silva 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
- Anderson, G. S., Gaetz, M., Holzmann, M., & Twist, P. EMG activity during stable and unstable push-up protocols. (2013) European Journal of Sport Science, 13(1), 42–48.
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