Insider's Guide to Stability Balls
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Fitness

Insider's Guide to Stability Balls

Try working out with this do-it-all stability ball, perfect for toning your abs, thighs, and more.

Stability Ball 101

Here's why you should get ballin':

A stability ball works your abs way more than regular crunches do. Plus, use it in place of a bench for strength moves and your core gets a workout -- you'll engage your deep obliques and lower-back muscles to stay in place, says Stephanie Dupuis-Morris, co-owner of Resist-A-Ball.

It's adaptable to every fitness level. For beginners, the ball provides support to make moves like push-ups easier. More advanced exercisers can add challenging balance positions to basic strength moves like bridges and lunges.

It helps banish back pain. Physical therapists love the ball because it strengthens the deep muscles of the spine. One recent study found that subjects who used the ball regularly improved muscular endurance (the number of consecutive reps you can do) by 57 percent in 10 weeks.

Ball Basics

  • Choose the right ball for your height -- 5': 45-cm ball; 5'1" to 5'7": 55-cm ball; 5'8" and up: 65-cm ball.
  • Inflate the ball enough so that when you sit on it with your feet on the floor, your knees are even with or just above your hips.
  • To make the exercises more difficult, add more air to the ball: The firmer it is, the greater the challenge.
  • Stability balls start at $15.95, depending on size; hand and foot pumps are available from $7.95. For more information, go to resistaball.com.

1. Warm-Up: Jumping Jack

Sit tall on the ball with feet hip-distance apart, arms at sides. Jump your feet out to the sides as you lift arms overhead, bouncing on ball for momentum, then jump your feet back in while lowering arms. Repeat for 2 minutes.

2. Ball Crunch

Targets abs, hips, thighs

Sit on the ball and walk your feet out and forward of your knees, sliding your butt down so your body is at a slight incline. Press palms together in front of your chest, keeping a tennis-ball-size space under chin. Pressing lower back into ball, lift upper body and crunch up. Hold one breath and return to starting position. Work up to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Challenge yourself: Walk feet closer to ball and lift butt; raise arms straight overhead.

3. Ball Bridge

Targets lower back, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs

Lie with head and shoulders on ball, knees over ankles, arms crossed. Lift hips as high as possible without arching your back. Hold for 3 counts and lower. Work up to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Challenge yourself: Cross right ankle over left knee for 10 reps, then switch legs and repeat.

4. Elevated Leg Curl

Targets back, glutes, hamstrings, calves

Lie on the floor with your heels on the ball and arms a few inches away from sides, palms down. Lift hips off the floor and extend legs with knees soft. Bend knees and pull heels toward your butt, rolling the ball in. Hold for 1 breath, then extend your legs and lower your hips. Work up to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Challenge yourself: Do the move with just your right leg for 10 reps; switch sides. Do 3 sets. For an extra challenge, keep hips elevated throughout the set.

5. Ball Push-Up

Targets shoulders, chest, arms, abs

Lie facedown with your belly over the ball and slowly walk your hands forward until the tops of your thighs are on the ball; keep wrists aligned under your shoulders, fingers pointed slightly in. Lower chest toward the floor, bending elbows out to sides; think of touching your forehead to the floor to keep your neck in line with your spine. Straighten arms and repeat. Work up to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Challenge yourself: Do the move with your shins on the ball. For an extra challenge, raise one leg.

6. Standing Wall Squat

Targets glutes, quads, calves

Stand with the ball behind your lower back, pressing it into a wall behind you. Take a small step forward, continuing to press lower back and hips into the ball. Bend knees 90 degrees; keep knees over ankles and lower back pressed into the ball. Hold for 3 breaths, then straighten legs. Work toward 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Challenge yourself: Lift one foot off the floor. Do 10 reps; switch sides; complete 3 sets.

7. Cooldown: Backbend Stretch

Targets shoulders, back, hips, legs

Lie faceup on the ball, draping the entire back of your body over it, arms extended overhead with palms up, fingertips on floor. Keeping knees bent and pointing straight up, walk your feet out. Relax for three deep breaths, then slowly walk feet in. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Fat-Blasting Stability Ball Cardio

Burn an extra 100 calories by adding one minute of the following cardio bursts on the ball between each set of strength moves.

Ball Jog

Sit tall on the ball with abs engaged. Lift your knees up and down as high as possible while bouncing in place on ball.

Step-Touch

Sit tall on the ball, feet together. Step right foot out to the right, then step left foot to meet the right, lifting butt slightly to roll the ball with you. Repeat, stepping in opposite direction; continue, alternating sides.

Ski Step

Sit tall on the ball, feet together. Lift both feet, swinging legs to the right and arms to the left, as if planting ski poles. Repeat in opposite direction.

5 Best Stability Ball DVDs

10 Minute Solution Fitness Ball Workouts

Trainer Kimberly Spreen offers five speedy workouts, each with a different focus, including lower-body toners, arm and shoulder sculpters, and total-body routines. (collagevideo.com, $14.95)

TLT: Susan Harris Finding Your Core

This midriff-focused workout burns more calories than traditional strength training by incorporating props like a stability ball and light hand weights. (collagevideo.com, $19.95)

Pilates with Resist-A-Ball

Traditional Pilates moves get a stability-ball twist with this innovative video, which uses the ball in 34 different mat exercises. (resistaball.com, $24.95)

Yoga with Resist-A-Ball

The stability ball becomes a helpful prop for moving deeper into yoga poses, but even seasoned practitioners will enjoy some fresh twists on more standard moves. (resistaball.com, $24.95)

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2007.

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