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