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Best Balance Ball Exercises

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 1/13/2011

Balance balls can make entertaining seats, but they're also practical fitness tools. Use these silly looking but painfully effective rubber spheres to emphasize core strength in your workouts.

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    About Balance Balls

    Once used for physical rehabilitation, balance balls are now accepted as versatile, effective fitness tools. Balance ball exercises force your core to work constantly at keeping you steady against the ball's instability. You can also sit on the balance ball instead of a desk chair, or use it as a make-shift weight bench for seated or supine strength-training exercises like the overhead press or chest press.

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    Crunches

    According to research sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, doing crunches on a balance ball is one of the all-around most effective exercises for your abdominal muscles. This makes crunches one of the simplest, yet most effective balance ball exercises you can tackle:

    1. Sit down on the balance ball.
    2. Lie back on the ball as you slowly walk your feet forward.
    3. Stop when the ball supports you from hips to shoulders.
    4. Squeeze your abs, curling your ribs down toward your pelvis.
    5. Return to the start position and repeat for a total of at least 12 repetitions.

    Bringing your knees and feet closer together makes keeping your balance more challenging. If you want an even harder challenge, hold a medicine ball or weight plate near your chest for extra resistance.

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    Glute Bridges

    Done on the floor, glute bridges work your abs and glutes. Shift the glute bridge to a balance ball and your glutes and abs still bear the brunt of the work. But as with most balance ball exercise, every muscle from your shoulders to your legs also activates to keep you steady.

    1. Lie flat on your back on the floor.
    2. Lift your legs and place the peak of the balance ball beneath your heels. Your legs should be as straight as possible.
    3. Squeeze your abs to keep your spine in neutral position as you contract your glutes, lifting your hips off the floor.
    4. Stop when your body is straight from shoulders to heels.
    5. Hold for a slow count of three, breathing normally.
    6. Relax back to the starting position and repeat, aiming for at least 12 repetitions.

    To make this exercise more difficult, lift one leg slightly off the ball. Make sure to switch to lifting the other leg when you're halfway through the set.

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    Push-ups

    Doing push-ups with your hands on a balance ball intensifies the already-challenging core workout of regular push-ups. Push-ups are also one of the best balance ball exercises for developing shoulder stability.

    1. Kneel in front of the balance ball.
    2. Place both hands on the balance ball and straighten out into a push-up position, body balanced on the balance ball and the balls of both feet.
    3. Squeeze your core muscles to keep your body straight from head to heels.
    4. Once you've got your balance, lower your chest slowly toward the ball. Stop when your shoulders are approximately level with your elbows, then push yourself away from the ball.
    5. Continue squeezing your core to keep your muscles stable throughout the movement. Aim for 12 repetitions with good form.

    If you have trouble keeping steady on the ball, do the push-ups from your knees. If you're ready for a more difficult challenge, hold one foot slightly off the floor as you do full push-ups from your toes.

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    Further Reading

    http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=brochures2&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=8113

    http://www.acefitness.org/exerciselibrary/exercises.aspx?equipment=8

    http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/BestWorstAbExercises.pdf