If you equate stability balls with core work only, you’re selling them (and your fitness results) short.
Adding stability ball exercises to your workout is a great, simple way to increase the difficulty of your favorite moves. Using just this tool, you can challenge both your upper and lower body in new, creative ways, explains trainer Tara Romeo, CSCS, CES, director of the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. (If you don’t already have one at home, we like the URBNFit Ball.)
Plus, no matter the exercise, performing a move with an exercise ball will force you to work double-time as you fight to keep your core stable. “Due to the ball’s soft surface, your body has to constantly compensate for the continuous changes in balance throughout the exercise,” Romeo explains. “This strengthens the deep-lying stabilizing muscles in your core.”
To get you in on the total-body action, Romeo shares five challenging stability ball exercises you need to try. Add them into your existing exercise routine or perform each move for 10 reps and three sets for a workout that will leave your entire body shaking.
5 Stability Ball Exercises You’re Not Doing (But Should!)
1. Stability-Ball-Elevated Split Squat
How to: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Place the top of one foot on a stability ball directly behind your body (a). Keeping your weight in the heel of your front foot, bend your knees to lower your body toward the floor. Allow the ball to roll onto your back shin (b). Pause, then push through your front heel to stand up, rolling the top of your foot back onto the ball (c). Repeat for reps, then switch sides.
2. Stability-Ball Hamstring Curl
Ditch the gym’s bulky hamstring curl machine and opt for this at-home variation. It works your hammies and glutes in a big way — without taking the rest of your lower-body stabilizers out of the muscle-building equation.
How to: Lie flat on your back on the floor. Place both ankles on top of a stability ball hip-width apart (a). With your back flat, core braced and arms at your side, squeeze your glutes to raise your hips up off the ground so that your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Your feet should be flat on the ball (b). From here, press your heels into the ball and bend your knees to pull the ball toward your butt (c). Pause, then straighten your knees to drive the ball back out, keeping your hips elevated as you do so (d). Repeat for reps, keeping hips elevated between reps.
3. Lat Pull-Over on a Stability Ball
Despite the name, this simple yet effective exercise not only works your lats, but also your pecs and shoulders. And of course, it fires up your core. Just grab a dumbbell to get it done right.
How to: With your feet flat on the floor and placed shoulder-width apart, position your upper back on a stability ball (a). Lift your hips so you reach a table-top position, knees bent to 90 degrees and back completely flat. Hold the top of a dumbbell with both hands above your chest, allowing a slight bend in your elbows (b). From here, keeping your back flat, core braced and a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the weight behind your head (c). Pause, then drive the weight back up to start (d). Repeat.
4. Stability-Ball Y-Ups
This one is a lot harder than it looks, as you train the lower traps. You also hit the often-underworked rhomboids and rear delts for improved posture and upper-body stability. Start without weights before moving onto 5- or 10-pound dumbbells.
How to: Lie on your stomach on a stability ball, with your feet on the floor, spread shoulder-width apart for balance (a). Extend your arms straight out in front of you and rotate your hands so your thumbs point up toward the ceiling. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears (b). From here, pinch your shoulder blades together like you are pinching an orange to slowly raise your arms up as far as you can without letting your torso move (c). Pause, then slowly lower back to start and repeat (c).
5. Dead Bug
We’d be remiss not to include one core-specific exercise. After all, exercise balls have a reputation for a reason. And while equipment-free dead bugs train both the six-pack-looking abs and deep-lying core muscles like crazy, adding in a yoga ball is a great way to turn up the burn.
How to: Lie flat on your back on the floor with your arms and legs extended straight up toward the ceiling, bracing a stability ball between your arms and legs. Tilt your pelvis to press your low back into the floor, and brace your core to maintain this back position throughout the entire exercise (a). Lower one arm and the opposite leg toward the floor as low as you can while keeping a flat-back position and keeping the ball in place (b). Pause, then squeeze your abs to raise your arm and leg back to start (c). Repeat on the opposite side (d). Continue alternating.
Originally published August 2017. Updated February 2018.