Stability balls, also called exercise balls or Swiss balls, are inflatable balls constructed of rubber and often color-coded by size. Physical therapists in Europe began using these balls for injury rehabilitation in the 1960s, and fitness enthusiasts brought them into the mainstream during the late 1980s, reports the American Council on Exercise. Inexpensive and versatile, stability balls offer a variety of exercises to help you meet your fitness goals.
How Stability Balls Work
Because a stability ball is naturally unstable, stability ball exercises require you to recruit stabilizer muscles to maintain your balance on the ball. This instability provides you with an extra muscular challenge that similar exercises performed on the floor do not. In fact, many exercises you can do on the floor or on a weight bench may be adapted to an exercise ball for the added challenge it provides.
Benefits of Stability Ball Exercises
Stability ball exercises are especially useful for improving core strength and, therefore, may decrease your risk of injury as well as help reduce low back pain. Exercise balls are also effective in improving your overall balance, flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, both for athletic performance and in recovering from injury.
Disadvantages of Stability Ball Exercises
While the instability inherent in an exercise ball is advantageous for its fitness benefits, it is also a safety concern. Losing your balance on the ball while exercising may, for example, cause you to fall to the floor or drop a dumbbell on a part of your body. Stability balls may puncture if you exercise on a surface that is not smooth and free of sharp objects or debris.
Reduce your risk of injury from exercising on a stability ball by cushioning the ball with an exercise mat on a clean surface, and plant your feet on the floor shoulder-width apart for increased support. Until your balance improves, you may want to place the ball near a wall or between two sturdy pieces of furniture so it can’t easily roll out from under you as you exercise.
To maximize the benefits of stability ball exercises, select a ball size that corresponds to your height. For example, a 55 cm ball is appropriate if you are between 165 and 185 cm tall, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. A good rule of thumb is to choose a ball that allows your knees and hips to form a 90-degree angle when you sit upright on the ball with your feet on the floor.
Examples of Core Exercises
Planks on a stability ball may be adapted to your fitness level, with beginners keeping the ball beneath their thighs and advanced athletes positioning the ball beneath their shins or ankles. Other advanced core exercises include knee tucks, in which you use your legs to roll the ball from plank position to a tucked-body position, and back extensions, in which you lie stomach-down on the ball and lift your arms and legs in unison.
Upper- and Lower-Body Exercises
Strengthen your upper body by performing exercise ball pushups, and incorporate dumbbells into your routine by balancing on an exercise ball instead of on a weight bench for chest presses and dumbbell flies. Target your glutes and hamstrings with bridges and hamstring curls, and focus on your quads with dumbbell wall squats.