A stability ball (often referred to as a Swiss, exercise or physio ball) is a great piece of equipment that can not only make standard moves like crunches, extensions and planks more challenging, but it can also double as a desk chair.
Whether you decide to use the ball to work out with or to simply sit on, make sure you have the right size ball for the best results. In general, if seated on the ball, your knees should make a 90-degree angle from your hips when your feet are flat on the floor. To help pick the best size for you, here are some basic recommendations based on height (just remember you’ll want to sit on it to find the perfect fit):
- If you are 5 feet 4 and under, try a 55 centimeter ball.
- If you are between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 11, try a 65 centimeter ball.
- If you are between 6 feet and 6 feet 7, try a 75 centimeter ball.
It’s important master key form basics and proper alignment for every exercise before incorporating the stability ball into your routine. Just like you need to learn how to walk before you can run, being able to execute moves properly on solid ground should come first.
All set? Great! Here are 3 excellent reasons to consider integrating a stability ball into your workout routine for better results:
- Build Core Stability and Flexibility
Including an unstable element (such as a stability ball) in your fitness regimen could help you strengthen your stabilizing muscles and improve your ability to balance more efficiently. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who used a physio ball during specific core exercises (such as curl-ups and back extensions) experienced greater torso stability and balance after 5 weeks than those who did similar movements on the floor.
Core stability is key for improving your force production while reducing the load on your joints in both exercise-related and everyday activities like throwing, running or jumping. Similarly, flexibility training is crucial for increasing range of motion, which can also reduce the strain on your joints, and improve posture and exercise performance. Utilizing a stability ball during stretching can provide support for movements that may be too difficult to achieve solo—this is why the ball is a great tool for flexibility sessions. And, because you’ll still work to balance on the ball while stretching, you can develop core stability and flexibility at the same time.
Check out my “On the Ball: 20-Minute Core Stretching Routine” below for how to incorporate the Swiss ball for both core-stability and flexibility work.
- Amp Up Your Ab Routine
Feel like you’re ready to take your ab training to the next level? A stability ball can increase your range of motion during exercises like rotations and planks, adding another degree of difficulty.
There’s yet another reason to love ab work on a Swiss ball: Performing traditional floor exercises (like crunches) on the ball may help prevent the lower back pain or aggravation that can commonly occur with floor movements. For ideas on how to use the ball for more back-friendly abdominal exercises, please check out my 7-minute core workout video.
- Add Another Dimension to Total-Body Training
Incorporating a stability ball into your strength training routine can also be beneficial to your progress; it’s just not something you want to include during every session. Research indicates that this type of “instability training” can offer multiple benefits, including greater neuromuscular adaptations, improved coordination and higher muscle activation, all with less stress on the joints.
For strength gains, however, using unstable surfaces to work off of while lifting heavy weights may not be your best bet. The instability can decrease the overall force output your muscular system can provide since it has to work overtime to stabilize your body during your workout. The bottom line? When lifting heavy weights, stick with stable ground. But when you want to include more balance, core strength and coordination in your resistance training routine, include the stability ball with lighter loads and higher reps.
Ready to try some total-body training with a stability ball? Please check out my 30-minute “Stability Ball Sculpt” workout.
Tell me, do you use a Swiss ball for your workouts? What are some of your favorite moves? I’d love to hear what works for you—please share your best tips with us in the comments below!
—Photos by Vanessa Rogers Photography