The average gym has numerous pieces of equipment that can be employed for nearly infinite numbers of movements. You’ve got your barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, of course. Then, you’ve got your cardio machines and weight machines. There are also the benches and squat racks, and you’ve even got recovery items, like foam rollers. With so much to choose from, it’s easy to overlook the humble Swiss ball.
Also called a physio ball, exercise ball, or stability ball, this versatile rubber sphere is larger and lighter than a weighted medicine ball. And, rather than throwing it around, you’ll be using it for an array of exercises to challenge your upper body, lower body, and core.
“The stability ball is an excellent fitness tool that encourages balance and core strength to accomplish a variety of exercise movements,” says Aaptiv Trainer John Thornhill. “In addition, many of the exercises you can do on the stability ball are low impact to your joints.”
Though it’s a staple in every gym, the Swiss ball is also a cheap and effective addition to your at-home workouts. Whether you keep one in your closet or use it as a desk chair, you can enlist the Swiss ball for a wide range of exercises—and you can even use it to spice up tried-and-true moves with a dose of instability.
“The Swiss ball is a great tool to add new exercises to your workout routine and also challenge to your core at the same time,” says Aaptiv Trainer Kenta Seki.
Below, Thornhill and Seki recommend six moves to try at home.
“This move is a perfect complement for cyclists or runners looking to strengthen their posterior chain,” says Thornhill.
Lie down on your back, with your legs elevated and stretched out, and your heels and calves resting on the stability ball. Engage your core and lift your hips up, squeezing your glutes and hamstrings for balance, making a straight line from your legs to your shoulders. Keeping your hips up, slowly curl the ball toward you, then slowly roll the ball back to the starting position.
Here’s a video from John why the posterior chain is so important:
Plank to Pike
Thornhill likes this exercise for its ability to strengthen your abs and lower back. Start in a plank position with your hands on the ground, your wrists under your shoulders, and your shins resting on top of the stability ball. Form a straight line with your body. Engage your core and slowly pike your hips up, rolling the ball in toward your chest until your body forms an upside-down V. Slowly lower back down to the starting position.
“Spice up your standard chest press with a stability ball to incorporate core and hip stability and develop leg strength,” suggests Thornhill.
Grab a set of dumbbells in each hand and sit on top of the ball. Keep your legs at shoulder width and your feet flat on the floor. Roll your body forward so that your upper back is on top of the ball and your hips are pressed up toward the ceiling. Form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Start with the dumbbells at chest level, elbows wide. Press the weights up, squeezing your chest at the top, then return back to the starting position. When performing this exercise, “the key is to keep your hips lifted and core engaged through[out] the entire movement,” says Thornhill.
“If you want to really challenge your arms, chest, and core, try performing a push-up with your hands on a Swiss ball,” says Seki.
Place your hands on the sides of the ball with your fingers pointing outward, then kick your legs back and straighten into a plank position. You should quickly feel your muscles activate as your body stabilizes. Perform push-ups slowly, concentrating on your form. If needed, Seki says that you can modify the position and do the push-ups on your knees.
If you’re tired of basic leg raises, and want to get more muscles involved, try adding a Swiss ball to the mix.
Lie down on the floor with your legs stretched out. Put the ball between your feet and squeeze. Slowly raise your legs up until they are perpendicular, then lower back down until your heels are just barely above the ground. Be sure to squeeze the ball throughout the movement. “This will add additional fire to your inner thighs and core,” says Seki.
“Ready to take your planks to a whole new level? Try performing them with your forearms on the Swiss ball,” suggests Seki. “It will fire up your entire core, as well as engage your upper body and legs.”
Get into position with your body extended in plank position and your forearms resting on the ball. Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your heels, and hold.
For even more exercises, cue up the workouts in the Aaptiv app and put your newfound skillset to the test.