Out of all the body areas you can target when working out, core muscle exercises tend to be one of the least popular. That’s mostly because endless sit ups and crunches usually come to mind, but the good news is that there are much better ways to workout your ab muscles without doing a million crunches.
If you want to work your core efficiently without getting bored or frustrated with your efforts, try using an exercise ball (also known as a stability ball). Exercise balls add an extra challenge to your workout, and because you have to focus on keeping the ball steady, you work not only your abs but also the core muscles of your back and pelvis. Depending on the exercise, you can give yourself a full-body workout with an exercise ball.
You’ll also build up your stability—which is really important for everyday function and injury prevention. That’s why the best core exercises are ones that incorporate other muscle groups at the same time. Functional fitness—the type that helps you continue to do fun things and prevent injury as you age—is always working the core at the same time as other muscle groups
We’re going to go over eight different core muscle exercises you can do with an exercise ball, but first, let’s make sure you choose the correct ball for you:
Choosing and Using an Exercise Ball
Exercise balls come in sizes between 30 cm (for kids or petite people) and 75 cm. Here’s a good guideline:
|Diameter of Ball||Person’s Height|
|45 cm||5′ and under|
|55 cm||5’1″– 5’8″|
|65 cm||5’9″– 6’2″|
|75 cm||6’3″– 6’7″|
|85 cm||6’8″ and taller|
When you sit up straight on the ball, make sure:
- Your feet are flat on the floor.
- Your thighs are parallel to the ground or pointing down slightly.
- Your knees create a 90-degree angle (or slightly bigger angle).
- You’re able to sit straight with your pelvis, shoulders, and ears lined up vertically.
Make sure the ball you get is appropriate for your height as well as your weight. If your weight to height ratio is typically more than the average person, you might want to go up a size so you can maintain the proper posture on the ball. You can also use a ball that’s slightly less inflated if you struggle with balance, as this will make it easier to stay on the ball during the exercises.
Alright, now that you know which ball is best for you, let’s dive into some workouts!
8 Core Muscle Exercises with an Exercise Ball
You can do these exercises anywhere a stability ball is present. Most gyms have them available, or you can purchase your own (using the guidelines we gave above) and do these from the comfort of your own home at any time!
#1 Sit Ups
I know, I said earlier that crunches and sit ups aren’t that effective or that much fun. But here’s why ball sit up exercises are way better: besides just working your abs and core, you’re also giving your hip muscles attention, which is so important for natural mobility. Since you must use not only your body weight but also your balance to perform the move, you get much better workout benefits.
1. Sit up straight on the ball and move forward until just the back end of your butt is sitting on it. Begin to lie backwards until your back is touching the ball.
2. Put your hands behind your head (or crossed over your chest), then begin to slowly come back up, using your abs to lift you. Lie back down onto the ball. That completes one crunch. Do 8-10 steps in a set.
Important: Be careful not to use your neck to lift you up—focus on using the ab muscles. And remember to keep your back straight the whole time to prevent injury.
#2 Push Ups
Ball push ups work not only your core muscles but also your biceps, triceps, and chest! They are better than a normal push up because the muscles are better targeted, you continue to work on your stability, and your core must work harder to keep you balanced. Win, win, win.
1. Lay on the ball with your chest facing down towards the floor, then walk your hands forward so the ball rolls to under your upper thighs. This will put you into a plank position.
2. Position your hands shoulder-width distance apart on the floor.
3. Like you would with a normal push up, lower down until your arms are in a 90-degree angle when bent, then slowly push yourself back up to a plank position. That’s one push up. Do 8-10 steps in a set.
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#3 One-Legged Squats
Normal squats are great, but one-legged squats are even better at targeting those important thigh, hip, and butt muscles—and at strengthening your core! Add an exercise ball into the mix, and you’ve got a killer workout move.
1. While standing with the ball a couple feet behind you, put the ankle of one of your legs facing down on top of the ball. Have your weight in the other leg.
2. Slowly lower your hips down into a squat position until the standing leg is at 90 degrees. Allow the ball and the leg with the ankle on top of it to move back as needed to get you in the squat position.
3. Slowly come back up, then repeat for 8-10 reps. Switch legs, then do the same thing on the other side.
Note: To increase the difficult a little, you can hold a dumbbell in each hand.
#4 Jackknife Crunches
Jackknives are fantastic for targeting the full range of your abs and hips—and of course, they get even better when you have a stability ball!
1. Lay on the ball with your chest facing down towards the floor, then walk your hands forward so the ball rolls to under your ankles with your legs extended.
2. Position your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor with extended arms. Put all your weight into the arms, then use your ankles to roll the ball towards your arms while bending your waist and knees, then extend your legs back out again. That’s one jackknife! Do 8-10 reps.
#5 Table Tops
This is a pretty simple workout that targets all areas of your body: not only core but chest, abs, shoulders, and back too.
1. With your knees on the floor, put with your forearms on the ball where your elbows are near the edge of the ball facing towards you.
2. Make sure your shoulders are right above your elbows. Position your knees in a 90-degree angle tabletop position.
3. Keep your back straight. Roll your forearms forward on the ball so that your knees raise off the ground, your legs are straight, and you’re on your toes.
4. Roll your arms back towards you along the ball as you bend your knees and bring them back to a tabletop position. Do 8-10 reps.
Plank position is an excellent exercise already, so adding an exercise ball just bumps up the benefit for your inner abs and your balance.
1. Lie face down on the ball with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor, then walk your hands forward until the ball is underneath your lower thighs. If you want to make the move harder, you can walk forward further to put the ball right above your ankles.
2. Hold this position, with your shoulders directly above your hands. Hold your abs muscles tight and stay in this position for as long as you can. Work up to 30 seconds to one minute—or longer, if you can!
3. Return back to the start position.
Bridges are a great way to work your hamstrings, glutes, and core with only your body weight.
1. Lie down on your back and put the calf area of your legs on top of the ball. Keep your arms straight and comfortable on each side of you.
2. Squeeze your abs muscles and raise your butt and hips off the floor into a bridge position. Keep your arms planted on the floor by your sides. Hold this position for at least three full, deep breaths, then return to the starting position.
3. If you want to make the move harder, move into the bridge position and life one leg off the ball while your hold the pose. Repeat on the other side.
#8 Leg Raises
This is another fairly straight-forward exercise that directly targets the abs while also working the legs!
1. Lie on your back on the floor with your legs straight out and about hip-width distances apart on the ball.
2. Squeeze your legs together, so they grab the ball, as you tighten your core.
3. Slowly raise the ball from the floor with your legs. Think about contracting your abs so the bellybutton moves toward your spine. (This will help protect your lower back from injury).
4. Hold the position for three long, deep breaths before lowering the ball back to the ground.
As you can see, many of these exercises incorporate other muscles of the body while working the core. This is great because they strength your body through natural movements that build stability along with strength. That’s truly the best way to do core muscle exercises! Give each of these a try for a great core-focused full-body workout.