Getting set in our ways is the most surefire path to limiting our potential. We've all been guilty of it countless times. Fortunately, over the past 10 years, I've also had the pleasure of changing my mind about a great many things in the fitness industry.
In the case of the exercise ball—or Swiss ball, yoga ball, stability ball, or whatever you want to call it—I let the stigma that has built up around these among coaches and trainers steer me away from using it entirely. Because I had seen exercise balls so poorly misused, I disregarded the fact that they might have some benefit. Huge mistake!
As I've said many times in the past, the tool itself is not important, it is about the application and the knowledge behind it. This is an important lesson to remember as you progress in your fitness journey, no matter if you are a fitness professional or just exercising for your own well-being.
Dear exercise ball, I apologize for doubting you. And for ridiculing you. All the cool kids were doing it. I'm sorry.
1. Ball Push-Up
Not only are these easier on the wrists than push-ups on the floor, but you also get increased core activation. Huge bonus. These are no better or worse than, say, push-ups on rings, but they're uniquely beneficial due to the instability underneath you.
The key with all of these plank-type movements on the ball is to keep your shoulders protracted (don't let your neck and shoulders sink down, and push away forcefully). As you can see on the video, I also keep my hands somewhat on the side, rather than right on top of the ball.
2. Stir the Pot
This may be one of the best core training maneuvers ever. It's like a plank, but you are adding in some anti-rotation and anti-extension, while involving your arms in a circular pattern. According to Stu McGill, one of the foremost experts in all things spine, stir the pot is one of the best exercises to help strengthen the core and alleviate lower back pain.Tip: pretend you are trying to balance a glass of water on your lower back to help you prevent compensations and poor technique.
3. Handstand Pike Press Practice
Plenty of people can do a handstand, but still struggle to smoothly pike up into one. The ball can be an unexpected ally here. Not only does it reduce the distance you have to travel, but you can also practice smoothly rolling up rather than kicking. Just watch out for the ball on the way down!
4. Bridge and Hamstring Curl
Another great way to solve lower back pain is to properly engage the posterior chain, especially the glutes and hamstrings. Ball bridges and leg curls, on one and two legs, are maybe the best way to do this. Make sure to keep your core engaged to prevent hyperextension in your lower back. When you do leg curls you want to maintain hip extension, rather than drooping to the ground between reps. This is important because the hamstrings do not only flex the knee, but also extend the hip—so it's better to train them to do both of those tasks.
5. Neck Bridge
Training the neck is something that even the most qualified trainers struggle to do safely and effectively. This leaves most of the population with a very weak neck that is susceptible to injury. Enter… the ball! With better leverage than bridges on the floor, the exercise ball neck bridge is ideal for strengthening your neck safely.
And this isn't just for neck gainz, either. You engage the entire posterior chain all the way from your feet to the base of your skull. Sit on the ball and roll it up your back until you are in a comfortable position for bridging. From here, pull with your heels as you lift your chest and hips upward while driving the back of your head into the ball. Only go as far as you feel comfortable, with the ultimate goal of looking at the wall behind you.
6. Ball Band Rotation
The final exercise in the video showcases one of my favorite exercises for rotational power. By using the ball as a buffer, you simultaneously remove your arms from the equation (which would normally be a limiting factor) and place the load further away from your center of gravity. This makes the exercise even more challenging for your core. Combine this exercise with stir the pots and you've got a comprehensive core training program.
The Ball Is only the Beginning
I'll probably continue to change my mind as time goes on, because only a stale mind stays the same forever. Embrace change for the better, even if it appears strange at first. This is definitely not an easy thing to do, and it takes practice, but life is a hell of a lot more fun and rewarding if you are adaptable.
Has your workout ever benefited from trying something new? Maybe kettlebells? Barbells? Yoga? Pilates? Share your story in the comments below!