A Beginner's Fit/Swiss Ball Core Training Circuit - A guide to strengthening the core & body with just a Fit/Swiss Ball and a medicine ball ... you can do this at the gym, while on vacation, or even at home!
A Fitball, also known as a Swiss Ball, is an excellent tool for building a well-rounded physique. Contained within are eight great exercises that will hit the core (transverses abdominis) and surrounding muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae and hip flexor), as well as the quads, hamstrings, chest, back and shoulders. All you need is a small amount of space, a 55-65 cm Fit/Swiss Ball (fully inflated), and a 6-to-15-pound medicine ball.
It's recommended by various manufacturers of these devices that people shorter than 5-foot-2 use a 55-cm Fitball and those taller than 5-foot-2 should use a 65-cm ball. Most people can easily and safely use a 55-cm (most gyms have this size lying around). A good facility will provide them in all ranges, but sometimes things are not this optimal.
Isolation Wall Ball Squat:
Standing about two feet from a wall, place the Fitball in the small (lower curve) of your back ... Keep the rest of the torso straight. Place the feet in a narrow stance, forward, about one foot in front of you.
Place your hands atop your head and pull your abdominals inward toward the spine. Do not suck in your gut - this involves holding your breath and you don't want to do that. Pull your belly button back toward the spine and hold it there throughout the exercise, continuing to breathe.
Now lower the body, keeping the back straight and arms overhead, into a seated position (as if you were about to sit in a chair). When in a fully-seated position (while still contracting the abdominals and activating the core muscles) hold the position. This is known as an isolation hold - the muscle is being held in a contracted position, for a length of time.
Start by holding this squat for 10-15 seconds, and then pressing through the heels return to a standing position. Rest for 15 seconds and then squat down. Repeat this isolation hold 10 times (each time holding the position for a longer period of time) until you are holding for 45 seconds, and can burst upward at the end.
Wide Stance Wall Ball Squat:
The wide stance squat is great for hitting those glutes and adductors (inner thighs). The ball and the body are originally in the same position as the above wall ball squat, but the feet and legs are placed in a wide stance.
My preference is to place them as wide as your hips will comfortably allow. The feet point outward and should follow the line, or the direction in which the knee is pointing. This can be done with or without an isolation hold.
Once in the full wide stance, lower the body (keeping the back straight with abs pulled in and breathing) and squat until the thighs are parallel to the floor. Then return to the top, squeezing the thighs and glutes all the way up.
Repeat sequence 12-20 times, rest 1 minute, and repeat 12-20 more times. As a progression, a 6-to-10-pound medicine ball can be held overhead while contracting the abdominals and performing the squat.
Walking Or Stationary Medicine Ball Lunge:
Standing straight upright, hold a 6-to-12-pound medicine ball overhead, arms straight. Take one large step forward and place your foot firmly on the ground, lowering the rear knee and leg, approximately two inches off the ground.
Return to a standing position. This can be done in a continuous straight line by walking or rep by rep one leg at a time. Do not change positions until all reps are complete. Either way is fine - walking lunges just add a bit more aerobic activity to the exercise.
Medicine Ball Pullover On Fitball:
Sit on the Fitball. Then while holding a 6-to-15-pound medicine ball, roll down (so the ball rolls upward and rests between the shoulder blades). This will support the upper back and cervical spine (neck) only. Bring the glutes all the way so the body forms a straight line (or bridge). Hold your bridge securely by contracting and holding the core muscles.
The feet should be beneath the knees with toes pointed forward. Hold the arms straight overhead with the ball securely in both your hands. Make sure you are looking straight at the ceiling while keeping your back straight and butt up.
Now lower the ball and straighten the arms back behind the head until the arms are straight and not below the head. Lastly bring the medicine ball back and straight above your body position. Repeat for 12-20 repetitions, rest 30-60 seconds and repeat again 12-20 times.
Toes On Fit Ball Push Ups:
This exercise is a bit more advanced, and requires good control of the core muscles and the ability to keep the entire body stable throughout. The key to this exercise is keeping the tips of the toes atop the Fitball ... while it is NOT leaning against anything. This should be a standard push-up position in all other aspects.
The hands should be below and just slightly lateral to the shoulders. Keep the back straight, abs and core muscles activated, toes on the ball and feet straight. Lower the body SLOWLY to the ground, keeping the back straight and the ball firmly in place. Return to start position and repeat. Push-ups are a great strengthening move as well - you should work up to the maximum amount of repetitions you are capable of every time you do them.
Fitball Push-Up + Jackknife Combo:
As with the above exercise, the push-up jackknife combo requires extreme stabilization and control of the core, upper and lower muscle groups of the body. However, this is a 3-part exercise, that also improves coordination, balance and total body strength.
In the beginning, it may be possible to only complete one or two without rest, this is normal. Work up slowly, until you are able to complete 2 sets of 10 full combos.
First, the feet are slightly different than the push-up (the tops of the feet are laid flat atop the ball as well as the ankle). Hands are in the standard push-up position and the body should be aligned straight, in a firm bridge.
First lower the body into a push-up, return to the top, and then with the tops of the feet, pull the Fitball to the chest. The hips and butt should rise to form a triangle while the hands stay in place and feet are still atop the ball. Hold the body in this contracted position for a count of three then slowly and carefully roll the ball back to the starting/bridge position. Repeat.
The Russian twist is an excellent core integration exercise. The important key to this move is to keep the lower body (hips, butt, thighs and feet) in the exact same position throughout the motion. Only the upper body moves with the core controlling the movement.
Lying supine (face up) on the ball, place the fitball again between the shoulder blades so it supports just the upper back and cervical spine. The body is in a firm bridge position with the butt up, feet right below knees, toes pointing forward. The arms are straight over the body with palms together in a praying position.
Contract the core: pull the belly button in towards the spine and slowly (and carefully) roll the entire upper body to one side, digging the shoulder into the ball to prevent it from rolling. Hold this position for a three count, return to the center, arms still straight overhead, palms together. Repeat to opposite side.
The body should be in a firm bridge position from the waist down with upper torso and hands in line. It is important to keep the core tight and the abs contracted throughout this move. Repeat 3-6 times, exhaling deeply as you roll to each side.
Lat Stretch On Fitball:
A good way to end the fitball circuit is the lat stretch. This move opens the pectoralis major and minor of the chest and stretches the latissimus dorsi muscles of the back. It may look simple, but is a relaxing stretch that feels great.
While lying supine on the fitball, roll the ball upward so it is right beneath the scapula (shoulder blades) and below the cervical spine. Allow the head to fall back carefully and rest on the ball, you should be looking slightly back behind your head. Turn the palms face up, open the arms wide and lay them out to the side, opening the chest.
Now drop the hips, or maintain a bridge position, and allow the curve of the upper back to follow the curve of the ball. Then roll back a bit until you feel a nice stretch in the upper and middle back. It's noticable and should be easy to feel once you are in the right position. Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds, breathing normally. Repeat three times at the end of your workout.
The Beginner FitBall/Med Ball circuit can be done 2-3 times per week as a workout at home or added in once a week at the gym for a nice change-up from machines and free weights. It's important to remember to vary your workouts with the addition of these instability devices, to keep your core strength, balance and overall fitness in check all summer long!