Core training using exercise ball workouts

Improve your core stability with a fitball!

The first four exercises require you to perform held (isometric) contractions using the ball, while the other two require movement (isotonic) muscular actions.

Isometric Fitball exercises

These exercises will challenge your ability to hold good posture and pelvic alignment against both body weight and the instability of the Fitball. The positions of the holds are similar to the static floor exercises, except that they are performed on the ball. Research shows that performing core exercises on an unstable surface, such as a Fitball will increase the levels of trunk muscle activation.

1)    Fitball sit and leg lift

Overview: challenges your ability to co-contract the abdominal wall and maintain a neutral (neither overly rounded nor arched) lumbar (lower) spine position.

Level: suitable for those new to exercise.

Muscles targeted: abdominal wall (transversus abdominis, internal obliques).

Technique: sit on a Swiss ball with your hips on top of the ball and feet hip-width apart. Ensure the size of ball is correct (see panel).Your knees should be level with, or slightly lower than, your hips and at 90 degrees in sitting. Relax and find neutral spine position. Set this position by lightly bracing your abdominal muscles. Think about good upper back and shoulder posture as you sit (stomach in, chest lifted, shoulders low and relaxed). It is important to hold an upright sitting position. You should not lean forward or back. Once you are in position carefully lift one foot a few centimetres off the floor. Maintain your balance and hold the position.

Progression: keeping the lifted foot only just off the floor, straighten the leg in front of you, stretching the hamstring. Resist any tilting of your pelvis as the leg straightens by bracing the abdominals and maintaining posture against the stretch.

Perform: 5-10 second holds. Do 5 reps on each side over 3 sets.

2)    Supine Fitball bridge

Overview: this exercise involves the hamstrings, gluteals and key muscles in the posterior chain. The aim is to hold perfectly straight hip and back alignment against the load of your body weight and the instability of the ball. A big co-contraction of the trunk muscles is required to perform this exercise well.

Level: intermediate.

Muscles targeted:

  • gluteals
  • hamstrings
  • erector spinae
  • abdominals
  • obliques

Technique: lie on your back with your heels on the top of the Swiss ball, hip-width apart to aid stability. Suck in your abs and squeeze up from your glutes, lifting your hips until there is a straight line from your heels to your upper back. Make sure your shoulders and head stay firmly on the floor. Don’t lift your hips too high or flare the ribs so that your back hyper-extends. Lower under control.

Perform: 30 second holds. Do: 2-3 sets.

Progression:
i.    Place your feet close together on the ball to increase the balance challenge as you lift your hips.
ii.    Roll your legs slowly from side to side with control. Keep your hips up, this is an advanced variation.

3)    Fitball gluteal bridge (not shown in video)

Overview: this is a second posterior-chain exercise, but this one is performed with the knees bent. With the weight bearing down through the feet the work is felt mainly in the gluteal muscles.

Level: intermediate.

Muscles targeted:

  • gluteals
  • erector spinae
  • abdominals
  • obliques.

Technique: lie on your back with your shoulders and head on the top of the Swiss ball. Your feet should be on the ground. Keep them hip-width apart for stability.
Squeeze up from the gluteals and lift your hips until there is a straight line running through your knees, hips and shoulders. Don’t lift the hips too high or flare the ribs to prevent hyperextension of your back. Lower under control.
 
Progression:
i.    Place your feet close together to increase the balance challenge.
ii.    Lift one leg, so that your lower leg is parallel to the ground, to perform a single leg bridge. Hold for 5 seconds, lower the leg, pause for a second and lift the other leg in the same fashion.

Perform: for 30 seconds. Do: 2-3 sets.

4)    Fitball plank

Overview: a challenging strength exercise for the abdominals, focusing on maintaining good alignment of the spine.

Level: intermediate to advanced.

Muscles targeted:  abdominals

Technique: kneel in front of the Fitball and place your elbows on the top of the ball in the centre. Slowly roll the ball away from your body until there is a straight line through your knees, hips and head. Your weight should be supported through your elbows down on to the ball. Once in position it may be necessary to tilt the pelvis so that it is held in neutral with correct lumbar spine alignment. You should also be careful not to round off the shoulders – think ‘long spine’. The better your spinal alignment the harder the abdominals will have to work. If you feel more pressure on your lower back, either your alignment is incorrect or you have insufficient abdominal strength-endurance to hold the correct line.

Progression: move the ball around, forward, left and right with your upper body while keeping your hips in place and your head still in its alignment.

Perform: for 30-60 seconds holding at the top point. Do 2-3 sets.

Fitball isotonic exercises

We now increase the difficulty by introducing isotonic Fitball moves. These will really test your core strength as you move and have to maintain position on the ball. Isotonic simply means movement and involves eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) muscular contractions.

5)    Fitball back extension

Overview: by using a Fitball you can isolate back extension without hip extension – meaning that you get a really good back strengthening exercise.

Level: intermediate.

Muscles targeted: erector spinae – lower and upper.

Technique: kneel over the ball with your thighs and stomach in contact with the ball and your head and shoulders dipping over the front of the ball. With your back straight and parallel to the floor, position your spine in neutral and then set your hips so they do not move. Allow the chest to drop and fall over the ball, flexing your upper back. Place your hands at the sides of your head, elbows bent. From this position, lift your chest up, and extend your upper back until it is higher than at the starting position. Maintain abdominal contraction throughout to fix your hips in place and limit hyperextension of the lumbar spine.

Progression: add a light dumbbell held behind the head for additional resistance.

Perform: 10 reps under control, increasing to 20 reps, over 2-4 sets.

6)    Fitball squat thrust

Overview: performing a squat thrust on a Fit ball allows for a focus on the flexion of the hips and lower back whilst maximising the use of your abs. Holding the position through several reps is a great strength-endurance challenge for the abdominals as well. Unlike the traditional version where speed is of the essence, the Fit ball version is more demanding if performed slowly with control.

Level: intermediate.

Muscles targeted:
abdominals
hip flexors

Technique: Start in a type of elevated press-up position with your shins on the ball, with your hands shoulder-width apart and placed under your shoulders on the floor. Keep your knees slightly apart for stability. Set your lower back in neutral and ensure your shoulders are stable. Keep your shoulder blades down and chest out. To perform the exercise pull your knees in to your chest and 'crunch' the abs to get an extra flex of the hips and back. Then slowly extend your knees back to the start position. Use your abs to prevent the hips dropping down.

Perform: 10 reps slowly, increasing to 20 reps. Do 2-3 sets.

 

How to make sure the Fitball you are using is right and safe for you – ensure it:

  • is burst resistant to a minimum of 500Kg (static)
  • is preferably made from PVC
  • meets British or International Standards
  • has anti-burst properties
  • is correct for your size – see below

Your height (cm) Ball size (cm)
152-168 55
168-188 65
188 plus 75

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