Our themes for this final instalment of stability ball exercises are unilateral training and proprioception. Unilateral training is when you’re working one side of your body at a time. It’s a great way to address and prevent imbalances in strength and mobility between the left and right sides of your body.
Ensuring both sides of your body are equally strong and mobile will decrease your injury risk while also improving your athletic performance. Unilateral training also works your smaller stabilizing muscles more than when you train both sides at the same time. Add to this the unstable nature of the stability ball, and you’re getting a very effective strength-building workout.
Proprioception is your ability to sense your body position without having to look. Having good proprioception, which often decreases with age, is important for performing well in sports, as well as for preventing injury and falls in later life. Research has found that older adults can prevent much of the age-related declines in proprioception by engaging in regular exercise, including performing balance and stability moves like the three below.
1. Single Leg Hamstring Curl
This is an advanced version of the hamstring curl we learned in Part 1. Hamstring strength is important for running, deceleration in activities like racquet sports and for keeping knees stable.
Lie on your back with your ankles and feet resting on the stability ball, arms to your sides on the floor. Lift your hips and back off the floor, so your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders are positioned in a straight line. Now lift your left leg off the ball. Driving your right heel into the ball, pull it toward your glutes, contracting your hamstring muscles. Pause for a second, then then roll back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions. Keep your hips elevated and left leg off the ball throughout your set. Work your way up to three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
2. Mountain Climber
Start in a plank position with your hands on the floor and tops of your feet resting on the stability ball. Lift your right foot off the ball, bending your knee and bringing it toward your chest. Hold for one to two seconds, then slowly return to the start position and repeat on the left. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
This move strengthens your core and shoulders, and is a great progression toward learning how to do handstands.
Get into a push-up position with your feet resting on the stability ball and your hands directly under your shoulders. Roll the ball toward your arms by raising your hips toward the ceiling and contracting your abdominal muscles. Try to get your upper body perpendicular to the floor (like in a handstand) with just your toes touching the ball. Your head should be positioned between your arms, with the top of your head facing the floor. Slowly roll back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions. Keep your back flat throughout the move, and try to keep your legs as straight as possible. Aim for three sets of 15 repetitions.
For the hamstring curl and the mountain climber, you may notice that the repetitions on one side feel easier than the other. Resist the urge to perform more reps on your stronger side; you’ll just be adding to your imbalance. For example, if I have a client who can perform more hamstring curls on her left leg compared to her right leg, I’ll get her to start the set on her left leg, perform as many repetitions as she can, and then perform the same number of repetitions on her right leg.
Editor’s note: This is part 4 of our four-part series on stability ball exercises. See Part 1, Easy Exercises to Improve Core Strength; Part 2, Strengthening Glutes and Hamstrings and Part 3, Building Core Strength and Better Balance.