Do you have a stability ball at home, taking up space and collecting dust? Or do you use it occasionally as a computer chair? It’s time to put it to better use with an effective full-body workout that increases your overall strength and core stability.
Stability balls (also called Swiss balls or exercise balls) are a great way to introduce an element of instability into your training, which is a requirement for increasing your balance. Lack of balance (and strength) is a key predictor of falls for older adults. According to a recent literature review, falls are “the leading cause of emergency department visits, hospital admissions and unintentional death for older adults.” When it comes to fall prevention, exercise is crucial. A research study of more than 1,000 healthy adults aged 70 and older found that engaging in regular exercise — thus improving balance — was more effective at preventing falls than two other non-exercise interventions they tested.
In this first installment of our four-part stability ball series, I’ll be showing you three basic strength exercises to master. Each workout will be progressively more challenging, so make sure you’re familiar with these movements before trying more advanced exercises.
1. Overhead Squat
This is a great way to practice squats — one of the most effective lower body strength moves — in your own home without having to hit the gym. In this variation we’re adding an upper body component that develops stability and range of motion in your shoulders.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart (or a bit wider) and hold your stability ball overhead. Keep the ball overhead and your back flat as you hinge your hips back behind you and bend your knees so your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Go as low as you can without pain or discomfort, and without rounding your spine or leaning forward excessively. Press into the floor with your feet to return to the start position, and repeat. Aim for three sets of 15 repetitions.
The roll-out is one of my favorite core exercises, and I use it with all my clients, regardless of age. It targets your entire core, which includes the lower back muscles. Keep your lower back healthy and improve your posture by incorporating this exercise into your regular routine.
Start in a plank position, with your feet on the floor, forearms on the stability ball. Make sure your elbows are positioned directly under your shoulders. Slightly tuck your pelvis to minimize the curve in your lower back and engage the core muscles. Now, keeping your entire body rigid, roll the ball forward a few inches with your arms. Don’t go so far that you feel your lower back sagging. Roll it back to the start position and repeat for repetitions.
Performed correctly, this is a challenging move. Make sure you’re completing it slowly and with control. Work your way up to three sets of 15 repetitions.
3. Reverse Extensions
My older clients who have joint-related concerns like arthritis enjoy using the stability ball because it can reduce muscle and spinal strain during certain movements. This is one of those moves. It’s a great way to train your glutes with no impact or joint strain.
Start by lying face down on the ball. Roll forward so the ball is positioned under your hips. Your hands should be slightly in front of your shoulders, and your toes should be lightly touching the floor. Brace your abs, then squeeze your glute muscles to lift your legs until they’re in line with your torso. Make sure you don’t bring your legs too high, arching your lower back. Hold for two seconds, then slowly lower. Aim for three sets of 15 repetitions.
Unfortunately, the stability ball is misused by many coaches and trainees. Performing weight lifting moves on the stability ball, for example, is less effective than lifting weights on a stable surface. (On a stable surface, you’re able to lift heavier weights, which leads to more effective core activation.) That’s why the moves mentioned above focus on using your own body weight, rather than adding additional weight.