When used correctly, the stability ball is an effective tool for improving core strength, coordination and balance — all important as we age. Stability balls are a versatile piece of fitness equipment, with countless exercise possibilities. If you have one at home, you can get a great full-body workout without a gym membership.
Many of my older clients, including those with advanced fitness levels, enjoy stability ball exercises because they’re challenging and effective but don’t require heavy weights or put excess strain on joints. For example, the stability ball hamstring curl in this article is a fantastic way to strengthen the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back) without putting strain on the knees and hips, as you might experience in a deadlift that works the same muscles.
Make sure you’ve mastered the exercises in Part 1 of our stability ball series before moving on to these ones, since we’re increasing the difficulty level with each installment. Once you achieve the suggested repetition range for each exercise below, you’ll be ready to move on to Part 3, which we’ll share next week.
1. Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
There aren’t many exercises that train the hamstrings in this way, so I make sure all my older clients perform this move.
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. Your weight should now be on your shoulder blades and feet. Driving your heels into the ball, pull them toward your glutes, contracting your hamstrings muscles. Pause for a second, then roll back to the start position and repeat for repetitions.
Keep your hips elevated throughout your set, and don’t let them sag toward the ground. Work your way up to three sets of 20 repetitions.
2. Plank “Alphabet”
This unique core strengthening exercise builds upon the roll-out you learned in Part 1. You’ll be “drawing” the alphabet with your arms, creating a wide variety of positions and angles. Your core muscles will need to resist movement, one of their most important functions.
Start in a plank position with your toes on the floor and forearms centered on the stability ball. Ensure your shoulders are stacked directly over your elbows. Brace your core muscles (like you’re about to get punched in the stomach) and keep your entire body rigid as you start drawing out large capital letters with your forearms. Don’t make your letters so large that your body moves side to side, but make them large enough so that if someone were watching you, they’d know what letters you were drawing. Your challenge: draw the entire alphabet in one go.
3. Stability Ball Knee Tucks
This move teaches you to maintain a neutral spine while flexing your hips. It focuses on the lower portion of your abs (an area many of my older clients say they’d like to work on).
Start in a plank position with your hands on the floor and tops of your feet resting on the stability ball. Most of my clients find it easiest to get into this potion by crouching in front of the ball, lying face-down on it, then rolling forward into the start position.
Keeping your back straight and your upper body stationary, bend your knees and use your abdominal muscles to pull the ball toward your chest. Make sure you don’t tuck your knees so far toward your chest that your hips tuck under and your lower back rounds. Slowly straighten your legs, rolling the ball to the start position. Aim for three sets of 20 repetitions.
For all of these exercises, make sure you keep the ball under control at all times. Your movements should be smooth and deliberate, with minimal wobbling or side-to-side stabilization to balance yourself. If you don’t yet have the required balance and control, have a partner kneel in front of the ball, stabilizing it with his or her hands while you perform the exercise.
Editor’s note: This is part 2 of Lifetime Daily’s four-part series on stability ball exercises. See Part 1, Easy Exercises to Improve Core Strength.