It might surprise you to know that stability balls, or Swiss Balls as they are commonly known, have been around as devices for rehabbing since 1963. It took another thirty years or so, however, for them to find their way into the mainstream.

Back in the early 2000s, Swiss Balls were the must have item for any gym goer. I still remember the moment that they hit the mainstream gyms. All of a sudden, almost overnight, every gym in town had a truckload of big rubber bouncy balls delivered.

Since the early 2000s, the popularity of the Swiss Ball has waned somewhat. It looks, however, like they are certainly set for a comeback. Weight Watchers, a leader in weight management and fitness, incorporates stability ball exercises as part of its weight loss and overall physical improvement plan. The decline in use of the Swiss Ball was never due to its lack of effectiveness; it was more linked to the lack of knowledge of the average gym goer.

I’ve been using Swiss Balls as part of my regular workout schedule for over a decade now and the benefits are palpable. It just takes a little light reading and some perseverance to start seeing dramatic changes in your abdomen and core. With this in mind, we thought that today would be a great opportunity to give you an insight into what makes a Swiss Ball workout a must for anyone who is serious about toning their abs and strengthening their core, as well as offering an introduction to the six best exercises.

Abs uncovered

Abs Anatomy

The abdominal muscles are made up of the Transversus abdominis muscle, the Rectus abdominis muscles, and the Obliques. Although each of the muscles has its own specific job, they combine to facilitate the movement, and support, of the trunk, while assisting in the breathing process. While the muscles have a functional benefit in terms of protecting the organs of the human body, they also, in combination with the back muscles, provide postural support. On a purely superficial level, toning of the abdominal muscles, and strengthening of the core, improves posture and definition.

The Benefits of a Swiss Ball workout

Swiss Ball training is effectively a form of functional stability training. The benefits of using a Swiss Ball in your training are derived from placing the body in an unstable position. The instability forces the core to engage as a means of re-stabilising the body. Through the strengthening of the core, and abdominal muscles, you can dramatically improve your posture, improve the neuromuscular efficiency of your body, reduce back pain, improve your ability to perform compound lifts, such as squats, and, after losing weight around the abdomen, core stability training will get you well on your way to developing a six pack.

Other benefits of using the Swiss Ball have to do with its curved surface, as opposed to the flat surface of a floor.

Lying on a curved surface to perform an exercise allows your core muscles to stretch much more than lying on the floor. As a result, the range of motion is greater. When you perform crunches on the stability ball your torso moves through a greater range of motion than performing crunches on the floor or bench.

Finally, the curved surface forces your midsection muscles to contract constantly even if the exercise you are doing targets another muscle group.

How to choose the right stability ball

Before you undertake any form of Swiss Ball training, it is important to select the right ball to suit your needs. Failure to do so could result in injury.

In order to assess whether the ball that you are using is the right size, simply inflate the ball fully and take a seat on the ball. When sitting, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. If your thighs are below the parallel, then the ball is too small. If, on the other hand, your thighs are above the parallel, then the ball is too large. It is important to use properly fitting equipment; I can’t stress this enough.

Once you have a fully inflated Swiss Ball that is the right size, it’s time to crack on with strengthening those abdominal muscles, as well as your core. Here are our top six exercises for strengthening your core.

6 exercises to effectively strengthen your core using the Stability Ball

1.    Oblique stability ball sit ups

Equipment needed: A stability ball.

 

Sit on the stability ball, and then slowly roll down the ball until the back of your upper torso is resting fully on the ball. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor and your shins need to be at 90 degrees to your thighs. Place your hands behind your head and perform a standard sit up. When your upper torso reaches a 45 degree angle, however, twist your upper body towards your right knee, as you simultaneously lift your right knee off the ground. Your aim is to get as close to touching your right knee with your left elbow as possible. If they do not touch at first, don’t be discouraged, it will come with time as your abs become stronger. After completing the movement, return to your original starting position. Repeat the movement on the other side, aiming to touch your right elbow against your left knee as you raise it off the ground. Repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure, ensuring that you complete the same number of repetitions on each side.    

Workout tips: A slow and controlled movement is best. Also, try to keep your core nice and tight to reap maximum benefits.   

2.    Stability ball leg lifts

Equipment needed: A stability ball and a standard gym bench.

With the bench lying sideways behind you, sit on the stability ball. From this position, roll slowly down until the small of your back is on the ball. Lean back and place your hands behind you, grabbing the underside of the bench with an underhand grip. Press your lower back into the ball, bringing your legs up, so that they are fully extended and at a 90-degree angle to your body. In a slow and controlled manner, lower your legs until they reach the horizontal position. Return your legs to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure.

Workout tips: Before raising your legs, ensure that the gym bench is secure. A slow and controlled movement is best.

3.    Stability ball rollout

Equipment needed: A stability ball.

 

Kneel down on the floor, with the stability ball in front of you, placing your wrists in the middle of the ball. Ensuring that you keep your back straight, begin to lean forwards, rolling the ball out in front of you. Upon reaching the 45-degree position, begin to straighten your arms. The end of the repetition should see you fully outstretched, with your back straight and your body fully extended. Once you reach this position, begin to retract your body and return the ball, and yourself, to the original starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure. 

Workout tips: Ensure that you keep your back straight, perform the movement slowly and keep the core engaged at all times.

4.    Stability ball jack knife

Equipment needed: A stability ball.


Assume an elevated push up position, with your shins and feet on top of the stability ball, and your back straight. In a slow and controlled manner, use you core and abdominal muscles to roll the ball forward, until your knees are almost touching your chest. After a short pause, return the ball to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure.    

Workout tips: Ensure that you keep your back straight, perform the movement slowly and keep the core engaged at all times.

5.    Pass the ball

Equipment needed: A stability ball.

 

Lie flat on the floor or mat. Place the stability ball between your legs, clamped between your feet. Straighten your legs and place your arms above your head, straightening them out. The ready position sees you (arms, torso, legs) in an almost horizontal plane, but without your arms or legs (or the ball) quite touching the floor. Raise your legs up, while sitting up at the same time. When your legs are at a 90 degree angle to the floor, pass the ball to your into your hands. Lower both your legs and hands back to the ready position, this time with the ball in your hands. Once your body is almost in a horizontal plane, sit back up and repeat the process, this time placing the ball back between your feet. Lower down slowly to your original starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure.    

Workout tips: Perform the movement slowly and keep the core engaged at all times. 

6.    Back extensions

Equipment needed: A stability ball and a wall.

 

Kneel on the floor, with your feet flat against the wall and your stability ball in front of you. Align your belly button with the plug on the stability ball. Lean on the ball and extend the legs straight out. Roll your shoulders back and have your arms resting next to the side of your body. From a position where your spine is elongated, lift your upper torso upwards to a position that is roughly 45 degrees to the floor. After holding for a second, lower back down to your original starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure.       

Workout tips: Keep your legs straight, use your back muscles to lift your torso, perform the movement slowly and keep the core engaged at all times.

Little steps

Some of these exercises may feel a little strange at times; don’t worry that is completely normal. By following this routine, with a little patience and perseverance, you will have a strong core and abdominal muscles in no time at all. You will notice an improvement in your posture, a decrease in any back pain, and, if you keep at it, as part of a regular exercise regime and a healthy diet, you will begin to build the foundations for that six pack that you have always dreamed of owning.

About the author

This article is written by Lilly. Visit her little corner on the web where she contributes fitness and weight loss articles. She supports Weight Watchers, one of the best weight loss programs. Kelly performs the above abs exercises twice a week and she has seen great results.