Have you heard workout partners or other gym buddies tell you to focus on your core training? They’re talking about the inner muscles that make up the abdominal region, hips, and lower back. Most people focus their attention on the muscles that are more visible and easy to train, such as biceps, pecs, and back, while the most important muscles that act as our foundation are often overlooked. So what is core training, or, better yet, core stability, and what types of stability ball core exercises can you perform to improve your core?
WHY YOU DEFINITELY SHOULDN’T SKIP CORE TRAINING
We all want a flat stomach, and washboard abs wouldn’t hurt either, but that’s not the only reason to add crunches or other stability ball core exercises into your fitness routine. Your core is a crucial component of your body and plays a big role in almost everything you do. Your core helps to stabilize your body when you run, jump, and bend over to pick something up. A strong core can also protect your lower back from injury when you lift heavy boxes or play a pickup game of ball with your buddies after work. A lot of the power you generate when playing sports, lifting weights, or shifting your body comes from your core.
In other words, a strong core makes for a strong body, so how do you train this essential group of muscles? One of the best tools is a stability ball.
CORE TRAINING WITH STABILITY BALLS
Core training is best done when the body is placed in an unstable environment. One way to accomplish an unstable environment is by using one of those big, colorful balls. Depending on who you talk to, they are known as Swiss balls, Resist-A-Ball, or stability balls. Once used as a tool for rehabilitation, stability balls have now become a hot item to use for core and stability training. Stability balls can be used in a variety of settings: used with bodyweight only, integrated with selectorized machines and free weights, or used with free weight or tubing exercises.
We have all seen core stability balls in fitness facilities, like EōS Fitness, but the question many people ask is what makes stability ball core exercises so great? How can sitting, rolling, moving, or performing an exercise on a ball be beneficial? Believe it or not, but there are numerous benefits to stability ball training. Let’s see what they are.
Improved Posture. It takes more energy to move the body when you have poor posture, not to mention an increase of stress to the joints and stabilizer muscles. An athlete is always searching for the edge over the competition, and simply improving posture will help the body function more effectively and efficiently. Stability ball training is an excellent form of posture training. Postural muscles have to work in the unstable environment, unlike supported exercises such as machine training. Even just sitting on a stability ball while watching a show or reading a book at home can help you activate and strengthen your core and train yourself for better posture.
Improved Balance/Stability. The human body moves in three planes or a combination of planes, and for improved balance and stability, you need to perform exercises that allow you to train in these multiple planes. Traditional machine weight training takes balance out of the picture as the machine actually becomes your stabilizer. Stability ball training places you in an unstable environment forcing you to utilize your neutralizer and stabilizer muscles to stay balanced in a given position or through a particular motion. The result is improved sports performance since you are able to apply more power and strength to any situation, especially when you need to balance and stabilize your body on a hill or unstable position.
Improved Nervous System Activation. The benefit of improving your nervous system activation is that you are able to transform the strength you developed from your training program into real life situations, whether they are sports-related or everyday activities. Using a stability ball at the gym will keep your nervous system fired up as it works to constantly react and accommodate the motion of the ball. This can help you move better and retain your balance in your life outside the gym.
Strengthen The Core and Extremities. Stability ball exercises require constant activation of the core muscles, which translates to a more functional core as well as sculpted abdominal and back muscles. Using the stability ball with free weight exercises will help develop the extremities while training the core at the same time.
HOW TO USE THE STABILITY BALL AT THE GYM
As you will quickly learn, you just don’t get on a stability ball and begin your exercises; there are several rules to follow in order to perform the exercises correctly and safely. Seeking the help of a qualified personal trainer experienced in stability training will be beneficial. For starters, using the stability ball is not just about getting on one and trying not to fall off. You must focus on maintaining proper positioning throughout the exercises. Think about tucking in the pelvis and pressing the belly button into the spine as you perform the exercises.
You’ll also want to make sure to choose a stability ball that matches your height and is properly inflated.
Top Stability Ball Core Exercises for Beginners
Never used a stability ball before? Not a problem. You don’t need to be a professional gymnast to get the hang of stability ball core exercises. Start with these three stability ball core exercises for beginnings.
1. Stability Ball Crunch
The simplest core stability ball exercise is also one of the most effective. Lie across the stability ball with the ball under your hips and lower back. Place both feet squarely on the ground. Lace your hands behind your head and perform crunches. You should feel the burn in your upper abs. Try not to pull on your neck with your hands or let the ball move beneath you. Tip: If the ball feels unstable, position yourself so that your feet are against a wall.
2. Stability Ball Russian Twist
Start in the same position as the crunch, but instead of crunching forward, crunch up, and then slowly twist your body from side-to-side. You should feel the burn on the sides of your abs, known as your obliques.
3. Stability Ball Plank
Get ready to feel the burn. Carefully place the tops of your feet on the stability ball. Hold yourself up on your hands or elbows. Keep your pelvis tucked and your abs tight. Focus on maintaining a straight back and resist the urge to stick your glutes in the air. Try to hold the plank for at least 30 seconds. If the ball starts to roll, move it higher on your legs.
To perform another version of this exercise, switch sides. That is, you place your forearms on the stability ball and your feet on the ground. Keep your abs tight to stabilize your body and prevent the ball from moving.
Top Intermediate Stability Ball Exercises
Want to push your stability ball training to the next level? Once the beginning exercises start to feel easy, and you become more confident in your body awareness and balance, give these intermediate core stability ball exercises a try.
1. Stability ball bicycle crunch
Start in the position you would use to perform a stability ball crunch, with the stability ball under your lower back and your feet planted on the ground. Crunch up and twist with your upper body while bringing your opposite leg up and tucking your knee. At the mid-point in the movement, you’ll want your elbow and opposing knee as close together as possible. Lower yourself back down to the starting position. From there, crunch up and twist in the opposite direction while bringing up the other knee.
2. Stability ball knee tuck
Start in the same position as the stability ball plank, with your hands on the ground and your feet on the stability ball. Tighten your abs and pull your feet toward yourself, tucking your knees into your chest as the ball rolls into your body. To get the most out of this movement, really focus on contracting your abs to tuck your knees instead of using your shoulders or quads. Keep your glutes down as much as possible during this movement.
3. Stability ball hands-to-feet pass
Start by lying on the ground on your back. Position the stability ball between your feet. Pressing your feet together and tightening your abs, lift the stability ball with your feet while crunching up. At the top of the movement, take the stability ball from your feet with your hands. Slowly, lower yourself back down, with your arms outstretched. Touch the ball on the ground behind your head, then crunch up again. This time you are passing the ball from your hands to your feet. This is a very challenging stability ball core exercise. Try to maintain control throughout the movement. Don’t drop your feet or hands. Lower yourself slowly.
Stability Core Exercises with Weights
Want to make a stability ball core exercise even more challenging? Add weight into the mix. Not every exercise can incorporate weights, but many can. For example, grab a dumbbell, weight plate, or kettlebell, and clutch it to your chest during stability ball crunches or stability ball Russian twists. Add a weight plate to your back or wear a weight vest during your stability ball planks. You can even hold a weight plate in your hands and the stability ball between your feet as you perform weighted v-ups.
Stability ball exercises with weights are typically advanced movements that require comfort with the underlying exercise. Beginners and intermediate exercisers should focus on simply working out with the stability ball before attempting a movement with weights.
OTHER CORE TRAINING TOOLS
Stability balls aren’t the only tool you can use to train in an unstable environment. Core boards, wobble boards, foam rollers, and discs can all play a vital role in improving your athletic performance and training in a way that readily translates to real-life activities.
No matter what you are trying to accomplish, adding core training to your fitness program is important. Thinking about all the components you need to integrate into your fitness program, including muscle strength and endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, stability/balance, and coordination, it seems as though there is not enough time in the day to do it all. This is where the professional assistance of a personal trainer comes into play. A personal trainer will be able to set up a program that is customized to your needs, wants, and lifestyle so that you don’t spend hours in the gym. After all, we work out so that our life is more enjoyable.
Once you start adding stability and core training into your program, you will quickly see how it will improve other activities in your life. No matter what your fitness level may be, anyone can utilize a stability ball to start training their core and improving their coordination. If you need help putting all the pieces of your fitness plan together, consider investing in a personal trainer at EōS Fitness.