Say balls to exercise

Say balls to exercise

Whatever you call it – swiss ball, exercise ball, fitness ball or balance ball, they are all big, wonderfully bouncy and keep you fit. Great for flexibility, balance and targeting specific areas, exercise balls are also one of the top tools for training your core and abs.

Exercise balls are appearing more and more regularly in gyms . This is because fitness experts have realised that the huge ball which looks like it belongs in a playground actually offers a highly effective way to get fit.  Originally used by physiotherapists for rehabilitation, exercise balls are increasingly used by personal trainers, athletics coaches and PE teachers.

So why are balls so effective?

 Because of their unstable nature they force the body to work multiple muscles at once as it tries to keep balance. For example, tricep dips performed on an exercise ball activates more muscles to keep you stable, as well as moving you up and down. You are basically getting more exercise in less time. Now that’s got to be good for those of us with busy lives.

Core muscles require technique

One of the main reasons people choose to use exercise balls is because they believe ball-based exercises increase core strength.  Doing exercises to strengthen your core is essential to improve your performance in all activities and minimise injuries. Research  suggests that virtually any exercise performed on balls will improve the strength of your core. And that includes getting a six-pack!

However, the quality of the technique appears to be crucial to reaping the benefits. In other words, you really have to perform any exercise properly to gain any extra benefits from using the ball. Otherwise you may as well perform the exercise on the floor.

For example, the popular swiss ball crunchie is meant to have a superior training effect than floor-based crunchies. But many people perform this by balancing their lower back on the ball and raising their trunk up with their  hip flexors. While this is still effective, maximum benefit is gained by fixing their gluteals to hold the pelvis fast while lifting their shoulders only.  Otherwise you might as well ditch the ball and do it on the floor.

The solution? Get a professional to show you exactly how to use an exercise ball. All qualified gym instructors will know how, and it only takes one visit to learn a technique to boost your results.

Exercise ball vs office chair

Many people purchase an exercise ball as an alternative to the office chair. This is often to increase core strength, reduce back pain and improve posture. However, recent research suggests that sitting on an exercise ball offers little advantage over your usual chair, with only minor increases in core muscle activation. In fact, some studies show that people may be harming their backs by sitting on a ball because an increase in “spinal shrinkage” can occur. Most people end up slumping forwards, just like in a normal chair. Greater discomfort is sometimes reported, although many people do feel that lower back pain is improved. Our advice? Try it out, and see how it feels for a few weeks. If things don’t work out get an ergonomically-fitted chair and leave the exercise ball for exercising.

Exercising with exercise balls


  • The correct size ball should allow you to sit on it with your knees and hips at 90 degrees.
  • Wear a shirt to avoid a sweaty body sliding off the ball, especially if you’re using free weights.
  • Try to maintain the spine’s natural curve, particularly during any hyper-extension exercises such as leaning back over the ball.

Push ups (great for the chest and core)

  • Lie with your belly on the ball and walk your hands forward until the ball is under your thighs.
  • Lower your body to the floor, keeping your abs engaged and your head in line with the spine.
  • Hold for 3 seconds, the raise your body up.
  • Repeat 5 – 15 times per set.

Ball wall squats (thigh and butt)

  • Stand feet shoulder-width apart with an exercise ball between your lower back and the wall.
  • Place your hands on your thighs.
  • Inhale, and lower yourself down until you feel challenged.
  • Hold for 3 seconds then slow push your body back up, exhaling.
  • Repeat 5-15 times.

Prone fly (shoulders and arms)

  • Lie face down with the ball under your stomach with dumbbells in your hand.
  • Start with the weights in front with hands facing each other.
  • Pull your elbows back, bending slightly, and squeeze into your shoulder blades.
  • Return to the start and repeat 5-15 times.

Swiss ball jacknife (challenging, works your core muscles and lower abs)

  • Get into a press up position with your ankles on the ball and hands on the floor.
  • Use your feet to roll the ball towards your body until your knees reach your chest.
  • Slowly roll the ball back.
  • Repeat 15 times.

Go on - have a ball!


Olivia C.
7 February 2014

Olivia C.

I had one when I was pregnant- it was brilliant and did me some good at a time when I couldn't do much!

Pete R.
6 February 2014

Pete R.

Great as a chair, but it does tend to take up a lot of space

Mike D.
6 February 2014

Mike D.

I use an exercise ball at home when I'm on the computer in the hope it would encourage me to do a few exercises while I'm sat down. Instead, the ball often disappears because a ball-crazy child has rolled it off to kick around the house. I already use them for sit ups and tricep dips but it's good to read about the other exercises that can be done on them too.

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