Exercise Ball Workout

Roll some fun into your fitness program with an inexpensive exercise ball and six simple exercises.

By Christie Aschwanden, Photos by Andy Lyons


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Exercise Ball Workout
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    You probably know that strength training boosts your metabolism by building lean muscle mass. But if you thought you needed to pump iron to reap the benefits, think again. With an exercise ball and a little space, you can build muscle and increase your metabolism with a full-body workout designed by exercise instructor Ashley Kipp.

    Exercises using a ball trump weight-room workouts when you want to target core muscles, such as the abdominals, hips, and lower back. These muscles constantly work to keep you balanced, says Kipp, owner of the Pikes Peak Pilates and Health studio and a senior coach with Carmichael Training Systems (the folks who coach Lance Armstrong).

    "This workout builds functional strength that will help you in everyday movements like lifting groceries, climbing stairs, and picking up your children," Kipp says.

    Before you begin the workout, warm up with five minutes of walking or another exercise that gets your heart pumping.

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Inner-Thigh Crunch

    Targets: Inner thighs and abs.

    Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your shins parallel to the floor. Place the ball between your knees and squeeze your legs together to hold it there. If you have lower-back pain, place your hands under the small of your back for support. Keeping your lower back on the floor, inhale and lift your heels (with your knees still bent) toward the ceiling. Exhale and lower your feet and legs back to the starting position.

    Repeat 10 times.

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Bridge

    Targets: Backs of thighs, buttocks, and abs.

    Lie on your back with your legs extended, feet hip width apart, and calves and ankles resting on the ball. Exhale, engage your abdominal muscles, and lift your butt toward the ceiling, taking care not to arch your back. Hold for two to five seconds, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. Make this move more difficult by moving the ball closer to your ankles or easier by resting it under your knees.

    Try for 10 repetitions.

    Once you've mastered this, add a kick. With your butt lifted, shift your weight to your right leg and raise your left leg 90 degrees, keeping your leg straight. Focus on squeezing the thigh and butt muscles in your right leg. Repeat on the other side for a total of 10 repetitions.

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Push-Up

    Targets: Chest, triceps, abs, shoulders, and back.

    A. Lie on the ball on your stomach. Carefully walk your hands forward on the floor until the ball is centered on your thighs. Extend your legs and hold your body in a straight line.

    B. Inhale, bend your elbows, and lower your chest to the floor. Exhale and push back up to the plank position. Keep your back flat. If this is too difficult, perform the move while resting on your knees.

    Repeat as many times as you can, eventually working up to 10 reps.

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Standing Ball Squeeze

    Targets: Abs, hips, lower back, and inner thighs.

    A. Stand upright with your hands on a wall or chair for balance; place the ball between your legs.

    B. Kneel forward in a squatting position so your knees hug the ball. Let go of the wall (or chair) and hold your body in a stable stance. This move challenges almost all of your muscles as they work to keep you balanced and steady. Hold the position as long as you can, with a goal of 30 seconds.

    This exercise is more difficult with a big ball and easier with a smaller one. This move works your entire body, but you'll feel it most in your inner thighs.

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Back Extension

    Targets: Back and shoulders.

    A. Facing away from a wall, kneel with the ball in front of you and place your hands behind your head with your elbows bent. Lean forward onto the ball, holding your feet against the wall for stability. Your chest should rest across the top of the ball.

    B. Exhale and lift your chest up, stopping when your back is extended in a straight line. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold your back tight. Inhale and slowly lower back to the starting position.

    Repeat 10 times.

    Bump up the difficulty by extending your arms straight in a Superman position while you perform the exercise.

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Hamstring Curl

    Targets: Abs and backs of thighs.

    Lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels resting on the ball. Lift your butt, inhale, and use your feet to push the ball away from you until your legs are straight. Exhale and pull the ball back to the starting position. After 10 repetitions, exhale, tuck your abdominals, and roll back down onto your back.

    Once this move becomes easy, take it up a notch by performing the move one leg at a time. In the starting position, shift your weight to your right leg and lift your left leg off the ball. Do the exercise as before, moving the ball with your right leg while your left leg hovers above the ball.

    After 10 reps, switch legs.

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