Top 5 Exercises with an Exercise Ball

By Kyera Giannini , last updated December 7, 2011

The versatile exercise ball offers dozens of different movements targeting muscles, but 5 exercises stand out for their effectiveness and simplicity. One of the easiest, cheapest ways to stay fit, the ball lets you crunch, pushup, squat and balance your way to a better body. Use the guide below to learn how to perform the top 5 exercise ball routines.

Push Up
Consistently ranked number one, the push up exercise works the core muscles along with the usual shoulder, chest and arm areas. Start with the ball under your stomach and palms on the floor. Walk out with your hands into a plank position until the ball rests somewhere between your hips and ankles. The closer the ball sits to your ankles, the harder the exercise. Keep your body aligned and spine straight with your head and neck in line with it. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and the core engaged as you bend your arms to lower your body towards the floor. Elbows should move away from the body as you lower. Push back up and pause for a moment, then repeat. Never extend your arms completely; always keep a slight bend in the elbow to prevent injury. Repeat 8-10 times. If you want to take it to the max, switch position and put your hands on the ball and toes on the ground.
Squats
Squats are a fabulous way to increase thigh strength and get a fabulous rear for the summer. Find a large space on a wall free of pictures and furniture. Put the ball behind your lower, or lumbar, spine and press against it gently to hold in place. If do not know where to position it on your back, fit the ball into the curve of the spine. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hands on your hips or thighs. Slowly bend your knees and lower your body 5-10 inches, making sure to keep your hips and shoulders square. When you reach the lowest point your body should resemble a chair with knees at 90 degrees. Hold position for 3 seconds, and then slowly rise back up. The ball should remain nestled in the curve of your back the entire time. Do 5-12 repeats and 2 sets, pausing for 30 seconds between sets.
Jackknife
This is one of the more difficult moves but an excellent way to tone your abs and hips while working on balance. Begin with the ball under your knees, stomach towards the floor, palms down and body extended. Lift yourself into a pushup position with your palms beneath your shoulders. Tuck your knees into your chest and let the ball roll towards your ankles. Return to the starting position. To make it more challenging, begin with the ball under your ankles and perform the same motion, ending with your toes on the ball and rear aimed upwards. Pause for a moment, and then return to starting position. Breathe in as you roll the ball towards your chest and then out when you push your legs out to work the abs. An even greater challenge is the Plank Pike-up, in which you start with the ball under you shins and then hike up your hips using your abs and legs so they form a V shape. Hold for one second, keeping your head in line with your spine, and repeat 10-12 times.
Crunches
The basic crunch gets a power up when you use an exercise ball. The simplest version involves lying with your lower back against the ball, placing your hands behind your head with elbows wide and lifting your upper body. Remember to breathe out as you lift up to contract the abs. For variation, try the Ball Pass in which you lie on your back with your knees raised in tabletop position with the ball between your knees. Lift up to grab the ball, working the core muscles, and lower back down. Lift up again to place the ball back between the knees.
Frog Jump
This movement generates both a muscle and a cardio workout. Begin standing behind the ball with your legs slightly wider than hip width and toes turned out. Squat down until you hit 90 degrees to work the thighs, grab the ball with both hands, press your elbows against your thighs and then jump up as high as you can. Use your glutes and legs to push off the ground, point your toes, straighten the legs and lift the ball straight over your head. Repeat 5-8 times.
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