Think back to the last time you saw a gym ball (also known as a Swiss ball, although no-one seems to know why). We’d wager it was in one of two scenarios: either being used as a dust magnet in a corner of your gym; or being the best supporting actor role in a viral video where the main protagonist will, after several seconds of desperately trying to regain their composure, fall arse over tit and land flat on their face.
But there’s far more to the gym ball than cleaning or comedy purposes. In the right hands it can be a secret weapon in your build-a-better-body arsenal because it’s one of the most versatile bits of kit in your gym and its potential uses are only limited by your imagination. What’s more, because it’s cheap and lightweight and can be quickly inflated and deflated, it’s one of the first items you should buy to set up a home gym.
Gym balls are all about instability. Adding one to a gym move makes all your stabiliser muscles – those unsung heroes that normally play second fiddle to the pecs, biceps and triceps – work to keep your balance.
Using them regularly for bodyweight moves builds functional all-over strength that will reduce the risk of sporting injury, improve your posture and help support the heavier compound lifts like squats and overhead presses, so your vital gym statistics keep climbing.
Gym Ball Circuit
To sculpt a rock-hard six-pack you need to work your abs harder than ever before. Do this six-move circuit in order, only resting for three minutes after the final move. Then repeat the circuit, completing it four times in total.
It starts with a press-up variation that works your entire core thanks to the instability created by using the ball.
How to do it Start in a press-up position but with your palms on the gym ball, shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ball. Press back up powerfully to the start.
This move works your upper abs as well as your obliques, or side abs. Keep each rep smooth and controlled with your abs engaged throughout.
How to do it Lie with your back on the ball, your feet flat on the floor and your fingers touching your temples. Contract your upper abs to raise your torso off the ball. As you come up twist to one side, pause, then twist all the way to the other side and pause. Return to the start to complete one rep.
This next exercise continues to tax your obliques hard, helping them grow so you can sculpt a strong and tight six-pack.
How to do it Lie with your upper back supported on the gym ball with arms straight above your chest and hands together. Keeping your arms straight and together, rotate your torso to one side to lower your hands towards the ground. Pause, then twist all the way to the other side and pause. Return to the start to complete one rep.
This move requires a full activation of your deep-lying core muscles so your upper and lower body can work as a single unit.
How to do it Hold your body in a straight line from head to heels with your feet on the ball and your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Contract your abs to draw your feet towards your hands so your body forms an inverted V-shape. Brace your core throughout the set to stay stable, and breathe in as you raise your hips and out as you lower.
Roll-outs on a ball are harder than on a barbell because your entire core must work hard to prevent sideways movement of the ball as you roll it forwards and back.
How to do it Kneel in front of the gym ball and rest your forearms on the side of the ball closest to you. Extend your arms to roll the ball forwards, using your abs muscles to control the wobble and keep your body steady. Then roll it back again slowly to return to the start, keeping your back flat throughout.
The final move of the circuit is an incline plank, done for time, not reps. Keep your core tight throughout and breathe slowly and consistently.
How to do it Get into the plank position but with your hands clasped together and resting on the gym ball. Engage your core and glutes, then raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Hold without letting your hips sag.
5 Reasons To Roll Out The Gym Ball
1. Stabilise Your Shoulders
Gym balls aren’t great at directly building strength because the instability means that you can’t lift as much weight as on a more solid surface. They do, however, challenge your smaller stabilising muscles, so if you can work on one you’ll gain the structural integrity that will allow you to train with heavy weights consistently and stay injury-free – which is crucial if you’re going to get bigger and stronger.
Key move Gym ball press-up
Start with your hands on the ball shoulder-width apart and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Keeping your body straight, bend your elbows to lower your torso to the ball, then press back up to the start.
2. Up The Challenge
You can use a gym ball to make familiar moves more challenging. As a general rule, making adjustments to your workout and the way you perform exercises will prevent you from hitting a plateau where you find it difficult to make progress because you’ll always be posing a significant challenge to your muscles.
Key move Gym ball plank
Start with your forearms on the ball, your elbows bent at 90° and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Hold that position for as long as you can. Make sure your hips aren’t too high because that means you won’t place enough tension on your abs. If they start to sag, that will put stress your lower back.
3. Train At Home
Sure, it would be nice to have a fully-equipped home gym with a bench, barbell and squat rack. But unless you’ve got an abundance of space or an understanding family, the chances are you’re going to be limited to a set of dumbbells and a gym ball. But that’s fine, because having the ball means you can do a number of moves that you wouldn’t be able to do if you only had a set of weights.
Key move Chest press
Lie holding dumbbells with your upper back on the ball and your knees bent at 90° with your feet planted on the floor. Start with arms straight and the weights above your head. Bend your elbows to lower them to your chest, then press back up to the start.
4. Increase The ROM
If you’re smart, you can use the gym ball to increase your range of motion (ROM) for some abs and lower back exercises. This is useful because working through a greater range of motion will present more of a challenge to your muscles, leading to greater size and strength increases.
Key move Gym ball crunch
Lie with your mid-back on the ball, your knees bent at 90° and your feet planted firmly on the ground. Place your fingers to your temples and lean back over the ball to stretch your abs. Exhale, then contract your abs to bring your torso up. Pause at the top. This move is about the quality of muscle contraction so keep the tempo slow and controlled.
5. Be More Innovative
Dumbbell flyes are one of the best moves for isolating your pecs to get a big chest. But you can’t do them too often because they can expose your shoulder joint to a lot of wear and tear. So try this gym ball drill from coach Chad Waterbury to add volume safely to your chest training.
Key move Gym ball pec squeeze
Do this drill six days in a row, taking day seven off. Stand tall, holding a gym ball between your elbows with your upper arms parallel to the floor. Squeeze the ball, as if you were using a pec deck, for 20sec, then rest for 60sec. Do this five times. Every two days increase the squeeze time by 5sec. After three weeks you’ll be doing 60sec squeezes with a bigger and stronger chest.
Beginner Gym Ball Exercises
Gym ball crunch
With the ball beneath your lower back, lie back as far as you can. Curl your shoulders up, keeping lower back on the ball. Pause at the top, then lower slowly to start.
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Gym ball reverse crunch
Hold the ball between your calves and the backs of your thighs. Curl your hips off the floor and bring your knees towards your chest. Pause at the top, then lower slowly to the start.
Gym ball twist curl
With the ball beneath your lower back, lie back as far as you can. Curl your shoulders up and twist your torso to one side, then lower slowly to the start and repeat on the other side.
Intermediate Gym Ball Exercises
Gym ball plank
Rest your weight on your elbows on the ball. Hold your body in a straight line from head to heels without your hips sagging. Maintain that position for 30 seconds.
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Gym ball jackknife
Hold your body in a straight line with your feet on the ball, hands under shoulders. Draw your knees in towards your chest, then return them to the start without letting your hips sag.
Gym ball roll-out
Kneel in front of the ball and place your forearms on top of the ball. Roll the ball away from you as far as you can, holding your body steady. Return slowly, keeping your back flat at all times.
Gym ball leg scissors
Hold the ball off the floor between your feet. Rotate your lower body to one side, then to the other. Continue, alternating sides.
Gym ball lateral crunch
Lie side-on to the ball and jam your feet against a wall for support. Lift your torso sideways as far as you can. Pause at the top and lower slowly, then repeat on the other side.
Advanced Gym Ball Exercises
Gym ball side plank
Rest one elbow on the ball. Hold your body in a straight line from head to feet. Maintain that position for 30-60 seconds without letting your hips sag.
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Gym ball passing V-sit
Hold the ball between your feet, keeping your arms and legs straight. Lift your legs and arms together to pass the ball from feet and hands. Lower your arms and legs slowly, passing the ball back and forth.
Get into a press-up position with one foot on the ball. Bend the other knee and twist your body to one side. Twist your body to the other side, bringing your knee underneath you.
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