Nothing will humble you like an exercise ball.
Also known as a Swiss ball or a stability ball, the inflatable exercise ball is awkwardly big, bouncy, and tough to keep in one spot, which makes it an excellent tool for improving your balance and stability. You will wobble, struggle to maintain proper form, and potentially fall on your butt, but the benefits outweigh the embarrassment.
The Benefits of an Exercise Ball Workout for Runners
“Stability ball exercises introduce an element of instability to many common exercises, forcing core muscles to work harder and small stabilizers at the joints to become engaged to overcome the instability,” says Yusuf Jeffers, NASM-certified personal trainer and USATF-certified running coach in New York City. Upping your overall stability can make you a more efficient runner and decrease your chances of injury.
Working with an exercise ball can also help you improve your sense of your body in space, a.k.a. proprioception, Jeffers explains. “Stability ball exercises reinforce the neuromuscular pathway to movement,” he says. That mind-body connection is important in all athletic endeavors, especially running, in which you need the ability to dodge obstacles and adjust to changes in terrain quickly, and also to be aware of your form and body placement as you run so you can optimize each step.
Designed by Jeffers, the following full-body exercise ball workout uses the squishy surface and unpredictability of the exercise ball to up the ante on some of your favorite bodyweight movements. The circuit hits every major muscle group, but prepare to work your core, glutes, and hamstrings the hardest.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise for the amount of time indicated (60 seconds or for unilateral exercises, 30 seconds per side). Complete the full circuit 2-3 times, resting for 60 seconds between rounds.
Each move is demonstrated by Jeffers in the video above so you can learn proper form. You will need an exercise ball and a mat.
1. Dead Bug
Why it works: The dead bug is an excellent exercise for strengthening the core and warming up before a run, as the contralateral movements (opposite arm and leg) mimic how you move your arms and legs when running.
How to do it: Lie faceup, both legs lifted, knees bent and held over hips, arms extended. Hold exercise ball over chest, resting it against knees and hands. This is the starting position. Keeping core engaged and ball steady, simultaneously straighten left leg and extend right arm behind you. (Left hand and right knee should continue to hold ball in place.) Draw arm and leg back to starting position. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat for 30 seconds.
2. Leg Lift
How to do it: Lie faceup with arms at sides, legs straight, and exercise ball between ankles. Squeezing ball between ankles, engage core and lift both legs up until legs are at 90 degrees and ball is above hips. Lower legs back down until ball touches the ground. Keep back flat against the mat. Repeat for 60 seconds.
3. Glute Bridge to Hamstring Curl
Why it works: “This move works all the major muscles of the posterior chain—mainly the glutes and hamstrings—which is the engine of a runner’s body,” Jeffers says.
How to do it: Lie faceup with arms at sides, legs straight, and heels on exercise ball. Engage core and lift hips so body forms a straight line from heels to shoulders. Bend knees and roll exercise ball toward hips until soles of feet are resting on ball. Extend legs, rolling ball away from hips until heels are resting on ball. Lower hips to ground. Repeat for 60 seconds.
4. Copenhagen Plank
Why it works: “The Copenhagen plank works the hip adductors and abductors, which help stabilize the pelvis,” Jeffers says. “The knee drive hold strengthens the hips flexors. The core, especially the obliques, works hard to stabilize the upper body as well.”
How to do it: Lie on right side with right forearm on ground and left hand on hip, inner left ankle resting on exercise ball, and right knee bent 90 degrees. Engage core and lift hips off ground so you’re balancing on right forearm and left foot. Hold for 30 seconds, then lower hips. Switch sides and repeat for 30 seconds.
5. Push-Up to Knee Tuck
Why it works: This push-up variation works the whole body, but you’ll really feel it in your chest, shoulders, triceps, and abdominal muscles.
How to do it: Start in a high plank position with shoulders stacked directly over wrists and shins resting on a medicine ball. Engage core and glutes to keep hips level; body should form a straight line from head to heels. Bend elbows to lower chest to floor, then straighten elbows to push back up to plank. Use core to draw knees toward chest, lifting hips and rolling ball under toes. Straighten legs, rolling ball back under shins, and returning to plank position. Repeat for 60 seconds.
6. Single-Leg Deadlift With Reach
Why it works: Besides strengthening the glutes and hamstrings, the single-leg deadlift also helps improve balance and stability.
How to do it: Stand with left foot on ground and right shin resting on exercise ball. Maintaining a flat back, hinge at hips, lower torso, and extend right leg behind you as you reach right fingertips toward ground. (Allow right knee to roll over exercise ball as you hinge.) Drive left foot into ground and squeeze glutes to stand back up. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat for 30 seconds.
7. Hip Thrust Hold With March
How to do it: Place upper back against exercise ball, knees bent, and feet planted on the floor. Drive through heels, contracting the glutes to lift hips up toward the ceiling. Body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. This is the starting position. Keeping hips raised and knees bent, lift right foot off floor, and draw right knee toward chest. Place right foot on floor to return to starting position and repeat with left leg. Continuing alternating for 60 seconds.