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5 Great Yoga Ball Exercises for Functional Fitness

Updated: May 21, 2023

by Emma Mattison – NASM, CPT, CNC and Functional Aging Specialist


*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read full privacy policy here.




Exercise balls, yoga balls, stability balls, physio balls, and Swiss balls: they all are refer to the same piece of equipment... the large inflatable, sturdy ball that can be incorporated into an exercise or rehab/prehab routine.


Exercise balls can be an excellent, functional way to incorporate mindful movement. In this article, I'll share with you my top five favorite exercise ball movements, and why I incorporate them in my practice as a personal trainer.


These fabulous five are:

  1. Ball Wall Squat

  2. Double Leg Hamstring Curl

  3. Ball Plank

  4. Ball Cobra

  5. Long Lever Ball Crunch


These five yoga ball exercises can be a great addition to your workout! Read on for specifics on each exercise, demo videos, and precautions for each movement. As always, check with your doctor or medical professional to ensure exercise is cleared, or work with a personal trainer for a custom plan for your own goals (I offer this as well!).


Let's get right into it!



Ball Wall Squat


Let's start with my absolute favorite: the "ball wall squat." I love this exercise because it helps my clients learn proper mechanisms for squat form. Too many newbies or uninformed exercises risk destroying their knees with the very functional squat pattern simply because they do it incorrectly.


Many people incorrectly allow their weight to shift forward, so they feel tension in their knees with the squat. While there is always a time and a place to train this form of tension, it is usually not the way to go for the general exerciser who already improperly executes squat form.


The Ball Wall Squat allows you to rest your weight back into your heels and middle foot. Placing the ball in between your shoulder blades, at the mid-line of your back, enables the ball to roll up your back as you descend into the squat. This lets you get nice and deep with your squat (as deep as comfortable and as confident).


I teach this ball wall squat with a modification in the thumbs, to discourage the shoulders from rounding forward in the squat. Check out the short demo video to see how I do this, and to watch the movement!



Notes of caution: allow yourself to adjust the ball and learn where the most comfortable place is for it to sit your body. You do not want the ball rolling so far up that is smashes your head forward. Your head should not be leaning entirely on the ball by itself at the end-point of the squat!


If you've have a hip replacement, only go as far into hip flexion as you feel comfortable. Never push to the point of pain, and know that your squat depth may be limited due to your hip. However, this doesn't mean that you cannot still experience the benefits of this functional exercise – you just need to respect your body's limitations!


Also, brace your core. But you'll hear all about that in the video.


Double Leg Hamstring Curl


Love this one! So many people slide on into that prone hamstring curler and feel satisfied with their hamstring activation. However, why wouldn't you also want to activate your deep core stabilizers, from your stomach to your back, and target those hamstrings (muscles on the back of the thigh)?


This exercise does exactly that. This will challenge your balance, activate your core isometrically (i.e., without crunches), and target your gluteals (buttocks) and hamstrings (back of the thigh muscle). These points of activation can ultimately improve posture and balance – further stabilizing your hips. This can help with fall and injury prevention.


The video below shows an example of the exercise that you can follow along with, and gain some form tips! However, please read the notes of caution below, as there are some groups of people for which I do not recommend this exercise.


Notes of caution: if you have neck arthritis, exercise caution if you perform this movement. I would tend to say to shy away from it entirely, due to the tension on the neck, but always use your judgement and check with your health care provider.


Avoid this if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), tend to get dizzy easily, and/or glaucoma or other eye problems such as retinal detachment. If you do get dizzy easily, yes, exercise caution, but even more specifically – don't perform a bunch of exercises where you are getting up and down back to back (i.e. circuits with floor/standing exercises).


If you had hernial repair, or hernias, exercise caution, however – this exercise can be okay for umbilical or inguinal hernia. I would avoid this especially if you have an active hiatal hernia. However, if you had a hiatal hernia repair, and have exercise cleared by your doctor, these type of core activation exercises can be helpful.


Ball Plank


If normal planks are challenging for 30 seconds, I would stick with those to perfect form! However, if you're looking to improve your core stability and functional arm strength even more, consider the "ball plank!"



You will feel SO unstable when you first try this. Your core stabilizers will wake up. Until they do, however, I recommend trying this in a corner, or with the ball secured against a stable object, or a base such as the one pictured to the left, just to get the feel of the movement first before trying it without some type of security.


Whether you're an avid exerciser or a beginner, this plank exercise is humbling! Watch the video for a full demo, and if you want to give it a try for 30 seconds! First, read the cautions under the video before attempting.


Notes of caution: if you had or have any issues with your shoulder (such as past rotator cuff surgery), exercise caution. You need to know which stage of recovery you are in for training so that you are not overtraining a muscle that is not ready. However, in the right stage of training, this sort of exercise can be wonderful for strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder. However, always use your judgement and check with your health care provider.


Avoid this if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), tend to get dizzy easily, and/or glaucoma or other eye problems such as retinal detachment. If you do get dizzy easily, yes, exercise caution, but even more specifically – don't perform a bunch of exercises where you are getting up and down back to back (i.e. circuits with floor/standing exercises).


I would avoid this if you have an active hernia, or at least exercise caution since it does not involve crunching motion of the abdomen. Nevertheless, if you are severely overweight, you could cause excessive abdominal pressure in this position, so that's why I encourage you to exercise caution. If you had a hernia repair, and have exercise cleared by your doctor, these type of core activation exercises can be helpful.


Ball Cobras


One of the most neglected muscle groups in our society, next to the hip external rotators, are the rotator cuffs and middle back muscles. These muscles help keep us from rounding forward, and lock our shoulders in securely where they should be.


The "ball cobras" (not to be confused with the "cobra stretch") are deceivingly challenging, yet incredibly effective at targeting these postural muscles of the middle back and rotator cuff!


For those who don't know, the "rotator cuff" is a group of muscles (pictured to the right) that surround and constitute your shoulder blade, in particular. They assist in abduction, adduction, and internal/external rotation of the arms. Just take a look at this video if any of those words confuse you, because every motion of this exercise utilizes the rotator cuff's gift of "full arm range of motion." Now, I cannot leave out the middle back muscles responsible for helping us "spread our wings," or horizontally abduct our arms from our body. The rhomboids and middle trapezius are particularly important for a nice posture (not pictured, but in between your shoulder blades)!



Notes of caution: if you have neck arthritis, exercise caution if you perform this movement. I would tend to say to shy away from it entirely, due to the tension on the neck, but always use your judgement and check with your health care provider.


Avoid this if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), tend to get dizzy easily, and/or glaucoma or other eye problems such as retinal detachment. If you do get dizzy easily, yes, exercise caution, but even more specifically – don't perform a bunch of exercises where you are getting up and down back to back (i.e. circuits with floor/standing exercises).


If you had or have any issues with your shoulder (such as past rotator cuff surgery), exercise caution. You need to know which stage of recovery you are in for training so that you are not overtraining a muscle that is not ready. However, in the right stage of training, this sort of exercise can be wonderful for strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder. However, always use your judgement and check with your health care provider.


Long Lever Ball Crunch


Away with the floor crunches that prompt people with poor form to pop their heads out of their neck! This long lever ball crunch is more effective for – not only inducing rectus abdominis (abs) hypertrophy (growing muscle) – it's effective for the core stabilizers given the balance requirements of the ball. The "6-pack abs" are not functional, realistically, but those deep core stabilizer muscles definitely help for functionality! Too many people waste their time fixating on the "abs." So if you are going to focus on the "abs," then you might as well consider this exercise due to its effectiveness, and the fact that you can target those deep core stabilizers like the transverse abdominus, multifidus, and internal obliques! Focus on those core stabilizers, please... nothing is sexier than someone who doesn't fall over while putting on pants!


Watch the video below to get an idea of the exercise, and after reading the cautions under the video, you can give it a try!



Notes of caution: Avoid this if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), tend to get dizzy easily, and/or glaucoma or other eye problems such as retinal detachment. If you do get dizzy easily, yes, exercise caution, but even more specifically – don't perform a bunch of exercises where you are getting up and down back to back (i.e. circuits with floor/standing exercises).


I would avoid this entirely if you have an active hernia, since it involves increased abdominal pressure. If you had a hernia repair, know how to properly activate your core with appropriate form, do not have a significantly sized abdomen (too much abdominal fat can put too much pressure on the abdomen when performing a crunch such as this), AND have exercise cleared by your doctor, these type of core activation exercises may be helpful.


Don't Drop the Ball!


Make sure you take charge and commit to your health and wellness. Incorporate functional exercises as part of your workout routine!


And just know, these are only FIVE of my favorite exercises that can be done with an exercise ball. If any of these exercises are too challenging or too easy for you, there are so many regressions and progressions of the exercises that I cannot even fit them all in this post. There are always alternatives to target the right muscle groups in a way that also exercises core stability! I would be happy to guide you personally through discovering the best exercises for your unique body. Just reach out to me at info@myzeniverse.com, or check out my training page for more info.


I hope you are able to give these exercises a try, given that exercises is cleared with your doctor! Here's a 10 minute ball workout circuit with form tips. I only recommend this one for individuals who do not experience hypertension, glaucoma or eye related conditions such as retinal detachment, have no active hernia or risk for hernia, do not experience significant neck arthritis, and who have exercise cleared by a doctor. Also, this is suitable for beginners, but if you have a fear of getting up and down from the ground, I do not recommend it!


If you do have a fear of getting up and down from the ground, contact me at info@myzeniverse.com and I can provide you with an exercise program to help you feel more confident about your lower body functional strength, and your ability to get up and down off the ground. I also recommend reading the related article attached to this blog titled, "Keep Up with the Grandkids! Top 10 Functional Exercises for Older Adults."


If you are uncertain about whether or not you have the right sized yoga ball, how to store your ball, or what brand you should buy, I recommend reading the other two related articles at the very bottom of this post!


Enjoy!



 

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The first step in getting started is to book a free 15 min phone call with me to chat about your goals, and share your health and training history!



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About the Author

Hi! I'm Emma Mattison. I'm a NASM certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, stretch & flexibility coach, pranayama breathwork guide, holistic nerd, and lover of birds & music! I specialize in functional fitness for older adults, and those with conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Scientific literature is fun to me, and my goal is to make it understandable and fun for you!


I am driven to share knowledge I find fascinating & transformative with my clients, and the world. Everyone has the power to take their health into their own hands!


My love for fitness and true discovery of health started with helping my best friend – who I can now call my husband! Today, I couldn't do any of this as smoothly and enjoyably as I do now without him! Check out our YouTube, MyZeniverse! He literally edits and films everything. He's editing the next YouTube video next to me right now, as we speak! Check it out, and give it a like if it's helpful! 😊😊

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