Athletes participating in sports that require strong balance, endurance, and speed often find that increased core strength and stability can improve their performance.1Fredericson M, Moore T. Muscular balance, core stability, and injury prevention for middle- and long-distance runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N A 16 (2005); 669-689. In these sports, having underdeveloped core muscles can hinder an athlete from reaching his or her full performance potential.

Moving common strength and conditioning exercises onto an exercise ball can often deliver the result of the original activity while simultaneously strengthening an athlete’s core muscles.

Adding one or more of the following exercises to training workouts can benefit athletes of all levels:

Ball Sit-Ups

These sit-ups on an exercise ball are a great way to increase core strength while also strengthening the deep pelvic muscles of the body.

  • Place the feet firmly on the floor while leaning backward over an exercise ball.
  • While keeping the feet firmly planted and the ball in a stable position, do a traditional sit-up.
  • While performing the sit-up, keep the hands either locked behind the head or clasped and crossed across the chest.
  • If keeping the hands behind the head, ensure that they are not assisting in the lifting of the upper body, as this reduces the level to which the abdominal muscles are engaged.

Adding the exercise ball to the traditional sit-up movement increases the exercise’s difficulty exponentially because in addition to working the core muscles during the sit-up, the exerciser must engage the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles to keep the body stable on an unstable surface.

Leg-Lift Bridges

Using an exercise ball to increase the difficulty of leg lifts and bridges is a great way to alter this traditional exercise for more advanced athletes.

  • Lie backward onto the ball until the head and shoulders are resting upon it.
  • Keep both feet on the floor and perpendicular to the upper body.
  • Lift the buttocks and chest until they are even with the head and shoulders on the exercise ball.
  • Keeping this position, lift one leg off of the floor.
  • Straighten this leg until it is level with the rest of the body.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, then lower the leg to the floor.
  • Repeat 5 to 10 times per leg.

This exercise is an advanced version of traditional standing or supine leg-lifts. To increase the degree of difficulty, lift the arms out to the side, airplane-style while performing the exercise.

Supine Ball Leg Curls

This exercise engages the deep core muscles while also strengthening and lengthening the hamstrings, building both muscular strength and balance.

  • Lie on the back with the legs raised and the feet resting on an exercise ball placed 12 to 18 inches below the hips.
  • Lift the body into a bridge pose while keeping the feet firmly on the exercise ball and the legs bent.
  • The buttocks and lower back should be completely lifted off the floor, preferably at a 45 degree angle.
  • Once the body is in the arched bridge position, push the exercise ball outward with the feet until the legs are straight, while maintaining the bridge.

This exercise is an advanced version of the leg-lift bridge most commonly performed as part of a Pilates routine. It requires advanced core strength and concentration. For an even greater challenge, the same exercise can be done with only one foot on the ball while raising the other leg into the air.

Because these exercises are advanced and require a high level of existing core strength and balance, it is advisable to first learn the exercise with the guidance of a trained professional, such as a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer, before attempting them.

  • 1 Fredericson M, Moore T. Muscular balance, core stability, and injury prevention for middle- and long-distance runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N A 16 (2005); 669-689.

Dr. Michael F. Duffy is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon working with the Texas Back Institute. He completed his undergraduate work at Georgetown University before going on to earn his M.D. at the University of Nebraska, and also fulfilled a residency with Orlando Regional Healthcare before arriving at Texas Back Institute for his fellowship. He has been in private practice for over 6 years with Texas Back Institute.