Developing better flexibility in the abdominal muscles, back muscles, and hip flexors can also boost one's core strength. Better flexibility can be achieved by incorporating stretching exercises into a normal exercise ball routine. Doing exercises on the ball that combine both stretching and strengthening elements will help build strong, supple muscles that retain their length and flexibility better than muscles developed using traditional, static strengthening exercises.1
Moving stretching exercises onto an exercise ball simultaneously improves balance and proprioception.
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This flexibility routine calls for the following stretching exercises, each done 8 to 12 times. To reduce the chances of injury, it is best to move slowly and avoid bouncing or jerking movements.
- Hip rotator. While sitting upright on the exercise ball and keeping the knees still, move the hips gently from side to side and keep the ball stationary. Pause for a second at the end of each sideways movement to allow for a gentle upper-body stretch. This movement expands the range of movement of the hip flexors and obliques while increasing core strength.
- Hip rocker. While sitting upright on the ball and keeping the knees still, place the hands on the knees. While allowing the ball to roll forward and back with each movement, push the hips forward by tucking the buttocks first under the pelvis, and then push them back out behind the pelvis. For best results, keep the movement restricted to the hip area while making sure the knees and chest remain still and upright. This movement helps strengthen and expand the range of movement of the hip flexors.
- Ball marching. While sitting upright on the exercise ball, slowly lift the heel of one foot off the floor. Then increase the movement to go up onto the toe, eventually lifting the entire foot off the floor. Hold the foot suspended above the ground for a few seconds to engage the core muscles, then slowly place the foot back on the floor in a reverse motion that starts with the toes, then moves to the ball of the foot and the heel. Repeat the movements with the other foot. This exercise increases flexibility in the feet, legs, and hip flexors while also engaging the core muscles to keep the exercise ball stable.
Persons who have mastered introductory strengthening and flexibility exercises on the exercise ball can move on to advanced routines. Some advanced routines can be targeted to athletes’ specific sports, such as running.
- 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.