Tennis balls. Baseballs. Basketballs. As sporty men, we seem to be enamored with all things cylindrical (not to mention those other slightly-less-than-cylindrical balls we obsess about). But when it comes to a challenging and engaging workout, we sometimes neglect the biggest ball of them all—the stability ball.
Don't be intimidated by its size. As a workout tool, the stability ball just keeps giving and giving, showering your muscles with myriad hidden benefits.
"Exercise options on the stability ball are almost endless, and it's one the best tools for strengthening your core," says Henry Levy, a personal trainer at Peak Performance gym in New York City. "A strong core translates into better overall workouts and reduced risk of injury."
The stability ball push-up crunch is a workout within a workout that focuses on your chest, triceps, and abs while simultaneously honing overall core muscle strength, balance, and concentration. People who want great abs but hate doing standard abs routines will love this exercise, because the focus and energy necessary to maintain your balance and complete each movement requires so much concentration, you'll barely notice you're working your abdominal muscles.
Just find a good-sized stability ball at your gym (most men use the larger-sized ones) and follow the steps below:
- Assume the position (see Photo 1): To start, position your feet firmly on a stability ball, with your feet flat, your toes supporting your body on the ball, and your body in the push-up position (your spine should be neutral). If you have trouble holding this position, point your toes and rest your shins on the ball instead of using your toes to support your weight; this will give you less decline when you do your push-ups.
- Go down for the count (see Photo 2): Complete a set of 12 to 15 decline pushups, pausing briefly to squeeze your pecs at the top of each rep. Do not lock your elbows.
- Crunch it in (see Photo 3): Then, remain in the push-up position with the top of your feet on the ball and bend your knees up towards your chest (the ball will come along for the ride).
- Roll it out (see Photo 4): Once your knees are almost touching your chest, pause, and then reverse direction and extend your legs back to the starting push-up position. Do 12 to 15 of these horizontal mini-crunches to complete the set.
Your chest will be continually engaged throughout the push-up and crunch phases, so this is a fantastic way to blast your pecs without the stress of using heavy weights. To ensure proper form, squeeze your inner thighs and buttocks and do not let your head drop; keep it in line with the spine.
Looking for some added variety? Once you've nailed the basics, mix it up by adding as many reps and/or sets as you can handle, vary the order by doing consecutive sets of pushups or crunches, or zero in on a specific muscle group. To focus on your triceps, for example, slide your hands closer together in the push-up phase, or try lifting one foot several inches off the ball to give your abs some extra attention.
Mitch Rustad is a freelance writer who has written for numerous fitness and health publications, including Men's Fitness, Tennis, and Shape. A former tennis professional, he resides in Manhattan.