Work Your Entire Core With This Stability Ball Exercise From Celebrity Trainer Astrid Swan
It can be easily scaled up or down as needed.
If you’re looking to seriously work your core, locate a stability ball and keeping reading.
Celebrity trainer Astrid Swan, NASM-certified personal trainer whose clients include Julianne Hough, Shay Mitchell, and Alicia Silverstone, recently posted an Instagram video of a challenging two-part stability ball move that zeros in on your core and targets essentially every part of it.
Why this exercise is so effective
Swan rates this move as a 7 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. Much of the challenge comes from the fact that it’s technically two separate core moves—a V-up and then a V-up twist—combined into one continuous motion. Doing these two core-centric moves back-to-back with no break “becomes taxing,” Swan tells SELF. On top of that, the move requires serious balance, plus flexibility in both your lower and upper back, Stephanie Mansour, a Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF.
Also, though this exercise does involve moving your arms and legs, it’s really all about your core, says Swan. If you perform the move correctly, you’ll “fire up every bit of core,” she says. This includes the rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think abs), transverse abdominis (a deep core muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), and obliques (muscles on the sides of your stomach), as well as the smaller stabilizing core muscles. On top of that, the move requires some strength from your inner thighs and multifidus (a thin muscle that runs along the spine), adds Mansour, though these muscles aren’t the main drivers of the movement.
“Core strength is imperative in everything we do,” says Swan. From a functional standpoint, core strength can help with good posture and alleviate back pain. Regularly doing core-strengthening moves, such as this stability ball exercise, can help you improve the functioning of this major muscle group and thus improve your ability to tackle both day-to-day lives—and all forms of exercise—more easily.
As for what makes this move unique, if you compare it to other classic core moves like planks and crunches, this two-part sequence is more challenging. That’s because you’re passing the stability ball back and forth with each rep, which requires more core work than if you were to simply hold weight in a fixed position without moving your limbs. The fact that you are moving your arms and legs makes it extra challenging to keep the center of your body extra tight and stable, Mansour points out.
To ensure you get the full core-strengthening benefits of this move, it’s important to remember to breathe. Swan recommends a specific type of breathing known as diaphragmatic breathing that will help you stay mindful and continually brace your core as you do the reps.
How to do the move
- Lie face-up on the floor with your legs extended and arms extended over your head, keeping them close to your ears. Squeeze your abs and butt to engage your core and press your lower back into the floor.
- Squeeze your thighs together, squeeze your glutes, and use your core muscles to simultaneously lift your legs and upper body off the ground, reaching your hands forward to meet your feet so that your body forms a V.
- In this V position, balance on your tailbone as you pass the ball from your hands to your feet.
- Then, lower your torso, arms, and legs back down until your arms and legs are hovering a few inches above the floor. In this position your shoulder blades should be elevated, your arms extended back behind your head, and your legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Do 2 V-ups.
- Then, roll up onto your tailbone again but instead of passing the ball from your hands to your ankles, keep the ball in between your hands.
- Press your knees together and bring them in toward your chest as you twist your torso to the right and bring the ball out to the right side of your body.
- Lower back down so that your legs and arms are straight and hovering off the floor again. Pause for a moment and then repeat the movement, this time pulling your knees in and twisting your torso to the left, and moving the ball out to the left.
- This is 1 rep. Try to do 8 total reps.
Throughout the move, stay mindful of your lower back. It shouldn’t arch. If you feel it lifting off the floor, that’s probably a sign that your core isn’t fully engaged. If that happens, take a break, think about re-engaging your core, and shorten your range of motion if needed, says Swan. (Meaning don’t bring your legs or arms so far down toward the floor.) Also, if you feel significant strain in your hip flexors (the muscles in the area where your thighs meet your pelvis) as you do this move, that could be another sign that your core isn’t fully activated, she adds. It’s normal to feel a little stress in the hip flexors with this move, but that area shouldn’t be the main driver. If you do feel significant stress, take a break and reset.
Also, when you’re holding the ball in your hands (versus your ankles), be sure to really press your inner thighs together, says Mansour. This helps activate the inner thighs and keeps your body in a more tight, compact position, which will make the move slightly easier than if your thighs were separated. Then, during the twisting portion, make sure that your thighs stay squeezed together and that your knees point out straight so that the twist comes from your obliques, not your hips, says Mansour.
A few ways you can modify it
This move is challenging, no doubt. If you struggle to do it, you’re not alone. The good news is there are plenty of ways to modify it to fit your fitness level. “At the end of the day, with anything you do, there’s no point in doing it wrong and getting injured,” says Swan. “I’d rather you slow it down with the reps, take the time, and get strong.” Then, you can ramp up the difficulty slowly as you progress. When it comes to this particular move, there are lots of ways to adjust the difficulty.
One easy way to modify it is to simply reduce your range of motion. Instead of lowering your arms and legs down to just above floor-level, lower them halfway, suggests Mansour. Or place the ball in between your knees instead of your ankles and keep your knees bent as you pass the ball back and forth. Or, instead of using the stability ball you could use a smaller Pilates ball and simply hold it in your hands as you complete the V-ups, suggests Swan.
If you’re struggling with the standard stability ball V-ups, you can break that move into two separate exercises. Lie on your back, hold the ball in between your ankles, and rest your arms by your side. From this position, simply lift and lower the ball up toward the ceiling and then back down toward the ground. Then, after a set of 10 to 12 reps, do the second move: Lie on your back, holding the ball in your hands. Raise your legs straight up to the ceiling and then lift and lower your torso, arms, and ball up toward your feet and then back down again for another 10 to 12 reps.
For an even easier regression of the V-up, hold the ball in your hands and try a Pilates roll down, says Mansour. Sit on your tailbone with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Holding the ball in your hands, pull your abs in and slowly roll down to the ground as you reach your arms and the ball overhead. Then, slowly roll back up to the seated position as you bring the ball in front of your chest again.
If you don’t have a stability ball, you can also do V-ups and V-ups with a twist using just your bodyweight, says Swan. Another option is to break the move into its two separate components and perform them as standalone exercises. Try 8 to 10 reps of standard V-ups with the ball. Then, rest, and do 4 stability ball V-ups with a twist on each side, for 8 reps total. Then, when you feel up for an extra challenge, try 8 combo reps, where 1 rep equals one V-up and one V-up twist, suggests Swan.
To make the move more challenging, you can increase the number or reps, add in a mini hold at the top of the movement, and/or use a heavier ball, suggests Swan.
No matter which variation you attempt, remember to focus on steady breathing and continual core engagement. With patience, practice, and focus on good form, this move can build up your core strength over time.