There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing exercise ball planks, what will the effects be?
An exercise ball, also known as a stability or yoga ball, is a soft elastic ball that can be used to improve multiple fitness components. There are many exercise ball exercises for a wide variety of muscles. One of these is the exercise ball plank.
Exercise ball planks are simple the classic plank exercise with either your feet or arms on the exercise ball. By doing this exercise on a stability ball you engage certain muscles like your obliques to a slightly larger extent and you train your balance more.
Exercise ball planks are typically done to grow and strengthen core muscles like your abs and obliques. For other fitness goals, there are many better exercise options. And even for this goal, variations and exercises that engage these muscles in a more dynamic way may be more effective.
If you are more experienced with core training, you may need to add weights to exercise ball planks or do the more dynamic variations to keep seeing muscle growth and strength progress.
Whether you should add exercise ball planks or alternatives to your routine depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.
How to do an exercise ball plank
As the name implies, you need a good exercise ball for this exercise. To do an exercise ball plank take the following steps:
- Start on your hand and feet in front of the exercise ball with your feet towards the ball. Keep your arms stretched.
- Put one foot on the exercise ball.
- Put your second foot on the exercise ball and roll the ball away from you until your legs are stretched and your upper arms at about a 90-degree angle to the ground. Keep your hands right below your shoulders and your back straight.
- Hold this position for an extended period of time.
The main attention point when doing an exercise ball plank is keeping your body straight. Do not lower your hips too much but don’t raise them too much either. Keep your head in line with your body so looking downward but don’t lower your head too much, keep your neck straight.
The farther the exercise ball is from your hands, the harder the exercise will be for your core muscles.
Exercise ball plank variations and build-up exercises
The exercise ball plank with just your body weight is the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few exercise ball plank variations, modifications, and build-up exercises that can make the exercise easier or harder or help you work toward a full exercise ball plank.
Some people are not ready yet for full exercise ball planks. To work up to the full version you can consider a few other exercise options. You have different options depending on what muscles are holding you back.
If your abs are not strong enough for exercise ball planks you can start with plank progressions like regular planks or knee planks. If these are still too hard, something you can do is lie on the ground and just push down your lower back with the help of your ab muscles.
If your obliques are the weak link you can start with a side plank exercise.
Some other potential muscles that are less likely to be the issue are your shoulders or back muscles. For this, you can start with front raises or bent-over rows.
Lastly, your balance and coordination may be the things holding you back since exercise ball planks can be challenging when it comes to these areas. If this is the case you can start with putting your feet slightly wider apart. If that’s not enough you can train these fitness components with balance board exercises.
Bodyweight exercise ball planks can also become too easy relatively fast. At this point, you may need to turn to other exercises or make exercise ball planks harder to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.
Making exercise ball planks harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up progress compared to doing the regular bodyweight variation over and over.
A simple no-equipment way to do this is to roll the ball farther away from your hands. This way your feet become the contact points with the ball instead of your shins. In turn, the exercise becomes harder for your core muscles.
The next option to mainly target the same muscles but to a larger extent is to do weighted exercise ball planks. This is basically the same exercise but with extra resistance on your back or hips to make it harder. Due to the unstable plank, your main option for this is a quality weighted vest.
There are also a wide variety of exercises that start from the exercise ball plank. Some examples include exercise ball knee tucks, pike crunches, etc.
The exercise ball plank with your forearms on the stability ball instead of your feet is also generally slightly more challenging for your oblique muscles.
Muscles worked with exercise ball planks
With any exercise you will almost always make a variety of different muscles work, especially with a compound core exercise like exercise ball planks. Even so, there are a few muscles that will have to work the hardest for moving and keeping your body in position.
Exercise ball planks are mainly a core muscle (abs and obliques) exercise. Besides that muscles like glutes, erector spinae, quadriceps, shoulder, back, and tricep muscles may have to work a small amount too.
Stability ball planks are slightly better than floor planks for training your oblique muscles. They engage ab muscles to a similar extent.
The way you build muscle in places like your core is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.
By adding extra resistance to exercises you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more core muscle gain.
One downside of exercise ball planks is that it is hard to make the bodyweight version more challenging. You can wear a weighted vest but even then, for individuals more advanced with core training, exercise ball planks may be too easy to get a lot of results.
Depending on your personal situation, workout plan, and training goals, exercise ball planks may be a good or bad addition.
Benefits of exercise ball planks
Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding exercise ball planks to your routine can offer you some helpful benefits. Some of the most important ones include:
- Stronger muscles: Exercise ball planks are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your core muscles.
- Improves mood: Exercise like exercise ball planks promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like exercise ball planks can reduce or prevent back pain (1, 2). If you currently have back pain you do want to be careful and talk to an expert before implementing this exercise.
- Can help with losing weight: Doing exercise ball planks likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss. Keep in mind that there are better exercise choices if weight loss is your goal.
- Improves sleep: Exercise like exercise ball planks can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
- Slows down aging: Exercise ball planks won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
- Balance and coordination: Balance and coordination are fitness skills that can be improved by challenging them. Exercise ball planks can help you with this.
While inevitably many workouts are better for some of these benefits than exercise ball planks, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.
The main thing to keep in mind is that exercise ball planks can be hard on body parts like your back, wrists, elbows, hips, shoulders, back and neck, even if you implement the right technique.
If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before implementing exercise ball planks into your workout routine.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that exercise ball planks are not (yet) for you.
Exercise ball plank alternatives
While exercise ball planks can be a good addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your core muscles. Some of these exercise ball plank alternatives include:
- Stability ball crunches
- Stability ball knee tucks
- Bicycle crunches
- Ab wheel exercises
- Leg raises on the captain’s chair
- Compound core exercises
Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.
Many people will benefit from adding exercise ball planks with the right technique to their routine. You may need to switch to more challenging alternatives soon to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.
If you are more advanced when it comes to core training, exercise ball planks may be too easy for you.
For goals besides strengthening your abs and obliques and making them stand out more, there are many better exercise options.
You also need to remember is that exercise ball planks can be hard on body parts like your back, wrists, elbows, hips, shoulders, back and neck, even if you implement the right technique.
If you are sensitive or weak in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before doing more exercise ball planks.
Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing exercise ball planks is a workout you love, great. If not, plank alternatives other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.
If you do decide to implement more exercise ball planks make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.