Advanced Stability Ball Moves for an Insanely Strong Core

If you thought squats on a Bosu ball were hard…

Stability balls, or Swiss balls as they’re also called, are deceptive in that they might look fun and bouncy, but make no mistake: They are a weapon of muscle destruction (the good kind of destruction, though). Whether using the fitness tool for crunches or as a replacement for your office chair, this thing is no joke. Doing squats while standing on it, however? That takes some next-level balance, bravery, and oh yeah, core strength.

Consider it just another sweat sesh for professional surfer Paige Alms, who posted a video to Instagram of her performing five of the toughest-looking Swiss ball exercises that will make your abs and thighs hurt just watching.

As the first-ever female Big Wave champion (a nod she received in 2016), Alms knows what it takes to get up (and stay up) on that board: a solid core that helps her maintain balance no matter what size wave she’s riding. All the core muscles from front to back are effectively braced to maintain her control on the water. She also needs strong arms, shoulders, thighs, butt, and calves.

“When on the road traveling, it can be a bit tricky sometimes to fit in a workout,” she captioned the video post. “Being adaptable to your surroundings is key!” Sure, you might not be packing a deflated Swiss ball in your carry-on, but most hotel gyms have this OG piece of equipment lying around, and it’s a surprisingly versatile tool. (Evidence: 8 Total-Body Stability Ball Exercises That Go Beyond Basic Crunches)

“It’s a full-body workout aimed at getting your upper body, core, and lower body working,” says Alms about her Swiss ball circuit. “Even the Superdog can be pretty challenging, but a good way to practice or modify in the beginning is doing it on the ground.” This is basically Alms’ hyped-up version of the Bird Dog, which is still challenging from the stable floor, so it’s easy to see how you’d have to be seriously talented at bracing your core to complete it on a stability ball. (Related: The Bodyweight Exercises Every Woman Should Master for Superior Strength)

There are endless stability ball exercises out there, but Alms says these are still her go-tos for basic bodyweight training. “Cross-body core work where you’re engaging opposite sides is really important for building strength,” she says. Alms adds that she’s a big fan of workouts that get creative, so it’s no wonder you don’t see any traditional crunches or push-ups in her routine.

Ready to challenge your core strength? Try putting Alms’ five stability ball exercises into a circuit for a quick, epic abs burnout.

Advanced Stability Ball Abs Circuit Workout

Swiss Ball Superdog
Begin on all fours, balancing on the stability ball. Slowly extend right arm forward and left leg back to create a straight line from heel to fingertips while maintaining a neutral spine. Return to starting position and switch sides.

Do 5 reps on each side.

Swiss Ball Push-Up
Begin in push-up position with palms on ball shoulder-width apart and feet back so you’re in an elevated plank. (Pro tip: Keep your fingers expanded like a lizard for added balance.) Lower chest to ball, then push up. (Here’s more on how to master the stability ball push-up.)

Do 10 reps.

Swiss Ball Knee Tuck to Pike
Begin in a plank position with palms on the ground, shoulders above hands, and tops of feet on the stability ball. Bracing your abs, bring knees into chest as you roll the ball in, then roll back out to starting position. From there, pike hips up to sky and roll ball in while maintaining straight legs. Roll back out to come to starting position. That’s 1 rep.

Do 8 reps.

Swiss Ball V-Up Passover
Begin lying on back on floor with the stability ball between your feet. Squeeze to hold ball as you lift chest and legs simultaneously, grabbing ball with hands. Extend arms overhead and legs out long, hovering all limbs. Lift chest and legs and return ball to come between feet.

Do 10 reps.

Swiss Ball Balance Squats
*Advanced move alert! Begin standing on stability ball with feet hip-width apart. You can use your hands to or a wall to help balance, as needed. Keep a gentle bend in your knees, chest lifted, and eyes forward. Lower down into a squat, and push through heels to come to standing.

Do 8 reps.

Repeat entire circuit 3–5 times.

 

How to Find the Best Squat for Your Fitness Goals

The front squat/back squat debate is overrated. The answer is simpler than you might think.

pause squats

You don’t need a catalog of research studies to understand that the squat needs to be a key piece of any well-rounded strength program. When done right, squats recruit nearly every muscle in your legs. And when done with a barbell, they challenge your entire upper body, demanding core strength and stability and even challenging your shoulder and back strength, too.

The big question: Where do you actually put that bar? Plenty of lifters wonder, and for good reason. There are two main ways of squatting with a barbell: the front squat and the back squat. Each has a place in your routine but learning how and when to use each move is the key to building the perfect leg program for your goals — and the key to learning and properly progressing the squat.

In my 11 years as a trainer, I’ve heard plenty of takes on how and when to use these squats, based off myths and Instagram folklore. So which squat should you be doing? Truth be told, neither move is superior to the other; each squat has strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, you want to be capable of doing both squats, but, depending on your goals, you may want to prioritize one over the other. Here’s a breakdown:

The Squat Breakdown

The barbell squat you’ll see most guys doing (or attempting to do, in some cases) in your local gym is the back squat. To do a back squat, the bar is loaded at the top of your traps (think of them as human barbell pads), near the base of your neck. Then you simply squat down, bending at the knees and hips, working to not let your knees track too far in front of your feet.

Squat.jpg

The front squat is a move on the rise, most recently popularized by Crossfit. To do a front squat, you load the bar on the meaty parts of your shoulders, in line with your collarbone. You either cross your hands over the bar in an “X” to keep it stable (as bodybuilder do), or you slide your hands under the bar, in line with your shoulders, as Olympic lifters and Crossfitters do. From there, you squat down, just as you do during back squats.

Yes, the moves seem similar. But the few-inch difference that comes with loading the bar behind can make a huge difference in the focus of the exercise.

Back Squat for Power and the Posterior Chain

barbell back squat
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If you’re training to build raw strength and power, this is the squat you want to do, for a variety of reasons. First off, you can place more weight on the bar when you back squat than you can with the front squat, and when you’re chasing pure power and strength, you need to move as much weight as you can.

The back squat also stresses the body in a different manner. When the bar is at the traps, the weight forces your torso to lean forward slightly. That places greater stress on the glutes and hamstrings, as well as your mid and upper back muscles for stability. If you don’t feel comfortable with this you may struggle to get full squat depth (which means getting your hips below your knees). If you can get comfortable with this, though, the back squat is your best option for building serious size and strength along your posterior chain.

Front Squat for Aesthetics and the Quads of the Gods

front squat

To build the carefully crafted legs you see on bodybuilders, you want to take your leg muscles through a full range of motion at both the hip and knee joints as often as possible, stretching and strengthening them with every rep. And you’re going to be able to do that best with front squats.

The frontal load of the weight forces the body to sit upright — as does all fear of falling flat on your face. If your abs and lower back extensors aren’t firing, and you aren’t focused on sitting back aggressively, you could fall flat on your face. This means you have to stay focused on the move that much more closely and tightly.

Because you’re sitting back and more likely to keep your tibia (lower leg) vertical, you’re going to get a better stretch on the quadriceps, and you’ll have to use these more aggressively to stand back up. So if you want the teardrop muscles that bodybuilders have, you want to prioritize front squats in your routine.

Back Squat to Go Heavy

If you’re looking to load up the bar with as much weight as possible, the back squat is your go-to move. You get to place the bar on a larger, more solid shelf of stability (those upper traps), and you’re also engaging the hamstrings and glutes to drive the lift. Those two posterior chain muscle groups are larger and more powerful than the quads and can help you power through large loads.

Because you can load it so much, you’re going to drive a more aggressive hormone response, and fuel plenty of metabolic response too. Translation: The back squat is your best option to drive total-body muscle growth (even though the front squat isn’t too far behind in this department, either).

Front Squat for Core Strength

All that fear of falling on your face when front squatting has another benefit: It’ll give you ripped abs. The only way to guarantee that you’ll definitely not fall on your face is if you sit upright. That tall posture forces your core to step into its natural role of protecting your spine.

It’ll do so organically, too, so you won’t have to think about flexing your abs or anything like that. Back squats should test your core as well — and they can. But the positioning of the bar means that you don’t have to tax your core muscles as aggressively as you do during front squats.

Don’t Forget Goblet Squats

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Both front squats and back squats deliver plenty of challenge, and, truth be told, they’re pretty advanced moves if you don’t have a ton of experience in the gym. That’s why a variant of the front squat, the goblet squat, has become popular in recent years. And to me, it’s the best way for you to start squatting, period.

To do goblet squat, you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest, close to your torso. Simply having the weight here, much like the barbell front squat, forces you to keep your torso upright. From there, you bend at the knees and hips, squatting down. This is a friendly move that’s still plenty challenging; it’s great for beginners, but plenty of training veterans do goblet squats, too. You’ll get a great, safe workout out of goblet squats, and they’ll help clean up your squatting form so you can attack your front and back squats more aggressively.

No matter the variation, make time to squat sometime in your routine — even if you’re simply doing bodyweight squats. Any squat will help you burn plenty of calories, and all squats give you a chance to activate your leg muscles, which are some of the largest muscles in your body. You want that in your routine somewhere.

This Warmup Move Will Prep You For a Super-Powered Workout

Get ready to march.

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You can’t just jump into your workout and expect to perform like a superhero. Without a proper warmup, you could wind up doing less than your best—or even worse, getting injured.

Don’t just skip out on the prep work. Before your next session, try this dynamic starter, resisted marches, from trainer Don Saladino, who developed the workout programs actors like Ryan Reynolds and Sebastian Stan used to get into superhero shape for their roles in Deadpool and the Avengers, respectively.

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“This exercise is also great for getting people in the right posture when warming up for sprint work,” Saladino says. “It has you working on mobility, which is a combination of strength and flexibility, while getting the heart rate going.”

To perform the move as demonstrated by Saladino below, you’ll need a set of resistance bands and a partner to hold them. You can also attach a band to an anchor like a squat rack if you don’t have a training partner handy, then loop it around your waist. If you need a solid set of resistance bands, check out this option from WODFitters.

  • Loop the band around your waist. Have your partner standing behind you, holding the band taut. They should provide some resistance by holding the band, but they shouldn’t be actively pulling and jerking it back to keep your from advancing. If you don’t have a partner, walk out in front of your anchor so that the band becomes taut.
  • Begin marching straight ahead, focusing on your form. Squeeze your core to keep your torso upright, and avoid leaning too far forward or bending your spine.
  • Drive your right knee up while simultaneously swinging your left hand up like a sprinter, then plant your right foot down into the ground and swing your left arm back as you reverse the motion and stride with your left leg.

March for either 30 seconds or 40 yards to start. If you don’t have a partner and your band is attached to an anchor, walk out to the extent of the band’s stretch, then return to the start. Keep it up for 30 seconds.

For more superhero-body building moves, you can check out all of our Superhero Fit Workouts or Saladino’s full program.

 

How to Add Jump Squats to Your Workout

This basic move is the perfect anchor for your lower body workouts.

Exercise at the seaside

Not every workout needs to be overly-complicated. We too often equate the difficulty of accomplishing a movement to its overall effectiveness, which isn’t always the case.

This logic rings especially true with the jump squat, which is an incredibly useful exercise that serves as a building block for just about every explosive lower body movement imaginable.

You can perform the move on its own when you want a low-resistance, high reward leg day workout—but that’s just the beginning of its potential. Jump squats are essential to plyo moves like box jumps, and its basic principles are present in more complicated multi-joint exercises like power cleans.

Just about your whole core and lower body is involved in the simple movement; you’ll recruit your abs, glutes, hamstrings, lower back to do it right. To perform the jump squat, all you need is yourself. Make sure you’re standing on a stable surface, though—since you’re leaping up, you don’t want to give yourself any chance of slipping or landing awkwardly.

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Hinge at the hips to push your butt back and lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then press your feet down to explode off the floor and jump as high as you can.
  • Allow your knees to bend 45 degrees when you land, and then immediately drop back down into a squat, and jump again.

You can use sets of consecutive jump squats in bodyweight HIIT workouts, or on their own to add a cardio component to your lower body sessions. Try 3 to 4 sets of 15 reps with little rest in between, and you’ll definitely be breathing hard before you hit the third set.

Or, you can add a pause to work on developing more lower body power with an isometric version of the jump squat.

Try 3 sets of 10 reps to start. When you perform this variation of the move, really focus on squeezing your quads and glutes on the pause before pushing off the ground to leap as high as possible.

Will These Smart Gyms Really Give You a Good Workout?

More and more high-tech gym equipment is hitting your home. Will they actually make for better workouts?

ve done exactly three reps each of four different exercises—shoulder presses, pulldowns, bench presses, and deadlifts—but the artificial intelligence in this Tonal unit, a cable-based system with a video screen mounted to a wall like a TV rotated vertically, thinks it has me all figured out. It thinks I should bench 63 pounds of resistance per arm next.

WTF? I typically bench 90-pound dumbbells, so as I position myself in the Tonal unit for a 63-pound bench press, I’m all set to exact some revenge. I brace my torso, plant my feet, press upward, and the weight moves?.?.?.?just like 90 pounds would have.

I hadn’t accounted for Tonal’s electromagnetic resistance feeling different than that of traditional weights. Tonal’s AI did. The future of home fitness doesn’t simply give you a workout; for $3,000, it provides you with equipment, spots you, motivates you, and pushes you. And it keeps you guessing. As people build out their own personal workout spaces, that type of compact efficiency is an attractive concept.

Home Gyms Are Getting Smarter

The flagship product of a three-year-old San Francisco startup of the same name, Tonal is the most publicized entry in the “smart gym” revolution and promises you a quality home workout with expert instruction—all without turning your living room into a Marriott fitness center.

After watching the rise of Peloton, which went from unknown connected-stationary-bike company in 2012 to a $4 billion valuation in August, Silicon Valley is all in on home fitness. Tonal and another startup, the Manhattan-based Mirror, represent a wave of devices that want to bring big-box fitness home, so you can do preacher curls right before you hit the dinner table.

Peloton

As recently as a decade ago, a home workout was a P90X DVD and a mess of dumbbells across your living-room floor. For that three grand plus $49 a month for streaming workouts, Tonal cleans up the mess. It’s a slim, 22-by-51-inch unit that attaches to your wall, an LED touchscreen in its center, two adjustable cable arms hidden behind it. When it’s training time, you pull out the arms and the screen lights up, displaying a Netflix-like collection of workouts. These range from exercises to improve your distance-running performance (Run Faster, Run Further) to HIIT sessions (HIIT It Hard) to muscle-building circuits.

You can also select Free Lift, transforming Tonal into the kind of cable machine you’d find in just about any gym. Its AI doesn’t guide you in this mode, but the device still tracks your motion, delivering feedback that gym experts will appreciate. Fresh off that bench press, I enter this mode, getting more of a feel for Tonal’s resistance and its advanced “smarts.” I do reps of shoulder presses, enjoying the smooth resistance and watching the screen. After each rep, a bar chart appears. The machine is tracking my reps and showing my power output in each one.

The unit’s handles have gyroscopes to track range of motion, and its internal sensors measure power output. Tonal can collect and store this data along with other basic info (your favorite workouts, your typical resistance, the reps you complete), eventually feeding the data through its AI algorithm in order to optimize resistance. The goal is to be more than a smart gym; Tonal could be a smart training assistant. Its workouts are designed by the company’s training staff, but its AI helps you choose the right weights and directs you toward workouts that suit your goals and preferences. A Tonal unit could someday determine better exercises for you based on such things as height, age, even motivation, but the company doesn’t have a timetable for this.

Shifting to New Forms of Resistance

For now, Tonal’s ability to mimic various resistance-training strategies is its selling point. Its electromagnetic resistance can be altered in an instant, and its programming allows it to simulate more than merely lifting weights. You can use advanced techniques that normally require extra equipment—for example, curling as if you had chains attached to your weights (with the resistance progressively increasing as you lift)—or even employ eccentric loading techniques, with the resistance increasing as you lower the weight.

I bang out a set of lat pulldowns, then a set of biceps curls with simulated chain resistance, and start getting a solid burn. Next I experiment with more bench presses, this time using the unit’s automated spotter system to push out a few extra reps. This doesn’t feel quite right; essentially, the “spot” is a programmed weight reduction that I can’t change. I tell Tonal’s representatives that a human spotter would force me to keep working for my rep. They mention that issues like this can be fixed quickly with a software update. “You can wake up one morning,” says David Azaria, Tonal’s head of software, “and just find new functionality.”

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Because the hardware is modeled after a cable machine, it’s ideal for muscle-building exercises like curls and shoulder presses, but not cleans, snatches, and other functional movements that have grown so popular.

Over the past two years, trainers have started favoring total-body moves; even budget-priced big-box gyms like Blink Fitness now have battle ropes and medicine balls. Tonal’s movement tracking and resistance may seem right out of The Jetsons, but to forward-thinking trainers it’s Flintstonian. “In the fitness world, we are clearly going away from machines,” says Mike Boyle, a veteran Boston-based trainer. “You can get an awful lot of stuff done with dumbbells and a bench.”

Tonal founder and CEO Aly Orady counters that I can find other ways to perform the moves that the unit doesn’t accommodate. No power cleans? I can tweak my workouts to do deadlifts and jump squats. But given its price tag, should I need to do that?

Fitter Reflection

At a glance, the Mirror looks a lot like Tonal: another wall-mounted unit for the home-fitness future, minus the cable arms. But its training approach is different. Founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, a former professional dancer and veteran of the group-fitness scene, designed the Mirror ($1,495 plus a $39-a-month subscription fee) to be essentially a giant iPhone with a well-built streaming fitness app. (Think Nike Training Club or Beachbody on Demand.)

Its screen sets it apart: It’s highly reflective, so I can see my form as I’m watching an onscreen trainer. Using the Mirror’s app, I select a workout on my iPhone, sync my Apple Watch, and I’m greeted by Gerren Liles, my video trainer, who’s going to put me through a high-intensity interval workout.

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Mirror, another entry in the smart home gym space.

It’s Peloton for biceps. My heart rate, measured via my Apple Watch, is displayed in the bottom left corner, along with a list of other users doing this same workout. A few minutes later, I’m in first place on the leaderboard—and soaked in sweat. “The quality of an iPhone workout isn’t great,” says Putnam. “I wanted to get people more excited.” A pair of dumbbells and a bench can’t do that.

The Mirror’s workout library includes yoga, HIIT, and strength-building dumbbell routines, but Putnam doesn’t see the Mirror as simply a fitness machine. She sees it as a new platform.

“You have your TV and your phone,” she says. “We’re vying to be the next screen in your life. Fitness is our first vertical.”

The Mirror and Tonal are giving the fitness world a heads-up: Don’t be surprised if electromagnetic-resistance machines land in your gym soon. For now, expect stumbles, but know that Tonal and the Mirror are on the right track, giving us home workouts that involve way, way more than burpees and body weight.

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