Exercise Ball Basics

Exercise Ball Craze

couple on exercise ball

My personal exercise regime always includes the exercise ball (also known as a stability ball).

But I have to be honest with you... the first time I sat on a stability ball, I felt anything but stable.

Fifteen years later, I still believe that the words 'stability' and 'ball' should never be strung together in a sentence.

Maybe that's because my initial introduction included a music-synchronized face-plant... and a substantially altered nose. Ouch!

Please... don't let this happen to you!

If you're new to the exercise ball craze, familiarize yourself with the information below. The better you understand the ball and how it works, the more likely you are to use it properly.

Benefits of Using an Exercise Ball

Choosing the Right Ball Size

Proper Ball Posture

Proper Inflation


The terms stability ball, swiss ball, fitness ball, physio ball, exercise ball, and therapy ball are all synonymous. Yep... go figure.

Benefits of Using an Exercise Ball

  • Strengthens the core muscles - The instability of the ball requires constant balance adjustments which engage, challenge, and strengthen the core muscle group.
  • Improves overall functional strength, and decreases chances of injury - Maximum stabilization translates into maximum protection. When your core is strong, injury is less likely.
  • Improves balance, stability, and proprioception - proprio-huh?-tion? Webster's def: "the unconscious perception of spatial orientation." This means your natural or "unconscious" body awareness is fine tuned by using the exercise ball. No more poking yourself in the eye when you're not looking!

Choosing the Right Size Ball

exercise ball size chart

Table 1 above is a general guideline only. Finding the correct ball size involves at least three factors.

  • Height - if your legs are super-long or short you may need to increase or decrease the ball size accordingly.
  • Weight - if you have a large frame or carry extra weight for your height, you may need a larger size ball.
  • Intended Exercise Position - the position you're in during the exercise may require you to use a smaller or larger size ball. Generally, you'll use the same size ball for sitting, bridge, prone, & quadruped positions. Exercises done in the supine position - lying on your back with the ball placed under the knees - usually require one size smaller. This makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine position.

As a final test, sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. In this position, your hips and knees should form a 90-degree angle if the ball is the correct height.

Tip: If you plan on using the exercise ball for weight training, or carry extra weight for your height, spend a bit more and get burst-proof ball (burst-proof up to 500 lbs, supports static weight up to 2,200 lbs).

Proper Ball Posture

Whenever you are sitting on the ball, you should try to maintain what's called a neutral spine position.

Sit on the ball, align your hips directly under your shoulders, and place your feet flat on the floor.

Avoid arching your back (anterior pelvic tilt) or tucking your bum under (posterior pelvic tilt). You want to be somewhere in-between with a very slight, neutral arch.

Maintaining a neutral spine position during ball exercises strengthens muscles in their optimum position. Other benefits include overall improvements in core muscle strength, athletic performance, and posture. And better yet, it reduces the risk of injury.

Proper Inflation

A stability ball is like any other piece of equipment. It needs to be maintained to function properly -- and that includes pumping it up until it reaches the proper height and firmness.

It's more challenging to balance on a firm ball... but easier to find the neutral spine position. For this reason alone - it's wise to keep your ball properly inflated.

In contrast, a softer ball has greater contact with floor and is less challenging to balance on. This may be a good choice for pregnant women doing exercises in the prone position (stomach down), Methuselah's uncle, or newbies concerned with... uhh...face-plants.

How to Inflate an Exercise Ball

how to inflate an exercise ball

Inflate the exercise ball as specified by the manufacturer. The number printed on the outside of the ball is the recommended height (diameter) of the ball. Use this as a general guideline.

If you're a stickler for details, and you really want to inflate your ball properly here's what to do:

  • Get a measuring tape/ yardstick, and a pencil.
  • Find the number printed on the outside of the ball. That's the recommended diameter/ height of the ball.
  • Measure and mark a spot on the wall ____ inches off of the floor. (My ball is supposed to be 22 inches. Fill in the blank with the specifications marked on your ball.)
  • Inflate the ball until it reaches the recommended height. It may help if you lay the yardstick horizontally over the ball as pictured below.

Dr. Peter Francis and his team of researchers at the Biomechanics Laboratory at San Diego State University scientifically analyzed the Ball Crunch and deemed it the "best overall exercise" for the abs.[1]

Click here for detailed photo-descriptions
of the highest ranked ab exercises.

Benefits of Using an Exercise Ball

Choosing the Right Ball Size

Proper Ball Posture

Proper Inflation


  1. Francis, P.R., F.W. Kolhorst, M. Pennuci, R.S. Pozos, and M.J. Buono. An electromyographic approach to the evaluation of abdominal exercises. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 5(4):9-14. 2001. ACE Website. Accessed July 2009. http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/bestworstabexercises.pdf

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