Are Stability Balls All That They’re Hyped Up to Be?

Posted September 28, 2010 by

It’s hard to find a personal training studio, or a gym of any sort for that matter, that doesn’t have a plethora of stability balls available in all colors and sizes. However, with the exception of clients who train with a personal trainer, it’s rare to find someone using the balls at all, except perhaps for some crunches. So the question arises, are stability balls misunderstood by the majority of trainees, or are they over-hyped gimmicks that personal trainers use to “spice up” their clients’ workouts?

Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer to this, and like most things in life, “it depends.” There are many exercises with the stability ball that can provide specific benefits to the trainee compared to if they were not to use the ball at all in their workouts, but there are also plenty of instances where using a stability ball is pointless, or even less than useless in some cases! Let’s start by examining the instances where a stability ball can be of benefit, and what exactly those benefits are.

Performing exercises such a dumbbell chest press on a stability ball rather than a flat, unmoveable bench can provide much more stimulation for the entire core, from your glutes all the way to your abs. This is because your core must activate in order to keep your body stable during the exercise. Without your core doing the work of stabilization, you would likely fall off the ball to one side or the other. Performing crunches on the ball is great because it allows you to achieve a greater range of motion than you might on the floor, a bench, etc. If your goal is to increase your bodily awareness and/or your neuromuscular system efficiency, then the stability ball can definitely be a help. These goals do not require heavy weights and instead concentrate on high numbers of repetitions and a slow lifting tempo, which a stability ball naturally lends itself well to.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of times where there is no reason to use a stability ball. A client who is training for maximum improvements in strength and muscle size would probably not benefit from using stability ball for the majority of their exercises. In order to achieve these goals, the trainee must be using relatively heavy weights, which cannot be used safely or effectively with a stability ball. The balance issue takes away from the total weight that can be used, and thus a trainee would almost always benefit more from performing the lift on a stable surface than performing it with a stability ball (e.g. a bench press vs. a stability ball chest press).

Even worse is when I see people using the stability balls in an unsafe and potentially disastrous manner. For instance, barbell squats should NEVER be performed on a stability ball. Just the fact that I had to even mention this may seem crazy to most of you, but there ARE folks out there who attempt to do this dangerous movement on a regular basis (and even some trainers who encourage it!). Sometimes they are lucky and don’t get hurt/hurt someone else, but all it takes is one slip and the potential for serious injury to the trainee and/or any nearby bystanders is high. The most ironic part about it all is that there really is no benefit to doing barbell squats on a ball… if you want to train your balance you can do so with your bodyweight alone on the ball. If you want to train for strength then as we mentioned before, lifting on a stable surface will allow you to lift more, and as a result, you’ll more effectively increase your strength compared to when lifting on an unstable surface.

The moral of it all is to use your judgement when performing any exercise. If something seems dangerous and you don’t see anyone else doing it, chances are that it’s a bad idea. At least check with a personal trainer before taking on the exercise to ensure that you’re not setting yourself up for disaster. Figure out what your fitness goals are and train in a manner that is conducive to those goals.

Comments on Are Stability Balls All That They’re Hyped Up to Be? ยป

  1. Seth Czer

    I always feel scared when I use stability balls! Am I alone on this or does anyone else feel scared of slipping on these gym equipment?

  2. I think that it really depends on what exercise you’re performing. I don’t think a client would worry about slipping from the ball during a ball chest press, for instance. For the riskier movements, using proper proprioceptive progression can ensure that you don’t perform an exercise that requires a high level of balance until you can handle it safely. And, like I mentioned in the article, some exercises are simply idiotic no matter what and are asking for an injury.

  3. al

    what is a good size ball for doing dumbell press