Pilates is a system of exercises that tones, aligns, and balances your body’s structure. Its low impact approach and emphasis on the core make it a versatile method suitable for everyone.

Incorporating the stability ball, also known as the Swiss or physio ball, can take your workout to the next level.

This prop is an inflatable ball in sizes ranging from 45–85 cm in diameter. It’s inexpensive, can be tucked away or deflated, and substituted as an office chair. Plus, it’s popular entertainment for children and pets.

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Brkati Krokodil/Stocksy United

Besides being fun, the Swiss ball adds challenge and variety to Pilates exercises. It can also simulate exercises on the reformer, ladder barrel, and other specialized Pilates equipment.

Due to the ball being unstable, it immediately challenges your balance while testing and increasing your core strength. Core strength is important for posture and can help prevent back and hip pain (1, 2, 3).

The ball provides immediate feedback, keeping you focused and in tune with your body. You’ll know whether there’s an imbalance, such as if one side of your body is stronger than the other. Also, the instability helps increase proprioception and spatial awareness (4, 5, 6, 7).

Depending on the exercise and its intention, using the stability ball adds resistance or provides assistance by promoting flexibility and a greater range of motion.

  • Aim to work in a moderate, slow, and controlled manner.
  • Always move with your breath.
  • Work in an open area free of debris and away from furniture or sharp angles or objects.
  • Concentrate on quality over quantity.
  • As a prerequisite, it’s best to have a solid foundation of Pilates matwork before adding a ball to your workout.
  • Avoid working with a ball during early postpartum. Instead, focus on rebuilding your core stability.
  • Stop if you experience any pain.
  • Consult your doctor and work under the trained eye of a professional when recovering from an injury, specially if you have back pain or a spinal condition.

Warmup sequence

Difficulty level: Beginner

Target area: core muscles for balance and stabilizing; joint mobility

Reps: 4–8 on each side

How to perform:

  1. Start by sitting on the ball with your feet on the floor.
  2. Gently and slowly tilt your head right and left to stretch your neck.
  3. Circle your head in both directions.
  4. Circle your shoulders in both directions.
  5. Reach one arm up and perform a side bend to stretch your side.
  6. Circle your hips, moving the ball on the floor in both directions (see demonstration in the image below).
  7. Straighten one leg with your foot flexed and tilt at your hips to stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Tips. Start with small movements for a gentle stretch and range of motion. Feel your feet planted firmly on the floor to aid your balance.

Ab curls

Difficulty level: beginner

Target area: abs, hip flexors, hamstrings, inner thighs

Reps: 8

How to perform:

  1. Start sitting on the ball with your feet hip-width apart and your arms in front and in line with your shoulders.
  2. Exhale to simultaneously walk your feet forward, and round your spine until your mid-back is supported on the ball. Keep your lower back rounded.
  3. Place your hands behind your head and inhale to extend or arch your upper back over the ball.
  4. Exhale to curl up. Imagine you’re sliding your ribs toward your belly button.
  5. After 8 reps, reach your arms to the ceiling and simultaneously walk your feet back, curling up through your spine to return to the starting position.

How to modify. Bring your feet and legs together to challenge your balance. Widen them for more stability.

Tips. When extending back, aim to keep your abdominals engaged to avoid overarching your spine.

Hip lifts

Difficulty level: beginner

Target area: core, glutes, and hamstrings

Reps: 8

How to perform:

  1. Start sitting on the ball with your feet hip-width apart and your arms reaching to the front and in line with your shoulders.
  2. Exhale to simultaneously walk your feet forward until your upper back and neck are supported on the ball. Aim to make a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Your hips are up in the air.
  3. Inhale to lower your hips halfway down to the floor while maintaining a neutral spine.
  4. Exhale to push your feet into the floor and engage your glutes (butt) to lift your hips back up.
  5. After 8 reps, reach your arms to the ceiling and simultaneously walk back and curl up through your spine to return to the starting position.

How to modify. Bring your legs and feet together to challenge your balance and engage your inner thighs. Widen your legs for more stability.

Tips. Keep your shoulders, neck, and head relaxed. Aim to keep your back in a neutral position to avoid overarching it or tucking your pelvis.

Kneeling Cat Stretch

Difficulty level: beginner

Target area: abs, articulation of the spine, stretching the chest

Reps: 5

How to perform:

  1. Begin in a kneeling position facing the ball with your arms long and shoulder-width apart and your hands on the ball.
  2. Inhale to prepare and breathe deeply into your rib cage.
  3. Exhale to roll down from the top of your head, moving the ball forward until your back is in a straight position and you’re facing the ground.
  4. Inhale to hold the position for the stretch, breathing deeply.
  5. Exhale to engage and draw your pelvic floor and abdominals up and in to slowly roll back up to a straight spine.

How to modify. When you’re stretched out in the long cat position, you can rotate your spine and chest to one side for an additional stretch through your torso.

Tips. When rolling down and out into the cat position, imagine the space between your ribs and hips increasing. Reach out through your tailbone and in opposition through the crown of your head. When rolling back up, aim to create more length and space in your torso.

Side bend

Difficulty level: beginner/intermediate

Target area: core with an emphasis on obliques; lats and shoulder girdle stabilizers

Reps: 5–8 on each side

How to perform:

  1. Begin sideways to the ball and have your top leg straight and pressing into the wall. Your bottom knee can remain on the floor for more stability, or you can straighten both legs for added difficulty.
  2. Drape the side of your body over the ball with your hands behind your head. Inhale.
  3. Exhale to lengthen and side bend up toward the ceiling.
  4. Inhale to bend back down over the ball, stretching the side of your body.

How to modify. You may have the side of your hip or waist on the ball. In general, the lower the ball is on your body, the harder it will be to stabilize yourself. Your arms can also reach straight up over your head for added difficulty.

Tips. Aim to maintain your form in the side position. Also, check that your ribs are not thrust forward and that your lower back is not arched.

Side leg series: Lifts

Difficulty level: intermediate

Target area: core emphasis on obliques, lats, hip abductors, glutes

Reps: 8

How to perform:

  1. Begin sideways to the ball with your top leg straight and your foot on the floor. Rest your bottom knee on the floor and drape the side of your body over the ball.
  2. Reach your bottom arm to the floor on the opposite side of the ball. For more support, hold onto the ball with your top hand. For added difficulty, place your top hand behind your head.
  3. Exhale to slowly reach through your leg and lift it, aiming for hip-level height.
  4. Inhale slowly and with control, bringing your leg back down.

Tips. Aim to maintain your form in the side position, and check that your ribs are not thrust forward and that your lower back is not arched. Try to keep your leg straight as you lift and lower.

Side leg series: Circles

Difficulty level: beginner

Target area: core with emphasis on the obliques; lats, glutes, and hip extensors

Reps: 5–8 in each direction

How to perform:

  1. Remain in position from the exercise above, keeping your top leg in the air.
  2. Lift your leg higher and move your foot backward and down in space, as if you’re drawing a small circle in the air.
  3. After 5–8 reps, switch directions.

How to modify. Making smaller circles with your leg will help you maintain your balance and form. Alternatively, making bigger circles will challenge your stability and balance.

Tips. Aim to maintain your form in the side position, and check that your ribs are not thrust forward and that your lower back is not arched.

Shoulder bridge

Difficulty level: intermediate

Target area: hamstrings, glutes, core

Reps: 5–8

How to perform:

  1. Begin lying on your back with your heels on the top of the ball and your legs straight. Make sure your feet are flexed and hip-width apart.
  2. Exhale to push your heels down into the ball, and lift your hips up in the air.
  3. Inhale to lower your hips with control back down to the floor.

How to modify. For a greater challenge to your balance and the hamstrings, keep your hips in the air and exhale to bend your legs, moving the ball toward your body. Inhale to extend your knees, keeping your hips at the same level. Repeat 5–8 times.

Tips. To avoid shoulder and neck tension, keep your weight on your upper back as you lift your hips. Aim for a neutral pelvis or tuck it very slightly to avoid overarching your back.

Rollup

Difficulty level: intermediate

Target area: core, abs, chest, spinal articulation

Reps: 5

How to perform:

  1. Begin lying on your back with your legs straight and together. You arms are overhead, holding the ball.
  2. Inhale while squeezing the ball with your hands. Reach your arms forward to a 45-degree angle in front of you.
  3. Exhale and maintain the squeeze while you lift your head, neck, and shoulders and peel your spine off of the floor. Keep the curve in your spine as you curl over your legs, keeping your arms parallel to your legs.
  4. Inhale to lengthen your spine to a neutral seated posture, then begin to slowly roll back down, aiming to keep your whole body connected and engaged.
  5. Exhale slowly and with control until you’re back in the starting position.

How to modify. If you’re not quite ready to roll up and down from the floor, start sitting up with your knees bent. Exhale to squeeze the ball and curl your spine halfway toward the floor before returning to the starting position.

Tips. Keep your elbows slightly bent and the front of your shoulders open as you squeeze the ball. If you’re using momentum to peel your spine off of the mat, try the modification above.

Swan Dive on the ball

Difficulty level: beginner/intermediate

Target area: hip extensors, back extensors, core

Reps: 5–8

How to perform:

  1. Begin with your hips and abs on top of the ball, your face down, and your feet hip-width apart. Reach your arms down and place your palms on the floor in front of the ball.
  2. Inhale to lengthen your neck and torso up to a straight line and then slightly extend your back.
  3. Exhale to engage your glutes to rock your body forward, bending at your elbows.
  4. Inhale to lift your chest up and back down again, straightening and bending your arms.
  5. Continue to rock for 5–8 reps, and then drape your body over the ball to release your back.

How to modify. You may have to play with your positioning depending on your torso length. Ideally, your chest and upper back are in front of the ball.

Tips. Keep your legs and core engaged the entire time. Start small and gradually make the extension bigger to avoid overarching or compressing your lower back.

Pike on the ball

Difficulty level: intermediate/advanced

Target area: core, arms, and shoulders

Reps: 5–8

How to perform:

  1. Start with the front of your body lying over the ball and begin to walk your hands out until your body is in a plank position. Ideally, your knees are on the top of the ball. If it’s too difficult to hold plank with your knees on the ball, start with the ball under your thighs. Inhale.
  2. Exhale to draw your pelvic floor and abdominals in and up as you simultaneously take weight onto your hands and lift your hips toward the ceiling, forming an upside down “V.”
  3. Inhale to hold the position.
  4. Exhale with control to bring your hips back down and return to a plank position.

How to modify: Start with the front of your thighs on the ball and a small lift of your hips as you work your way up to the full exercise.

Tips: Push your fingertips into the floor to take some pressure off of your wrists, or make your hands into fists and put your knuckles on the floor. Move your weight forward toward your hands to lift your hips up.

Pushup on the ball

Difficulty level: intermediate

Target area: core, chest, arms, inner thighs

Reps: 5–8

How to perform:

  1. Maintain your plank position from the exercise above, resting your knees or shins on the ball. The further away your arms are from the ball, the harder this exercise will be.
  2. Inhale to bend your elbows, bringing your torso closer to the floor.
  3. Exhale to straighten your elbows. Repeat 5–8 times.
  4. With control, walk your hands back toward the ball until you’re lying over it for a stretch.

How to modify. Find a challenging but stable plank for your current fitness level. Start with your thighs on the top of the ball and work toward your shins as you get stronger.

Tips. Imagine you’re squeezing tennis balls at your underarms to keep your upper back stabilized and your shoulders from overworking. Keep your body straight as you bend and straighten your elbows.

The stability ball is commonly used in rehabilitation and other forms of fitness, though it isn’t a traditional component of Pilates. However, it is a welcomed addition when looking to add variety or challenge your stability and balance.

Adding the stability ball to your Pilates workout is a fun and challenging way to take your workout to the next level.

With a solid foundation of Pilates in place, the ball gives immediate feedback and challenge to the core.

Its instability elevates your focus and mind-body connection to add a new level of resistance to your matwork.