A stability ball is known as the ultimate ab flattener, but try this transforming routine and you’ll see what muscle-making magic it works on your butt and thighs too.
PHOTOS SARAH KEHOE
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For the next half hour, you’ll be carving your core from every angle and achieving the defined muscles that come from the more intense squats and lunges required when working out on a stability ball. “Most of these moves provide a ton of glute activation and a focus on hamstrings – the combo you need for a firm butt,” says Traci Copeland, a Nike master trainer in New York City who has perfected a way to get the most shaping power out of this go-to tool.
“Adding a stability ball ups the core engagement throughout your workout,” Traci says. “Whether the exercises are standing or horizontal, you’ll need to keep your abs tight to control the roll of the ball.” Take the traditional crunch. You get 20 per cent more firming of your obliques if you curl on a ball rather than on the floor, according to a study from the American Council on Exercise. It’s all about the balance challenge: If you do a Split Lunge using a bench (in which you lower into a single-leg squat while resting the top of your other foot on the bench behind you), for example, your foot isn’t going anywhere because the bench stays put. But with your back leg raised atop a ball, you have to work harder – and engage your core – to keep the ball from wriggling around.
As you can see by the images here, these moves have a beautiful flow that you just don’t get from your average sets and reps. Traci tapped her gymnastic, yoga and dance background (she’s danced onstage with Jay-Z, Beyonce and the Black Eyed Peas), and structured the workout so that there’s a rhythm to it. The Tilt, she explains, is a dance-inspired move that incorporates the feeling of training as a ballerina. Other exercises, like the Crab Toe Touch, are inspired by capoeira, the hot Brazilian martial art that integrates elements of dance and acrobatics.
Also, as with yoga and dance – in which you’re always striving to perfect certain sequences or tough poses – this workout gives you something to aspire to and provides that confidence boost when you ace it. “Whether that means getting through all the core exercises you struggled with last week or finessing one of the more difficult moves like the Pike, there are plenty of ways to keep tabs on your progress in this routine,” Traci says.
Plus, there’s a sense of being mentally present as you move that takes you out of the autopilot mode you might be in at the gym. “A lot of times, people aren’t really ‘there’ in a workout; they’re thinking about laundry or dinner or what they’re going to do later that night,” Traci says. “When you have that stability ball beneath you, all you’re thinking about is: How can I do this move without having the ball pop out from under me?” Keeping it in place requires you to go into the same zone you inhabit when holding a warrior III pose in yoga: Your mind and body must work together.
You’ll get a taste of how potent this muscle-sculpting approach is after just one session. Without becoming breathless, you’re building strength and attacking every single muscle fibre to cinch your abs, butt, thighs – everything, Traci says. “You might not be dripping sweat, but if you make it through the entire workout, you will feel it tomorrow,” she promises.
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“This routine should make you feel energised and graceful – and excited that you left your comfort zone to try something different,” says trainer Traci Copeland.
Warm up for five minutes with some dynamic stretches – knee hugs, ankle grabs, inner-thigh stretches, walk-out planks, walking lunges, arm rotations, trunk twists. Then do the following moves in order for 30 seconds to one minute each as indicated, with little to no rest between sets. Complete the circuit three times. Mix this workout into your routine twice a week for max results.
A stability ball. Choose one with a diameter according to your height:
1.52m tall or shorter: 45cm
1.53m to 1.70m: 55cm
Taller than 1.70m: 65cm
The key is that you want your knees to bend at 90 degrees when you’re sitting on the fully inflated ball.
1 SPLIT LUNGE
Works abs, butt, quads, hamstrings
Stand on right leg in front of ball with left leg bent behind you, and shin and toes pressing into ball, hands on hips to start. Bend right leg, pushing ball back with left leg [shown]. Return to start. Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
2 ASSISTED PISTOL SQUAT
Works abs, butt, quads, hamstrings
Stand on left leg behind ball, with right leg extended and heel on ball, hands in fists at chest with elbows bent to start. Bend left leg as much as you can [shown]. Return to start. Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Works obliques, inner thighs
Stand on left leg to left of ball, with right leg bent and foot on ball, hands on hips to start. Straighten right leg, pushing ball away as you reach arms overhead, leaning torso to the left [shown]. Return to start. Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
4 SINGLE-LEG BRIDGE
Works butt, hamstrings
Lie face up on floor behind ball, with knees bent and feet on ball, and arms by your sides and on floor. Lift hips so body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause, then slowly lift and extend left leg straight up [shown]. Lower leg, then return to start. Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
5 REVERSE PLANK
Works shoulders, abs, hamstrings
Start on floor in a reverse tabletop position, facing away from ball, with palms pressing into ball (fingertips facing body), legs bent and feet flat. Step left foot forward to straighten leg, then right foot [shown]. Hold for 30 seconds.
Works shoulders, chest, abs
Start in plank position with hands on ball and feet on floor. Bend elbows back nearly 90 degrees to slowly lower chest to graze ball [shown]. Press up to start position. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Works shoulders, abs
Start in plank position, with palms on floor and shins on ball. Draw hips forward and up (ball will roll under toes) until butt is in line with shoulders [shown]. Pause, then slowly return to start. Repeat for 30 seconds.
8 CRAB TOE TOUCH
Works obliques, quads, hamstrings
Sitting on ball, walk feet forward until ball rolls just below shoulder blades. Place fingertips behind head with elbows bent out to sides to start. Lift and extend left leg as you reach right hand to touch toes [shown]. Return to start. Switch sides and repeat. Continue alternating sides for 1 minute.
9 LYING PENDULUM
Works abs, obliques
Lie face up on floor with ball between ankles and legs extended straight up over hips, arms on floor by sides to start. Lower straight legs diagonally towards floor [shown]. Return to start. Switch sides and repeat. Continue alternating sides for 1 minute.
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“You can get a really great workout from a stability ball without having to pick up a single dumbbell,” Traci says.