Archive for September, 2009

Tutorial: Learning to Stand on a Stability Ball

Friday, September 11th, 2009

The stability ball is one of the most versatile pieces of workout equipment available. Typically costing around $20 and weighing less than three pounds, the basic stability ball, also called a Swiss ball, balance ball, exercise ball, Fitball™ or physio ball, can be used to perform literally thousands of exercises, and has the potential to work nearly every muscle in the human body.

One of the most impressive exercises performed on the stability ball is the act of standing on top of the ball. Standing on a stability ball is a great core exercise and works the entire core and the legs, including the abdominal, oblique, lower back, inner thigh, hamstring, quadriceps, and calf muscles.

The act of standing on the ball is a great exercise for athletes, individuals wanting to improve their balance, and for people who want to take their bodyweight conditioning to the next level. It is also a great way to impress your friends at the gym and serves as a great party trick.

Most people who are in good shape can learn to stand on the ball in between one and four weeks using the progression described below. In rare cases, highly conditioned athletes may be able to successfully stand on the ball within one or two days of their first attempt.

Kneeling on the Stability Ball

The first step in learning to stand on the stability ball is mastering the kneeling position. Depending on your natural balance ability and fitness level this can either be a fairly easy task or it can seem nearly impossible.

Kneeling on the stability ball strengthens the core stability muscles, quadriceps, lower back, and inner leg muscles in preparation for attempts to stand on the ball.

In my experience kneeling is easiest when performed in tights, tight pants, or shorts on a medium sized stability ball. Loose or baddy pants can make your legs slip off of the ball.

  • Step 1: Begin in a standing position with the ball in front of your shins.
  • Step 2: Place your hands on top of the stability ball about shoulder width apart.
  • Step 3: Slowly roll forward onto the ball with your knees, keeping your hands on the ball until you have gained your balance. It is easier to roll forward with both knees simultaneously, rather than trying to put one knee at a time onto the ball.
  • Step 4: Drop your center of gravity down and backwards by straightening your arms, lifting your shoulders and dropping your hips over your ankles. Attempt to remove your hands from the ball.
  • Tip: Use your feet to grip the ball when you remove your hands to increase control and stability.

Keep practicing the kneeling position until you can perform a two minute balance without falling or touching the ball with your hands.

To increase the difficulty of this position, try to the following variations:

  • Variation 1: Start with your knees closer together.
  • Variation 2: Try to balance on the front of the knees with a straight line between your knees, hips and shoulders.
  • Variation 3: Try to remain totally motionless with your hands at your sides.
  • Variation 4: Put some weights in your hands and try basic shoulder presses, side arm raises, or front raises.

Putting your Feet on the Stability Ball

Once you are comfortable kneeling on the ball it is time to take the next step toward standing on the ball. This step involves putting your feet on the ball:

  • Step 1: Begin with the ball in front of your shins.
  • Step 2: Place your hands on top of the ball about shoulder width apart.
  • Step 3: Roll the ball slightly forward and lift your dominant leg onto the ball about 12 – 16 inches behind the matching hand (left foot behind left hand, or right foot behind right hand). This should create a right triangle with your two hands and your one foot.
  • Step 4: Slowly lift the remaining foot off the ground and into the air. The majority of the weight should be balanced on the foot and opposite hand with the elevated foot and other hand being used for balance and corrective movements.

This three point stance should be practices until you are comfortable balancing and making corrections in this position for between 5 and ten seconds.

Three Point Stance on Stability Ball

Stability Ball on All Fours

Putting it All Together: Standing on the Stability Ball

Once you are comfortable with one foot on the ball it is time to put your other foot on and try to stand up.

  • Step 1: Begin in the position described in Step 3 of the above section with your dominant foot on the ball and your other foot on the floor.
  • Step 2: Lift your foot from the floor and place it behind your other hand on the ball creating a square with your feet and hands.
  • Step 3: Roll the ball forward slightly and straighten your legs until most of your weight is on your legs and they are almost straight.
  • Step 4: Slowly remove your hands from the ball and begin to straighten your back to come up into a standing position.

If you can maintain your balance and body control during this final step you will end up standing up completely on the ball. It will take some time to learn how to adjust your balance and recover as you begin to drift using your heels, toes, and arms to regain your balance. Once you have mastered the standing position for two minutes you can check out my Advanced Standing Stability Ball Variations.

Tips and Things to Consider

There are a number of factors that affect how difficult it will be to stand on a stability ball. The ball, your footwear, and the floor surface can all affect the difficulty of this core exercise.

The Ball

When learning to stand on the ball it is important to choose the right ball. You should choose a ball that allows your feet to be shoulder width apart without sliding off of the side of the ball, while also not being too high up on the ball either. It should be well inflated, as an under inflated ball can be very wobbly and hard to control. It is easier to use a ball with ridges and a tacky surface for better grip. Also, a thicker, more rigid material makes it easier to control under your feet. A dry stability ball is a necessity when learning to stand on the ball and should be dried off it has become sweaty from contact with your arms or shins.

Your Footwear

This can be done with either shoes or bare feet. Standard socks do not work, however latex or rubber socks can make standing on the ball easier. Bare feet allow more sensitivity, but typically will become sweaty after time and slide off the ball. Standard training shoes are ideal for standing on the ball. Your shoes should be tied tightly to keep your foot from sliding inside the shoe.

The Floor

The floor surface affects the difficulty of standing on a stability ball greatly. A stretching or gymnastics mat makes balancing easier and safer and is recommended for people first learning this activity. Hard tacky surfaces such as hard mats and hardwood floors are harder than soft mats. Thick rugs and carpets are easier while very thin carpets seem to be one of the most difficult surfaces to balance on.

Pistol – One Leg Squat

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

The pistol, or one leg squat is a very challenging test of leg strength, flexibility and balance. The interesting mix of fitness challenges provided by the pistol make it an essential hardcore exercise.

Pistol Variations

Here is a video of a basic pistol with the *added weight of an 8 lb medicine ball for 3 reps:

* A small amount of added weight actually makes the pistol easier.

Pistol on a Bosu Ball:

Pistol w/ 2 16 kg kettlebells (70.5 lbs total):

Pistol Training: Learning the One Leg Squat

I used a combination of techniques to learn how to do the pistol. Here are a few good video and links to help you learn the one leg squat.

Single leg squat practice – how to master any exercise fast – johnsifferman

Pistol Squat Tutorial – kinglennyone

Beast Skills – The One Leg Squat

Dragon Flag – Extreme Core Exercise

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The first time that I saw a dragon flag performed was on a YouTube video. The dragon flag is one of those rare exercises that is so hard that simply beging able to correctly do one is a magnificent feat of core and total body strength. In other words the dragon flag is the epitome of a hardcore exercise.

Search YouTube and you will find a number of videos of attempted dragon flags. The method and form are a little different on each but for the most part they are all impressive demonstrations of this challenging exercise.

My Dragon Flag Experiences

After seeing the dragon flag performed on YouTube I decided to give it a try. The first time I tried it I was in very good shape and had doing planche training, lots of intense core exercises, and various pull up routines for several months.

I was actually able to do one decent repetition. If you look at different videos of the dragon flag you will notice that some people start at the bottom of the rep, while others start at the top. In my experience it is a lot easier and safer to start at the top (vertical) position. Starting at the top also means that you can stop part of the way down and work up to the full range of motion.

Initially I figured it would be intense on the core and abs, but I was surprised that it was more of a challenge on the arms and lats. The next day I was very sore, mostly in the upper back, lats and arms.

Here are a few recent attempts:

History of the Dragon Flag aka the Bruce Lee Flag

The dragon flag is based on an exercise regularly performed by Bruce Lee during his martial arts demonstrations and workouts. Not surprisingly this exercise is often called the Bruce Lee flag.

Dragon Flag Precautions

I am no medical expert and am not even a certified personal trainer, so please consult a trainer before you try this very difficult exercise. Personally I found that the first few times that I tried the dragon flag my body was not used to the total body tension and I got developed cramps in my calves and other leg muscles. It is also stressful on the neck and very taxing on the lower back as well. Please proceed with extreme caution.

Kettlebell Training and Workouts

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

I have been interested in working out with kettlebells for several years, but I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I did not have a professional certified kettlebell trainer (RKC) to coach me. About four months ago, my roommate mentioned that he had a friend who was RKC certified and that he would be willing to train us once a week.

Thus began my kettlebell training. The first few workouts felt a little awkward, and they made me extremely sore. As the weeks passes, my stability and technique improved and I found myself getting stronger faster than I ever had before. I am now about three months in and I am hooked. We are not doing the workouts twice a week and are thinking about growing the class by inviting more of our friends to join us. Here are a few videos from a recent kettlebell training session with our instructor, Pavel Stejskal RKC.

Kettlebell Swings – One Minute Set, 16kg & 24kg Kettlebells

The kettlebell swing is one of the best known kettlebell exercises and often the first kettlebell move that you will learn. Here Pavel and two students demonstrate a one minute set of swings. We worked up to one minute over the course of three months. We began with sets of 10 and then 20 and finally after we could easily do 3 sets of 20 we tried one minute sets of kettlebell swings.

Kettlebell Snatch – 24 kg, Front, Side and Back View

The kettlebell snatch is my favorite kettlebell exercise. I can make a whole kettlebell workout out of several fast paced sets of swings. In this video I demonstrate the snatch with a 24 kg kettlebell from several different angles. I was worn out so my form is a little off, but not too bad.

Bear Walk w/ Renegade Row Using Kettlebells

In this video, Pavel demonstrates the kettlebell bear walk with renegade row. I have not really tried this exercises, but it is a great core and upper back exercise.

Kettlebell Workout, Training Montage, Pavel Stejskal

Here is an amazing kettlebell training montage. This video was shot at the end of a kettlebell workout that lasted over an hour. In this video, Pavel demonstrates a number of kettlebell exercises.

Pistol w/ 2 16 kg Kettlebells (70.55 lbs) – One Leg Squat

Here is a pistol (one leg squat) with 2 16 kg kettlebells. I think that this is my most impressive video so far. Some day I hope to be able to do higher sets with this much weight, and hopefully I will be able to do one rep with twice as much weight.

Cardio Circuit – Weighted Squat Thrusts w/ Back Lunges

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Twice a week I attend a one hour boxing fitness and circuit training class at my gym. Here is a video of one station of a three minute boxing circuit training routine. Most circuits in the class include one station on the heavy bag; one station by the stage, usually legs or calisthenics; and one station by the mirrors, usually for abs or core exercises. We do each station for one minute and then rotate. We usually repeat the 3 minute circuit twice, and do a total of 4 different circuits for a total of 8 – 3 minute circuits. It makes for a tough, but fun class.