Tutorial: Learning to Stand on a Stability Ball

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.

2 responses to “Tutorial: Learning to Stand on a Stability Ball”

  1. Sarah (Utz) Harriman

    14th Sep, 09

    Awesome blog, Justin. I’m a manager at a fitness center in Indianapolis, so I find your content pretty interesting. Keep it coming!

  2. Nate

    16th Sep, 09

    Great post! I remember trying this a few years ago…all I saw was sky and my feet and the ball shooting across the room. It was very difficult. Eventually got the hang of it. I have some friends that are much better at it than I am. For now I stick with the single leg work on the BOSU.

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