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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: stability ball training

Bridging is a fundamental exercise to promote hamstring and glute strength. In addition to hip strength, I look for opportunities to enhance anti-rotation/pelvic stability with many bridging progressions due to the weakness and asymmetries I see in my clinic. It will also facilitate hip dissociation.

The stability ball provides an element of instability that can further challenge hip and pillar stability. This exercise is big bang for your buck exercise that can be used in rehab and training circles. Check out the video below that is part of my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine.

Click here to read the entire column.


I like to include exercises on this blog that are useful for rehab and fitness professionals as well as fitness enthusiasts who visit. This is a cool exercise that a colleague taught me.  I also recently shared this as part of my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine.  It works great when doing partner workouts or if coaching a client.  We used it during our off season training for the Carolina Hurricanes and it is much harder than it looks on the surface.

Training clients to maintain core stiffness in athletic functional positions will improve performance and reduce injury risks for the spine and lower extremities. This exercise is an effective way to address postural stability, increase core strength and enhance kinetic chain proprioception



Begin in a split squat position holding a stability ball overhead. The client maintains an isometric split squat while the coach/trainer provides directional perturbations in an attempt to disrupt balance and stability.

You may opt for several quick rhythmic perturbations or elect to use more sustained pushes (1-2 seconds in each direction) to challenge the client. Allow the client to reset to the desired position if he/she does lose balance in order to facilitate optimal motor patterning. Perform 30 seconds with the left leg forward, rest 30 seconds and then repeat with the right leg forward. Complete two sets on each side.

Be sure to observe asymmetries or deviations specific to either side as this will allow for better cuing and reveal energy leaks. Marking the desired distance between the front heel and rear foot toes with tape will ensure consistency for each trial side-to-side.


This exercise is very effective in training kinetic chain stability and proprioception. Holding the ball overhead allows the trainer to challenge clients to resist movement in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes through upper body driven loads and feedback. Additionally, the client must focus on maintaining an upright posture while the lower body musculature remains engaged.


For those with difficulty holding the ball overhead, consider holding the ball at shoulder height at first. Keep in mind the perturbations should be graded and not designed to push the client over or completely off balance.
One additional note to consider: you may opt to instruct the client to remain rigid throughout the drill or allow them to be relaxed and then respond with reactive rigidity when the perturbation comes.  Experiment with your clients and programs and see what you think!

Core training is common terminology thrown around in fitness circles today.  However, not much research has specifically addressed more advanced stability ball exercises and muscle activation until now.

A recent article released in the May 2010 Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy looked at 8 stability ball exercises and maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) versus traditional bent knee curl ups and crunches.

The 8 stability ball exercises studied with EMG were:

  1. Roll out
  2. Pike
  3. Knee up
  4. Skier
  5. Prone hip extension left
  6. Prone hip extension right
  7. Decline push-up
  8. Seated march right
Pike (end position)

Pike (end position)


All exercises were performed with a cadence of 1/1/1.  A metronome was used to ensure uniform repetitions and holds.  Researchers concluded that the pike and roll-out were the most effective exercises based on EMG activation.  However, keep in mind that these also require the greatest effort and pose a high degree of difficulty.

Why is this stuff important?  Research done by Cholecki and VanVliet concluded that no single core muscle can be identified as the most important for spinal stability.  Additionally, they believe that the relative importance of the muscle varies based on the direction and magnitude of the load imposed on the spine.

We have known for years the spine is least stable and most vulnerable in trunk flexion (as in the knee bent curl up), and that no one muscle contributes more than 30% to overall spine stability.  Choosing more demanding core exercises also typically increases spinal compressive forces as well.  This may be contraindicated in some populations.

Therefore knowing your client and condition is essential.  For example, flexion is often contraindicated with active disk pathology, whereas it may be indicated in those with facet arthropathy or spondylolisthesis.  Over the past decade or so, much attention has been placed on the transversus abdominus muscle. 

The prevalent thinking has been that it is a major contributor to spinal stability, although this is somewhat controversial and has not been unequivocally validated with science.  Another flaw here is that isolated contractions of it have not been demonstrated in higher level activities (e.g. sports). 

So, where is the functional tie in here?  The transeversus abdominus has shown similar activation patterns (within 15%) to the internal obliques with exercises similar to those in this study.  The highest activity from internal obliques was during the pike, roll-out, knee up, skier and hip extension left exercise.  This may indicate that transveresus abdominus activation is also high, but further research will need to be done.

The last critical piece of data involves looking at hip flexor activation as the psoas generates remarkable spinal compression and anterior shear forces at L5-S1.  This can be especially troubling for individuals struggling with lumbar disk pathology.  The exercise in this stud that demonstrated moderate hip flexor activation were:

  • Bent knee sit-up
  • Pike
  • Seated march
  • Hip extension exercises

So, if you or your client has a weak rectus abdominus and/or obliques or lumbar instability, these exercises may be contraindicated.  In the end, know that the stability ball provides much greater muscle activation compared to traditional bent knee sit-ups and crunches on the floor.  The caveat is identifying which ones are appropriate and most efficient in your case.

As a general rule, I suggest that you avoid long lever arm action with the legs in the presence of active disk pathology and instability.  You may opt for stability based exercises in a neutral spine position like planks as there is minimal shear and compressive loading here until clients develop more stability and strength.  With healthy and mroe advanced clientele, many of the stability ball exercises studied would be good alternatives to traditional crunch work to build muscle strength for the core.

The longer I train (myself) and my clients, the more and more I gravitate to bodyweight and bodyweight plus training.  Why?  Namely because I find people struggle to control their bodies in space against gravity.  No matter what sport or work task people need to complete, they must be able to move, stabilize, and resist and apply force effectively with respect to their body.

I also find myself looking to integrate systemic, progressive and kinetic chain based core strengthening exercises for maximal efficacy.  The lack of proper core stability and strength will often leave the back and other limbs of the body vulnerable to unwanted force dissipation.  That means increased chance for injury. 

Adding a stability ball (when you are ready) to abdominal exercises will add spice to your routine and surely FIRE UP your core too!  In today’s post, I want to share some pics of core based training related to my most recent column in PFP Magazine.  Before I share one of my favorite ball exercises with you, consider the following pre-requesite steps before attempting this particular exercise:

  • Master floor based planks
  • Master static stability ball planks
  • Master static holds in hand supported plank position (balance/stability)

Pictured below is the stability ball ab circles.  This is great exercise for shoulder stability training and core activation.  Trust me when I say you will feel it after 10 good slow reps.


Ab Circle to the Left


Ab Circle to the Right


 Click the image below to check out my column on how to execute the stability ball ab circles.

brian_columnI have used Thera-Band Stability balls for years and love them.  If you are looking to add a stability ball to your training tool box, click on the stabilityball images below to grab your very own today.  The 55 cm ball works great for the ab circles for most people.  Enjoy!


In the previous post I discussed the importance of integrating single leg squats to improve strength and running performance. Today, I will reveal 3 different variations of single leg stability ball training to increase hip drive, acceleration, and overall running economy.

In addition, these exercise can be used for hamstring strengthening, rehab and speed enhancement for any athletes. The three exercises are as follows:

  1. Straight leg bridge lift
  2. Straight leg bridge with leg curl
  3. Knee bent bridge lift

All three are very effexctive for improving strength and performance.  The best part is that using the stability ball adds an element of stabilization and core training as well.  I think you will find this is truly the best way to train your hamstrings independently if your goal is improved running performance.  If the stability ball is too challenging at first, you can opt to do the straight leg and knee bent bridge lifts with the support leg on the floor.  Click on the video below to view the exercises.