Work Your Entire Core With This Stability Ball Exercise From Celebrity Trainer Astrid Swan

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If you’re looking to seriously work your core, locate a stability ball and keeping reading.

Celebrity trainer Astrid Swan, NASM-certified personal trainer whose clients include Julianne Hough, Shay Mitchell, and Alicia Silverstone, recently posted an Instagram video of a challenging two-part stability ball move that zeros in on your core and targets essentially every part of it.

Why this exercise is so effective

Swan rates this move as a 7 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. Much of the challenge comes from the fact that it’s technically two separate core moves—a V-up and then a V-up twist—combined into one continuous motion. Doing these two core-centric moves back-to-back with no break “becomes taxing,” Swan tells SELF. On top of that, the move requires serious balance, plus flexibility in both your lower and upper back, Stephanie Mansour, a Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF.

Also, though this exercise does involve moving your arms and legs, it’s really all about your core, says Swan. If you perform the move correctly, you’ll “fire up every bit of core,” she says. This includes the rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think abs), transverse abdominis (a deep core muscle that wraps around your sides and spine) and obliques (muscles on the sides of your stomach), as well as the smaller stabilizing core muscles. On top of that, the move requires some strength from your inner thighs and multifidus (a thin muscle that runs along the spine), adds Mansour, though these muscles aren’t the main drivers of the movement.

“Core strength is imperative in everything we do,” says Swan. From a functional standpoint, core strength can help with good posture and alleviate back pain. Regularly doing core-strengthening moves, such as this stability ball exercise, can help you improve the functioning of this major muscle group and thus improve your ability to tackle both day-to-day life—and all forms of exercise—more easily.

As for what makes this move unique, if you compare it to other classic core moves like planks and crunches, this two-part sequence is more challenging. That’s because you’re passing the stability ball back and forth with each rep, which requires more core work than if you were to simply hold weight in a fixed position without moving your limbs. The fact that you are moving your arms and legs makes it extra challenging to keep the center of your body extra tight and stable, Mansour points out.

To ensure you get the full core-strengthening benefits of this move, it’s important to remember to breathe. Swan recommends a specific type of breathing known as diaphragmatic breathing (which you can learn more about here) that will help you stay mindful and continually brace your core as you do the reps.

How to do the move

  • Lie face up on the floor with your legs extended and arms extended over your head, keeping them close to your ears. Squeeze your abs and butt to engage your core and press your lower back into the floor.
  • Squeeze your thighs together, squeeze your glutes, and use your core muscles to simultaneously lift your legs and upper body off the ground, reaching your hands forward to meet your feet so that your body forms a V.
  • In this V position, balance on your tailbone as you pass the ball from your hands to your feet.
  • Then, lower your torso, arms, and legs back down until your arms and legs are hovering a few inches above the floor. In this position your shoulder blades should be elevated, your arms extended back behind your head, and your legs extended straight out in front of you.
  • Do 2 V-ups.
  • Then, roll up onto your tailbone again but instead of passing the ball from your hands to your ankles, keep the ball in between your hands.
  • Press your knees together and bring them in toward your chest as you twist your torso to the right and bring the ball out to the right side of your body.
  • Lower back down so that your legs and arms are straight and hovering off the floor again. Pause for a moment and then repeat the movement, this time pulling your knees in and twisting your torso to the left and moving the ball out to the left.
  • This is 1 rep. Try to do 8 total reps.

Throughout the move, stay mindful of your lower back. It shouldn’t arch. If you feel it lifting off the floor, that’s probably a sign that your core isn’t fully engaged. If that happens, take a break, think about reengaging your core, and shorten your range of motion if needed, says Swan. (Meaning don’t bring your legs or arms so far down toward the floor.) Also, if you feel significant strain in your hip flexors (the muscles in the area where your thighs meet your pelvis) as you do this move, that could be another sign that your core isn’t fully activated, she adds. It’s normal to feel a little stress in the hip flexors with this move, but that area shouldn’t be the main driver. If you do feel significant stress, take a break and reset.

Also, when you’re holding the ball in your hands (versus your ankles), be sure to really press your inner thighs together, says Mansour. This helps activate the inner thighs and keeps your body in a more tight, compact position, which will make the move slightly easier than if your thighs were separated. Then, during the twisting portion, make sure that your thighs stay squeezed together and that your knees point out straight so that the twist comes from your obliques, not your hips, says Mansour.

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