There are numerous methods of progressing the level of difficulty when using stability ball exercises. Specific structured progressions are documented in the text of each exercise. But knowing several guidelines to simplify or advance an exercise will allow you to modify each exercise many times over to define the most appropriate level of challenge for you. If you are uncertain, you should choose regressions to ensure that you complete the exercise safely within your current abilities. However, when you are experienced with an exercise and begin to find it easy, adopt progressions to make sure you are challenged. If an exercise is not challenging, you will not stimulate improvement. With this in mind, the following are points that you can consider when regressing or progressing your exercises.
- Change the base of support. By decreasing the base of support for an exercise, you can increase the challenge of balance. You can accomplish this by increasing the inflation of the ball, which will result in a smaller base of ball support. You can also change the base of support by moving from a four-point support to a three- or two-point support. An example of a four-point support is a stability ball push-up in which you have both hands on the ball and both feet on the floor. To increase the level of difficulty in the push-up, you can use a three-point base of support. For example, you could raise one foot off the floor. You can also decrease your base of support by placing your hands and feet closer together. Although you are still in a four-point base of support, this move results in a decreased overall base of support.
- Change the length of the lever. As you alter the length of your lever arm from short to long, you increase the difficulty of the exercise, as with the abdominal crunch medicine ball throw. Throwing from the chest is easier than using a longer lever and throwing from overhead. Your trunk can also be the lever arm between the floor and ball contacts. A short rollout is easier than a longer rollout. A short ball bridge is easier than a longer one. Minor changes in body position can make a dramatic difference in level of difficulty by changing the coordination, effort, or force required.
- Increase range of motion. By increasing movements from a smaller to a larger range of motion, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise, as with the push-up with hands on ball. You can progress from partial push-ups to full-range push-ups.
- Change the speed of movement. Changing the tempo of an exercise changes the result. Very slow movements keep the muscle loaded under tension longer and help build strength and stability. Fast dynamic movements tend to build power. The tempo of movement also makes the exercise easier or more difficult. Most experts suggest that moving faster is more difficult. But there is no general rule here. Some exercises done more quickly are much more difficult. Still other exercises done very slowly require much more strength and balance. Know that speed of movement alters the demands. You will need to adjust your tempo on an exercise to learn whether it results in an easier or more difficult execution.
- Add resistance. You can increase the intensity of an exercise by adding some form of loaded resistance, such as a medicine ball, an external free weight, cable, or elastic tubing, as with the jackknife exercise with a cable attached to the legs. For safety, we recommend Slastix tubing made by Stroops, which is thick, strong tubing with handles covered with a protective sleeve. The Hip/ Thigh Blaster tubing (also made by Stroops) connects to the ankles and is covered with a protective sleeve. Strength tubing needs to be long enough to accommodate whole-body moves in strength ball training. It also needs to be strong enough to offer enough resistance. It should come with a protective sleeve to make the tubing more durable and, if it does eventually break, to make sure it coils inside the sleeve instead of snapping back and hitting you.
- Close the eyes. By closing your eyes, you increase the proprioceptive demand in the body, flooding other sensors and receptors positioned to give feedback on changes to muscle, ligaments, tendons, and joint position. Removing visual feedback overloads your proprioceptive system, forcing those “minibrains” to work harder and improve. This adds a level of difficulty, but you should take caution. Some exercises will require spotting by a strength coach, such as kneeling on the ball.