Stability-Ball Exercises to Build Strength and Flexibility

If you're like many multisport athletes, after completing a long road ride your biggest complaint isn't the pain in your butt or legs; it's the pain in your back, often caused by riding for extended periods in the drops or aero position.

The key to thwarting the chiropractor and the massage therapist is developing core strength. A strong core region (abdominal, lower back and hip muscles) stabilizes your spine and acts as a link in the transmission of power between the upper and lower body.

A weak core region may result in an inability to maintain structural integrity of the lumbar spine; causing or exacerbating lower-back pain. Additionally, a weak core region costs you power and you'll experience upper-body fatigue sooner on training rides.

Core exercises are important for maintaining lower-back integrity, reducing fatigue in the riding position and improving stability. The stability ball, also known as a Fit Ball, gym ball, or Swiss ball, forces the body to adapt to unusual positions and, unlike floor or machine exercises, stability-ball exercises recruit many stabilizing muscles, which aids in the enhancement of muscular strength and endurance.

Abdominal Exercises

Curl-up: Begin with the stability ball centered beneath your lumbar spine (the lower back just above the tailbone) and your feet flat on the floor. Exhale as you contract your abdominal muscles, causing your trunk to slowly curl up until your shoulders and upper back are lifted off the ball. Pause briefly, then inhale as you return to the starting position and repeat. Maintain your neck in a neutral position, about a fist's width between the chin and upper chest, throughout the movement.

Diagonal Curl-up: Do everything the same as in the curl-up, except rotate your trunk from left to right, drawing your left shoulder toward your right hip. Pause, then inhale as you return to the starting position. Now curl and rotate right to left. Continue rotating in alternate directions.

Reverse Curl-up: Lie on the floor on your back with arms extended out along the floor at a 45-degree angle and palms down, for support. Grip the stability ball between your heels and the back of your thighs. Keep your lower back flat as you exhale and contract your abdominal muscles causing your hips to be pulled two to three inches off the floor. Pause, then inhale as you return to the starting position, making sure the stability ball does not touch the floor, and release tension from the working muscles.

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