In a world of endlessly ridiculous exercise accessories, it's easy to get confused about what's really worth your time. You may have noticed, however, that certain pieces of equipment crop up in every fitness facility, from sad motel gyms to boutique clubs.
The exercise ball is one such piece of equipment, and for good reason. If you're new to working out, using the exercise ball can significantly increase your core activation and improve stability early on in your program. If you're already active and in decent shape, swapping standard ab exercises on the floor with exercise ball movements can prompt greater response from your core muscles.
And who doesn't love a strong core, since that's where your abs are? Whatever your goal, don't be fooled by the ball's simplicity; you can easily crank out a well-rounded full-body workout using the four exercises below.
Position the ball against a wall, maintaining contact between the top of the ball and your tailbone, low back, and mid-back. Your feet should be shoulder-width or slightly more apart, and remain flat on the ground; walk your feet out far enough so your knees won't pass over your toes during the squat.
Keep the majority of your weight in your heels for the duration of the squat, making sure your knees face forward. Maintain pressure between your back and the ball the entirety of the exercise. Perform two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
Make it more challenging: Try raising your hands over your head when you're at the low point of your squat, or try doing split squats.
Get in push-up position, with your hands flat on the ground under your chest at shoulder-width distance. Balance your lower body on the ball, the middle of your shins down to the front of your feet should be on the ball. Don't let your lower back sag, keep your spine in a straight line, and never let your hips dip below your shoulders.
Visualize driving your belly button into your spine, creating a flat back (no butts in the air!) that doesn't cause strain. Hold 20-30 seconds, repeat two times.
Make it more challenging: Try knee tucks, bringing your knees slowly to your chest, 12 to 15 reps. Or you can try plank pikes, lifting your butt straight up in the air, rolling the ball under your feet to your toes. Your legs must stay straight the entire movement, and your head should fall directly between your shoulders.
Lie on your back, placing your legs on top of the ball. Your heels down to the middle of your calves should be on top of the ball. Don't point your toes forward during this exercise: Try to drive your heels into the ball and keep your legs in a straight line from the tip of your toes all the way to your hip bones.
Lift your hips off the floor and squeeze your glutes. Keeping the ball steady and your butt off the ground, bend your knees and drag the ball toward you as much as you can. Do two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
Make it more challenging: Try doing single-leg curls, one leg at a time.
Position the ball under your pelvis to just below your sternum -- basically, right on your gut. You should be able to draw a diagonal line starting from the top of your head down to your heels: chest lifted off the ball, arms palm-down by your sides, and legs straight with toes dug into the ground. Make sure you don't wrench your neck up or let your lower back arch too much during this exercise.
Keeping your toes on the ground, place your heels against the wall for added stability and support. Slowly lower your chest down toward the ball for a count of four seconds, pause for two seconds at the bottom, then elevate back to your original position for one second. Perform two sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Make it more challenging: Try it without the wall, or extend your arms in a straight line from your shoulders, never allowing them to drop below your shoulders during the movement.
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