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Have a Ball With Exercise Ball Workouts

By Jodi Helmer
WebMD Magazine - Feature

You'll often find exercise balls tucked into a corner at the gym, but few people know how to use them in a workout. Personal trainer Julie Schoen thinks the oversized balls are key tools for working up a sweat and building muscle.

"Exercise balls can literally work every muscle in your body and help tone the legs and thighs," she says. Do these moves four times a week to help build long, lean muscles.

Wall Ball Squat

"This is my go-to move for improving the shape of my glutes and thighs," Schoen says.

1. Stand with your back facing a wall and feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

2. Place the exercise ball between your back and the wall, leaning back slightly to keep the ball elevated.

3. As you lean against the ball, bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat (as if you're going to sit on a chair behind you). Make sure your knees don't jut out past your toes.

4. Return to the starting position. The ball should stay pressed between the wall and your body.

5. Do three sets of 10 repetitions.

Decline Balance Push-Up

This move works the triceps, shoulders, chest, and abs. It's a favorite for Schoen because it has all of the benefits of a regular push-up and more.

1. Start at the top of a push-up position with hands shoulder-width apart, arms straight, and feet on top of the exercise ball. 

2. Keeping your gaze toward the floor, bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Tighten your core to keep your body straight from head to toe.

3. Press back up to the starting position to finish one rep. If you need to rest between reps, keep your feet on the ball and bend your knees.

4. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Plank Raise

"If I am super crunched on time, this is the one I do," says Schoen of the move that works the abs, back, legs, and glutes.

1. Start at the top of a push-up position, hands shoulder-width apart, arms straight, and shins on top of the exercise ball. Tighten your core and don't let your butt sag.

2. Keeping both legs straight, lift the left leg into the air.

3. Lower the leg back to the ball.

4. Do 10 reps.

5. Repeat the move using the right leg. Do two more sets of 10 reps, alternating legs.

Q & A

Q: "I'd like to include my dog on my daily runs. How do I know if she'll make a good running partner?" -- Rosie Molinary, 40, college professor, Davidson, N.C.

A: "Before you grab the leash and hit the road, it's important to note that some dogs are better suited to long walks in the park. Puppies under 18 months old could sustain injuries because their bones are still growing, breeds with short legs will struggle to keep up, and dogs with short noses (like pugs) can have trouble breathing during a run. If your vet gives you the green light, remember that dogs need to train for long-distance running, just like people. Watch for signs that your dog likes running with you. She should act excited and ready to go when the leash comes out." -- Louise Murray, DVM, vice president, ASPCA Animal Hospital, New York City

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on March 10, 2014

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