11 Pilates Ball Exercises to Target Your Core and Beyond

Pilates is a powerful exercise modality that strengthens your deepest core muscles, helping to protect your spine and improve posture and daily functioning. It's a low-impact workout format that requires a focus on breathing patterns and engaging stabilizer muscles that are often overlooked or underutilized in other types of training. And while Pilates can be practiced with or without equipment, you'll find that a good number of Pilates-based workouts tend to incorporate a small, squishy sphere known as a small Pilates ball.

The addition of a small Pilates ball adds interest and challenge to your everyday movements. Pilates is used to help improve balance, core stability, and even help you take some pressure off of your spine. You can also use the ball to obtain deep, relaxing stretches for your muscles after a challenging workout.

Curious about how to incorporate a small Pilates ball into your favorite Pilates exercises? Ahead, Pilates instructor Tara Gordon shares 11 Pilates ball exercises to help build stability and strength through your whole body.

Meet the Expert

Tara Gordon is a professional Pilates instructor, as well as the owner and founder of 212 Pilates in New York City.

01 of 11

Deep Core Over Ball

toe tap over ball

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

This exercise targets the deep, supportive muscles of the core. "Do only as many as you can, keeping the spine stable and deep abdominals engaged without letting your 'sit-up' muscle pouch out," says Gordon. Once you've mastered the basic version, try a variation.

  • Lay on the mat face up
  • Gently lift your hips to place the ball under your pelvis, keeping the back of your head and upper rib cage connected to the mat.
  • Check in with your hands that the three points of your pelvis are parallel to the ground, and imagine you had your favorite beverage balanced on your pelvis; you want to keep it steady and not spill your drink either between your legs or towards your stomach.
  • Breath into both your belly and the back of your ribcage, filling it with air and allowing it to expand on the inhale.
  • On the exhale, feel a gentle lengthening of the entire spine while your deep core corsets your waist, lifting through the pelvic floor and keeping your spine stable and glutes relaxed.
  • Inhale.
  • On your next exhale, once the air has left your belly, lift your right leg to a 90-degree angle tabletop feeling the initiation from the top of the inner thigh rather than the quad. Look for 90-degree hinges in your hip, knee, and ankle joints.
  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale to lift your other leg without rocking or changing your pelvis.  

You can continue this with variations:

  • 90-degree heel taps.
  • Extend one leg straight at a time—the lower you go, the harder it gets!
  • Bent or straight leg inhale legs away from each other and exhale them back together.
  • Once mastered, try them all with both legs at the same time.
  • Start with 6 reps of each modification alternating on each side.
02 of 11

Bridging with a Ball Under Foot

bridge with ball under foot

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

This bridge variation has you place a ball underfoot. "If you have a tight back, try hip dips—lowering one hip at a time," says Gordon. To advance this move, with your pelvis lifted, slowly drag the ball closer and further from your pelvis.

  • Lay face-up on the mat with your feet flat on the ground honoring the spine's natural curves by letting your head, rib cage, and tailbone on the ground while allowing the low back and neck curve away from the floor.
  • Place the ball under one foot and find weight into the center of the ball and all the bones of the foot evenly, so you don’t roll your ankle.
  • Press so firmly into your feet so that your pelvis lifts just a few inches, keeping your pelvis parallel to the ground as if you wanted to balance a drink without tipping it.
  • Actively do not squeeze your bum; instead, ask yourself, “could you go to the bathroom in this position?” So you feel it in the center and upper parts of the back of your leg rather than your glutes.
  • Lower down with the same control leading with your tailbone.
  • Repeat six to eight times on each side.
03 of 11

Deep Front Line with Hip Stretch

frontline and hip stretch

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

Go slowly with this stretch and use visualization to guide you. "Imagine you had your favorite beverage balanced on your pelvis; you want to keep it steady and not spill your drink either between your legs or towards your stomach," says Gordon.

  • Lay on the mat face up.
  • Gently lift your hips to place the ball under your pelvis, keeping the back of your head and upper rib cage connected to the mat.
  • Check in with your hands that the three points of your pelvis are parallel to the ground.
  • Breath into both your belly and the back of your ribcage, filling it with air and allowing it to expand on the inhale.
  • On the exhale, feel a gently lengthening of the entire spine while your deep core corsets your waist, lifting through the pelvic floor and keeping your spine stable and glutes relaxed.
  • Hug one knee to your chest with your arms, press the other heel into the ground and lengthen it away from the hips, then switch, play with pressure in the middle vs. inside vs. outside of the heel.
  • To come off of this place, both feel flat on the ground, gently remove the ball, and lay on the ground for a moment before getting up.
04 of 11

Side Plank with Glute Burn

side plank with glute burn

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

A core and glute combo move that challenges your balance and stability, building deep core strength. When you've mastered the basic version, try the variations.

  • Lay down on one side of your body with your head, hips, knees, and feet inline.
  • Push your forearm and elbow into the ground to lift your body into a side plank supported by your abdominals and armpit.
  • Place the ball under the bony landmark of the hip and pretend you have a pole going through it, keeping the other hip stacked directly on top; continue to press into your armpit to lift your ribs away from the floor while lifting your legs off the floor, so your are fully balanced on the ball and forearm.
  • Inhale to allow expansion as the air fills your diaphragm, stomach, and ribs. 
  • Exhale to find stability and wrapping of your deep core around your spine you balance while propping your upper body up on your forearm and feeling a lift through your obliques and armpit.

Lift your top leg without hiking or moving your hip and try these variations:

  • Lift and lower the top leg within a 3-6 inch range.
  • Draw small circles with your top leg, reverse.
  • Send one leg forward on back.
  • Repeat steps one and two in external rotation (or turn out) of the thigh bone from the hip socket.
  • Do six reps of each on each leg.
05 of 11

Teaser With Bent Knees

teaser with bent knees

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

This is a variation of the staple Pilates exercise, the teaser. It will test your core strength and stabilizing muscles, including the hip flexors, abdominals, and obliques. "To advance this move, try straightening your leg," says Gordon.

  • Sit up on your bum with your tailbone pointing into the ground (no tucking!) with your feet flat on the ground, sitz bones pointed down while your find all the natural curves of the spine.
  • Inhale foil the core up with air to prepare.
  • Exhale let the air out, allowing your deepest core muscles to corset and elongate your spine while feeling your pelvic floor lift through the inner body to the roof of your mouth.
  • Hinge your torso back as you lift one leg at a time to tabletop, 
  • Hold the lift the ball in your arms straight out in front of the body.
  • Place the ball between your knees gently.
  • Inhale and hinge your legs and body inches away from each other elongated the space between the hips and thighs.
  • Exhale narrowing the angle of the body from the legs back towards each other, closing the space.
  • Take the ball back into your hands. 
  • Alternate placing the ball between your knees and taking it out into your hands 8 times.
  • Keep the same position. 
  • Maintain your teaser position. 
  • Open arms, leave the ball in one hand and switch through the middle to challenge the obliques.
06 of 11

Sit Up and Extension

crunch over ball

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

"This is a non-crunchy crunch," says Gordon. Go slowly, focusing on your form and stability to work your core muscles. To advance this move, try this with your legs in a tabletop position. This exercise is not recommended for pre or postnatal individuals with spinal herniations or osteoporosis.

  • Sit up on your bum with your tailbone pointing into the ground (no tucking!) with your feet flat on the ground, knees parallel to each other, sitz bones pointed down.  
  • While honoring all the spine's natural curves, place the ball behind the back in the upper middle of the rib cage and then slowly lower back, so you are laying on it facing up.
  • Interlace your hands behind the base of the skull to support your head while pointing the elbows forward and attempting to show your armpits to each other. 
  • Keep your pelvis completely stable in a non tucked, non-arched position with the tailbone pointing into the mat.
  • Inhale and allow your spine to open over the ball, and your eyes draw a line on the ceiling and slowly overhead away from your feet.
  • Exhale re-engage the ribs to the back of the body and start to curl forward, finding lengths in the neck and the ribs pressing into the ball.
  • Keep your lower spine completely stable.
  • Repeat eight times.
07 of 11

Collarbone Opener

extension over ball

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

Focus on your breath and envision the steps of this exercise to work the deep core stabilizers in tune with your breath. You'll also strengthen your pelvic floor muscles with this relaxing movement.

  • Lay face down with the ball placed in the center of your sternum with your forehead dripping toward the ground. Spread your arms to the side, mimicking a football goal post position.
  • Breath deeply, expanding the belly and rib cage as you inhale.  
  • Exhale all the air out, activating the deep core and the pelvic floor without changing the positing of your spine.
  • While keeping your core corseted around your spine to stabilize the lower spine, start to slowly lift your head in line with your body as if someone is pulling a string from the crown of your head away from your feet rather than directly up.
  • Once your body is parallel to the floor, then you can begin to shine the sternum forward feeling is if you had the most beautiful necklace hanging below your collar bone and you want to show it off by slowly allowing it to appear above the horizon of the ball, extend as far as your ribcage allows to “backbend” without arching your neck allowing the ball to roll slightly forward.
  • Continue to lengthen the spine as if the vertebrae were expanding like warm marshmallows on the way down.
  • Repeat six to eight times
08 of 11

All Fours Knee Ball Under Knee

all four knees ball under knee

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

This move will train your body to work synergistically as a unit to stabilize and support you. To advance this move, use the same setup, but tuck your toes as if you were preparing to plank, push so hard into the toe without the ball and into your hands that the standing knee floats 2-4 inches off the ground, engaging the core, plugging into the armpit and repeat lifting the leg behind you," says Gordon.

  • Set up in all fours—hands, and knees
  • Place your hands and elbows in line directly under your shoulders with the eye of the elbow spiraling forward to open the collar bone. Be sure to push the floor away, feeling your shoulder blades separate, and your armpits support your upper body. 
  • Keep your neck long and your spine neutral. Make sure your knees are directly under your hips, and your sitz bones are spread wide as if you could breathe through your backside.  
  • Place the ball in the fold of one knee, holding a 90-degree angle as you lengthen your leg behind you by extending the thigh bone, so it is in line with your hip. Keep your spine stable and your glutes soft, feeling how your hip and leg can move separately from your back and pull it back to its starting place. Keep the deep core corseting the spine and the spine steady in neutral—no tucking.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.
09 of 11

Kneeling Plank on Ball

kneeling plank on ball

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

Level up your plank with this variation that has you place your knees on the ball, challenging your stability and core strength. Your chest muscles will also get a workout as you support your upper body.

  • Set up in all fours—hands, and knees.
  • Place your hands and elbows in line directly under your shoulders with the eye of the elbow spiraling forward to open the collar bone. Be sure to push the floor away, feeling your shoulder blades separate, and your armpits support your upper body. Keep your neck long and your spine neutral.  
  • Have the ball waiting directly in front of your knees. 
  • Keep the knees under the hips and legs pressed together lightly, tuck your toes, wrap your core around your neutral spine and lift your knees onto the ball.
  • The spine should be long, and your core is engaged (but not locked); pull the knees by rolling the ball under you without tucking the pelvis and extend them out behind you while keeping the core engaged and hands pushing you away from the ground as if your armpits could help you float up and back.
  • Repeat eight times.
10 of 11

Breathing Over Ball Stretch

breathing over ball stretch

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

Try this deep, relaxing stretch for your core muscles. Focus on your breath, melting into the stretch.

  • Lay face down with the ball placed in the center of your sternum with your forehead dripping toward the ground. Spread your arms to the side, mimicking a football goal post position.
  • Breath deeply, expanding the belly and rib cage as you inhale. Try to feel where the back of the rib cage plugs into the spine, finding space and breath.  
  • Breathe until it feels like your mid-back has new ease to it.
11 of 11

Deep Front Line Stretch

deep frontline stretch

Tara Gordon / Design by Tiana Crispino

This movement will stretch the front of the body as you relax over the ball. "For this stretch, find the ball under a place that feels really safe and like a slightly intense opener; if it is too much, start with a towel under your head," says Gordon.

  • Sit up on your bum with your tailbone pointing into the ground (remember, no tucking your pelvis) with your feet flat on the ground, knees parallel to each other, sitz bones pointed down.  
  • While honoring all the spine's natural curves, place the ball behind the back in the upper middle of the rib cage and then slowly lower back, so you are laying on it facing up, let your head relax to the floor.
  • Try placing the palms of your feet together and letting the knees fall away from each other.
  • Rest here until breathing feels easier
  • Do not roll up to come off of it; roll to the side and slowly use your arms to come up after.

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