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Rediscover the stability ball!

Ten or so years ago the ball was all the rage - the new "it" fitness toy. Now it is more of a fitness staple; a toy people expect gyms to have, but aren't that excited to actually use. Recently I have rekindled my relationship with the ball. You could say I have had a stability ball renaissance; a ballaissance! The ball is effective, inexpensive and fun fitness tool - what is not to love? If your not using it I highly suggest you try it. Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas.

Most traditional exercises can be modified to involve the stability ball. Here are just a few.

Sit on the ball while doing upper-body exercises like lateral raises or shoulder presses.

Try increasing the difficulty of a plank by putting your toes on the ball and your hands on the floor. Or do push-ups from this plank position. Keep your core engaged as you bend and straighten yours arms.

Instead of lying on a bench, do upper-body exercises with your head and shoulders on the ball.

Try a dumbbell bench press. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor, hips up and shoulders on ball. Hold a free weight in each hand, with both arms straight above your chest. Bend your elbows toward the floor so that your shoulder and elbow form a rough 90-degree angle. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Since the ball adds a significant balance challenge, consider starting with a lower weight than usual.

Bridge rotations: Start with your head and shoulders on the ball, feet on the floor, hips up. Rotate your upper body to the right so your right shoulder is on the ball and your left shoulder is straight up in the air. Slowly control your body and rotate back to the starting position. Rotate side-to-side for 10 reps.

Or try a set of 11's with exercises that use the ball. To do a set of 11s pick two exercises. The total number of repetitions should always equal 11.

For example, pick stability ball push-ups and squat thrusts. Or stability ball pikes and stability ball bridge rotations.

If you picked the push-ups and squat thrusts you would start with ten push-ups and one squat. Then, nine push-ups and two squats. Keep decreasing the push-ups and increasing the squats by one repetition until you finish with one push-up and ten squats.

If you picked the bridges and pikes you would start with ten bridges and one pike. Then decrease the bridges and increase the pikes by one until you finish with one bridge and ten pikes.

Make the exercises appropriately difficult for the number of reps you have to do. When you have to do one squat, lift a heavier weight then when you have to do ten. When you have to do one pike or push-up, walk your body further out on the ball.

How to do squat thrusts: Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. As you squat down, do a biceps curl. As you stand up, push the weights up over your head. Return the weights to their starting position and repeat.

How to do pikes. Start with your hands on the floor and your thighs, shins or feet on the ball. You should be in a plank position. The further the ball is towards your feet the harder the exercise will be. Keep your back flat as you pike your bum up into the air - hinge at your hips to do the motion. Use your core to slowly lower your hips back into the plank position. Don't let your lower back arch while in the plank. .

One final note. Don't be discourage if you feel silly – the instability of the ball can take some getting used to, and I speak from personal experience! I fell off the ball the first time I tried the bridge-rotation exercise mentioned above. (It was especially embarrassing because I was at a fitness convention and surrounded by other trainers). Luckily, I am over my initial embarrassment and at ease with the ball. With practice, you'll also become comfortable.