Pilates Fitness and the Exercise Ball

The versatile fitness ball can add new challenge to familiar routines

Pilates Fitness Ball. Click Next for Exercise Demo.
Pilates Fitness Ball. photo: (c) Marguerite Ogle 2006

Exercise balls—also known as fitness balls, stability balls, balance balls and Swiss balls—are large inflatable balls that measure anywhere from 55 centimeters to 75 centimeters in diameter and are used in all kinds of fitness settings, including physical therapy, yoga, Pilates and general exercise. There are actually many types of exercise balls used in fitness, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the ones that are most widely used.

Exercise balls were certainly not invented by Joseph Pilates, and they are not considered traditional Pilates equipment in the way that magic circles and reformers are. Nevertheless, the fitness ball has been heartily embraced by much of the Pilates community.

Fitness Balls for a Core Challenge

If you wanted to rename the fitness ball for its essential feature, you might call it an Instability Ball, Off-Balance Ball, or an Engage-All-Your-Core-Muscles Ball. It's the challenge it provides to core muscles that makes the fitness ball so popular in Pilates. The "tippiness" presents quite a balance challenge when one is trying to sit or lay on one while exercising.

Whenever you challenge balance, you have a great opportunity to test core strength using the powerhouse and stabilizer muscles. You will find that even having just the hips or legs on the ball while the rest of the body is stable on the mat is an increase in difficulty.

Ways Exercise Balls Are Used

  • Increase the difficulty of an exercise by adding balance and/or leverage challenges.
  • Engage the subtle muscles of the core to keep balance.
  • Instructors use exercise balls to provide neuromuscular feedback to their students.
  • Exercise balls are found in many therapeutic settings.
  • Sit on the exercise ball at work to keep the abdominal muscles and spine active.
  • Squeeze it for light resistance exercise.
  • Stretch: Balls are great to drape yourself over—front or back—for a good body stretch.
  • Play!

Balance and Leverage

The ways to incorporate fitness balls into a Pilates-based workout are nearly innumerable. The important thing is to stay true to the intent of an exercise.

Add challenge and variety to Pilates mat exercises by experimenting with the inherent instability of the ball, or using the shape and weight of the ball as a leverage challenge. For example, one could do The Hundred with the legs propped up on the ball (balance), or one could try doing The Hundred holding the ball between the ankles (leverage).

Buying a Pilates Fitness Ball

Pilates exercise balls are inexpensive, useful and so much fun it is really worth getting one. Fitness balls are available nearly anywhere exercise equipment is sold, from all the big discount stores to fitness stores to gyms and studios.

If you can't find one there, you can find one online.

Pilates Exercises with the Fitness Ball


  • Do Pelvic Curl - legs in table top propped on the ball.
  • Do Spine Stretch - hands on the ball, allowing it to roll out with the exercise.


  • Do Plank - hips balanced on the ball.
  • Do The Hundred - legs propped on the ball.

More Difficult

See more exercises for the exercise ball.

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