Chiropractor Chandler AZ

How to Build a Strong Core Without Emptying Your Wallet

I've never been fond of the word, "exercise," because it conjures up images of agonizing hours inside the gym, with a fitness instructor barking orders. In addition to-being unpleasant, this isn't free. Gym memberships are expensive and traveling to and from the gym eats up another valuable resource: time.

I would posit that there are less expensive and more enjoyable ways to build fitness through outdoor activities such as cycling, walking, running, hiking, golf, pickleball, tennis etc. There are enough options so that every person can find an activity he or she has a passion for. As the famous philosopher, Joseph Campbell, once said:

"Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls."

My job therefore as a trainer isn't to get you moving; it's to keep you healthy so you can move more.

Staying healthy as an athlete means being strong, especially in core areas of the body: the pelvis, back and abdominal muscles. Building strength in those areas is what this book is about.

Getting Started

The most effective strength training programs are those that require a minimal investment in equipment, and can be done anywhere: inside the home, in the backyard, in a park or on track or soccer field. The exercises that follow require three pieces of equipment: a Swiss exercise ball, a medicine ball, and a yoga mat. All are readily available at sports retailers, some big box stores or online.

You will also need some loose, breathable, comfortable clothing and a decent pair of athletic shoes.

The Swiss ball provides stimulus to the core muscles because it is inherently unstable. Basically, anything you can do on a weight bench can also be done on an exercise ball be it a bench press, military press, bicep curl, fly or row. The biggest difference between the bench and the ball is that the weight bench allows a person to isolate various parts of the body, whereas the ball, due to its instability, involves the entire body in every exercise. Because of this, you will want to begin with lighter weights, or in some cases, no weights at all.

Because exercises on the ball encompass the entire body, form is of paramount importance. One sure way to injure yourself on the ball is by doing an exercise that is too challenging and compensating with incorrect form.

For example, I often see people hunch their shoulders when they plank on the ball, using their upper trapezius muscles to compensate for middle and lower back muscles that aren't yet strong enough to hold that position. If you are uncertain about your ability to do an exercise, try it first on a bench, then on the floor, progressing to the ball.

It is also important to make sure that the ball doesn't slip (on a slick floor surface), so position it on top of the yoga mat. The mat also provides some cushion if you happen to fall.

Find a Partner

Training with a partner makes workouts more fun, and equally important, it makes them safer. If you are a school athlete, see if you can't find another team member who is willing to show up a few minutes early for the workout or on an alternate day to strength train with. If you're a tennis, pickleball or golf player, there might be someone in your circle of like-minded friends who is interested. And if you're a marathoner, these simple workouts are a nice change of pace from grinding out miles on the road.

Click To Download Your Own Exercise PDF Copy Of The Following Exercises

The Basics

Seated leg-raise:

Sit on the ball with your arms crossed. Slowly raise the left leg, lower it and then raise the right leg. Repeat ten times with each leg for a set.

seated leg raise seated leg raise

Abdominal curl-up:

The ball should be positioned to support your lower and middle back. With your arms positioned so that your hands are supporting your head and neck, tighten abdominal muscles and curl up slowly. Return to the original (supine) position. To add challenge, twist while curling, first to the left and then to the right.

abdominal curl up

Lateral curl up:

Start with your feet on the floor, lying on your side with the ball under your hips. You may want to prop one of your feet against a wall to anchor yourself. Curl up sideways, then lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for a total of ten lifts on each side.

lateral curl up

Cross Crawl Ball:

Start in a prone position with your hands and feet touching the floor and the ball under your trunk. Slowly lift the left arm and right leg off the floor and extend them so the they are aligned with the body (straight out to the front and back). Lower them back to the starting position and lift the opposite limbs. A set consist of ten lifts on each side.

cross crawl ball

Inner and outer thigh lift:

Start out lying on your side, with the ball positioned between the feet and lower legs. Raise both legs up towards the ceiling, keeping them in alignment with your trunk. Repeat for a total of ten lifts, then switch sides (ten more lifts) for one set.

inner and outer thigh lift

Hamstring curls:

Begin by lying prone on the mat, elbows out and head resting on your hands. Grab the ball between your feet and lower legs. Bend the knees and slowly lift the ball towards the ceiling, then lower it back down to the floor. Repeat nine more times for a set.

hamstring curls

Plank on the ball:

For beginners, start with your feet slightly apart and the ball under your chest. Your head, shoulders, back, hips and legs should ideally form a straight line. Raising your hips too high makes the plank easier but less effective, while letting them fall towards the ground can cause lower back pain.

mountain climber and glute bridge

Once you have mastered this position, progress by positioning your forearms on the ball with the elbows slightly apart and hands together. To make the position more difficult, bring your feet together. Then try lifting one leg off the ground.

Glute bridge:

The glute bridge builds strength in all of the gluteal muscles: Maximus, Minimus and Medius.

glute ball bridge glute ball bridge

Roll out on the ball until it is resting under your shoulders, supporting your upper back. As with the plank position, having your feet shoulder width apart makes the exercise easier, whereas keeping the feet and knees together is more challenging. Cross your arms across the chest. Slowly lower your hips to the floor and then raise them back up to a tabletop position. Watch out for any side-to-side movement (usually indicating pelvic instability from weak hip stabilizers). Also, be careful not arch your back, since this can cause lower back strain. Repeat ten times for two-to-three sets.


In a prone position, roll out on the ball until it is somewhere between your knees and feet. Think of the ball as a fulcrum: the further it is from the center of your body, the more challenging it is to do push-ups. Just as with conventional push-ups, it's important to keep your head, shoulders, back, hips and legs in alignment.

push up push up

Start with one set of ten and work your way up to two-or-three sets.

Ball wall squat:

Start by leaning with your back against the ball, and the ball positioned in the small of your back. Your legs should be straight and feet slightly forward, so that your knees don't move forward of your toes when you squat. Slowly squat down until your knees form a ninety-degree angle, then return to a standing position. Start with one set of ten and work your way up to two-to-three sets.

ball wall squat ball wall squat

To make this exercise more challenging, hold a medicine ball straight above your head when you squat. Doing so creates a longer lever, requiring you to use more muscles. It will also remind you not to bend forward when you squat, maintaining proper form.

Ball squat (without the wall):

Hold the exercise ball between your hands with your arms straight out in front of you. Slowly squat down, then return to the standing position. Repeat nine more times.

Medicine ball wall squat:

In a knees-bent, squat position, push your back against the wall. Hold a medicine ball in your hands, With- your arms straight, raise the medicine ball up so it is in front of your chest. Hold the position for thirty seconds, working your way up to two sixty-second holds.

medicine ball wall squat

Medicine ball woodchopper:

Begin standing with feet shoulder width apart, holding the medicine ball straight out in front of you. Reach up and to the right with your arms extended, then bring the ball down and to the left, bending your knees for a full range-of-motion. Your back should remain straight and flexed slightly forward. Keeping the arms straight, bring the ball up on the left-hand side and fully extend your arms, now swing it down and to the right, bending the knees as you go. Ten "chops" in each direction is one set.

medicine ball woodchopper medicine ball woodchopper

Rear medicine ball raise:

Grab the medicine ball behind your back. With your arms straight, lift the ball up towards the ceiling. Repeat for a total of ten lifts in a set.

rear medicine ball raise

Lunge with medicine ball twist:

Stand with your feet slightly apart, holding the medicine ball in front of you. Lunge forward with the left leg, while swinging the medicine ball to the right. Return to the standing position while moving the ball back to midline. Repeat for a total of ten lunges and twists on each side.

lunge with medicine ball twist lunge with medicine ball twist

Russian twist:

Start in a supine position (lying on your back) with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Grab the medicine ball between your hands and lift your feet off the floor. Curl up and twist to one side, then come back to neutral and twist to the other side. Twisting to each side ten times is a set.

russian twist russian twist

Medicine ball pull-over:

Roll the ball out so you are supine with the exercise ball supporting your upper back. Hold the medicine ball between your hands and extend your arms straight up so the ball is above your chest. Keeping the arms straight, extend the ball so it is slightly in back of your head. Then move the ball back to the starting position keeping the arms straight. Repeat nine more times for a set.

medicine ball pull over medicine ball pull over

Medicine ball "skull crusher":

Do this exercise with a spotter, since it involves lowering the medicine ball over your head. Roll out on the exercise ball supine until it is supporting your upper back. Holding the medicine ball between your hands, extend your arms so the ball is straight above your chest. Now bend your elbows and lower the ball towards your forehead. Straighten your arms until the ball is back at the starting position above your chest. Repeat nine more times for a set.

medicine ball skull crusher medicine ball skull crusher

Medicine ball reverse crunch:

Lie supine on the mat, with your knees bent and feet on the mat. Grab the medicine ball between your knees and bring your knees up so that your thighs are at a 90-degree angle to your chest. Now bring the ball as close to your chest, holding it between your knees as possible. Move back to the overhead (90-degree angle) position and repeat an additional nine times for one set.

medicine ball reverse-crunch medicine ball reverse crunch

Bird dog:

Start out in the quadruped position on the mat, with both hands and knees on the floor. Slowly extend the right arm straight forward and left leg straight back. Your arm, torso and leg should form a straight line. Bring the arm and leg back down to the floor and reverse. Ten arm and leg lifts on each side constitute one set.

bird dog

Side plank:

Lie on your side on the mat, with legs straight and one foot on top of the other. Slowly raise your hips up so that your legs, hips and torso form a straight line. You can support your upper body on your forearm and elbow, or for a more challenging exercise, extend your arm and support your weight on your hand. Hold this position for 30-to-60 seconds and reverse.

lateral plankss

Reverse plank:

Lie supine on the mat with your legs together and straight out in front of you. Bring your forearms and elbows to your side, and slowly raise your torso and hips off the ground so that your torso and legs form a straight line from the shoulders to the knees. Hold this position for 30-to-60 seconds. For a more challenging exercise, raise one leg off the floor while in the plank position.

reverse plank

Lower back strengthener:

Lie face down on the mat, with your arms straight and hands clasped behind you. Slowly raise your chest and shoulders off the floor and arch your back. Hold for a count of three and return to the starting position. Repeat nine more times for a set.

lower back strengthener

Teaser (with thanks to

Start out in the supine position on the mat. Raise your head and shoulders off the mat and grab your knees. Extend your arms and legs out in a V-position. Bring your arms forward and hold them out straight in front of you so that they touch your legs. Raise and lower the legs three-to-five times, touching your hands to your legs each time.

teaser with thanks to greatist

Esther's clamshell:

Our physical therapist, Esther Kim, showed us this neat and very challenging variation on the clamshell exercise. Start by lying on your side, with one hand in front to support your trunk and the other supporting your head. Raise your hips off the floor with knees bent, knees and feet together. Keeping the feet together, slowly open and close the knees in a clamshell motion. Repeat ten times on each side for a set.

esthers clamshell esthers clamshell

Advanced exercises

Once you have mastered the basics, you can use these same three pieces of equipment (exercise ball, yoga mat and medicine ball) to do more advanced core work.

We recommend that you do these exercises in pairs or supersets, working opposing muscle groups for the biggest benefit. I like to do them as "cut-downs," starting out with seven reps, followed by six reps, five, four, three, two and one.

Push-up and dips on the exercise ball:

You have already learned how to do push-ups on the ball in the basics section. To do a dip on the ball, start by sitting on the exercise ball with your hands near your hips, palms down and fingers facing forward. Slowly lift yourself up off the ball and lower your butt down towards the ground in front of it. Your knees should remain bent with your feet on the floor. Now using your arms (don't cheat with your legs), raise yourself back up onto the ball in the seated starting position.

push up and dips on the exercise ball

To make this exercise challenging, do a cut-down alternating pushups and dips on the ball.

Forward and reverse tuck:

To perform the forward tuck. Start in a prone position and roll out on the exercise ball until the ball is underneath your lower legs, slightly ahead of your feet. Your body should be straight, with your head, shoulders, torso and legs in alignment. Now bend your knees and roll the ball towards your waist until you are in a tuck position. Slowly roll the ball back out to the starting position.

forward and reverse tuck forward and reverse tuck forward and reverse tuck

The reverse tuck works opposing muscle groups. Begin by sitting on the ground with your legs straight out in front and feet resting slightly apart on the ball. Your hands should be next to your hips, palms down and fingers either to the sides or facing front. Raise your butt off the ground and slowly roll the ball towards you, bending your knees as you go. Return the ball to the starting position

This superset is a cutdown, alternating forward and reverse tucks.

Mountain climber and glute bridge:

You will have learned about the glute bridge in the basics section.

mountain climber and glute bridge mountain climber and glute bridge mountain climber and glute bridge

The mountain climber on an exercise ball is a variation on the ball plank. Once in the plank position, kick one knee towards the ball, then move it back to the plank position and kick the other knee forward. You should move your legs quickly, similar to running up a hill.

Alternate the mountain climber and glute bridge for a superset that works the pelvis, abdominal and leg muscles.

Plank with leg extension; medicine ball raise and touch:

We mentioned the plank with leg extension briefly in the basics section. From the plank-on-ball position, slowly raise one leg behind you, keeping the leg straight, and then lower it back to the starting position. Alternate leg raises.

plank with leg extension medicine ball raise and touch plank with leg extension medicine ball raise and touch plank with leg extension medicine ball raise and touch

To perform the medicine ball raise and touch, start out supine on the mat. Grab the exercise ball between your feet and lower legs and raise it straight up, so that your legs (and the ball) are at a ninety-degree angle to the floor. Grab the medicine ball between your hands and curl up so the head and shoulders are off the floor. Touch the medicine ball to the exercise ball, bring it back down to the starting position and repeat.

This superset cut-down works the full body.

Plank-and-roll, rear medicine ball raise:

To learn how to perform the rear medicine ball raise, refer to the basics section. The plank-and-roll begins with the basic plank-on ball position. Once in the plank, slowly roll the ball forwards and back. Alternate this with the rear medicine ball raise to work the core and upper body muscles.

plank and roll rear medicine ball raise plank and roll rear medicine ball raise