Will you build more strength by doing pushups with your feet on one of those big “stability” balls, or should you just stick with the tried-and-true regular pushup?

There is a difference between setting the lower legs (shin portion or even lower half of shins) on the balance ball, versus just your toes or the lower portion of your instep.

By placing your shin, even half the shin, on a stability ball and then doing pushups, removes considerable difficulty from the exercise.

You may think otherwise because the stability ball is not a fixed, immobile anchor; it has the potential for movement.

However, this doesn’t matter when your shins are on the ball. It’s actually quite easy to do pushups with your shins (along with feet) resting on a stability ball, because the surface area of your lower legs is adequate enough to offset the instability of the round surface.

This isn’t to say that every person will find this maneuver easy to do. For some, it will be very easy.

For novices with weak cores, it will be difficult. But it’s even more challenging to do pushups with only the tips of your feet (no shin contact) on a stability ball.

This is because there is so little surface area of your lower body on the ball – only the tips (or partial instep) of your feet – not enough surface area in contact with the stability ball, and hence, you may find yourself struggling to keep the ball from slipping out from under your feet.

This struggling, then, takes away from the goal of building up chest strength with pushups. There is a compromise.

If your goal is to build up chest strength, along with arm and shoulder strength (i.e., deltoids and triceps), then forget the stability ball and do pushups the traditional way.

If you’re not strong enough to do standard pushups (tips of feet on floor), then place hands on something that is elevated, such as a stepper platform (that’s used in step aerobics classes) or a low ledge outside, while keeping knees off the floor and having only your feet contacting the floor.


This is a far more effective modification than placing hands on floor but then having your knees on the floor.

The stepper platform height can be easily modified with “risers” placed beneath it.

Frankly, I see no advantage to using a stability ball for pushups, even if you’re too weak to perform this exercise standard style.

Again, if you’re weak, place hands on an elevated surface, and what will also work besides the stepper platform is the flat side of a BOSU board (the black flat side of those blue, mound-shaped implements that just about every gym has).

If you want to strengthen your core, a standard or modified pushup will accomplish this.

If you’re strong and want to add intensity to pushups, the added intensity should be imposed upon your upper body, and this will not happen if you try to perform pushups with the tips of your feet on a stability ball.

Instead, place the tips of your feet on a stool. Another way to add intensity is to perform the lowering (“negative”) portion of the pushup very slowly, rather than “knocking them off.”

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



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