How to Do the Baler

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Side oblique med ball tosses

Targets: Abdominals

Equipment Needed: Medicine ball

Level: Intermediate-Advanced

The baler—or hay baler—is a standing abdominal exercise that can be a smart alternative to traditional ab exercises that are performed on the floor. During the movement, the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis are engaged. The muscles in your shoulders and back will also benefit from this move. This exercise helps to build core strength and functional stability.

The hay baler is very similar to another functional exercise called the woodchop or woodchopper. When performed with a medicine ball, the baler and the woodchopper are essentially the same movements—resistance moves in a diagonal path across the body. But when performed with cables, these exercises are slightly different. The cable hay baler moves resistance from a low position to a high position, similar to picking up a bale of hay and tossing it up and off to the side. A cable woodchop brings resistance from a high position to a low position, similar to swinging an ax down to chop wood.

While the baler exercise with weight is considered a fairly advanced move, there are ways to modify the movement so that almost anyone can use it during their workout. Combined with other full body movements, the hay baler can be a solid addition to a strength-training workout.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Before you try this or any exercise, you should be in good health. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise or if you are coming back to exercise after an injury. You can also work with a qualified fitness trainer to get form tips and exercise advice.

When you are first attempting the baler, use a small, lightweight medicine ball. As you become more comfortable with the move, add more weight.

Basic Standing Baler

To prepare for the exercise, make sure you have space in front of your body and on both sides.

  1. Start in a split stance position. Feet should be about hip distance apart with the right foot slightly behind the left. Place the medicine ball in your hands in front of you.
  2. Rotate the body and bring the ball down below the right hip.
  3. Rotating again, sweep the ball up across your body and over the left shoulder. As you do so, shift your weight slightly onto the left foot. Keep the arms straight throughout the movement.
  4. Bring the ball back to the right hip and repeat the movement.

There are different ways to perform the baler. Instructions above are provided for the most basic version of the movement. But the baler is often combined with a squat or a slight lunge to engage the lower body.

Squat Stance Baler

This variation engages the muscles in the thighs and glutes as well as the core and shoulders.

  1. Start with the feet hip-distance apart with the medicine ball in your hands in front of you.
  2. Lower your body into a squat position while rotating and bringing the ball down towards your right heel.
  3. Rotating again, lift out of the squat and sweep the ball up across your body over the left shoulder. As you do so, shift your weight slightly onto the left foot. Keep the arms straight throughout the movement.
  4. Return to the squat, bring the ball back towards the right heel and repeat the movement.

Split Stance Baler

Some exercisers do the baler in a split stance position. So as you lower the ball towards your heel, your body lowers into a slight lunge position rather than a squat position.

  1. Start with the feet in a split stance position hip-distance apart. The right foot should be slightly in front of the left.
  2. Place the medicine ball in your hands in front of you.
  3. Lower your body, bringing the ball back and below the left hip. Your upper body will rotate to the left and the lower body will lower into a slight lunge position with both knees bent. The right foot remains on the floor but the heel of the left foot will lift off the floor.
  4. Now as you lift out of the lunge, sweep the ball up across your body over the right shoulder. Keep the arms straight throughout the movement. The back heel stays off the floor.
  5. Return to the starting position, bring the ball back towards the left heel, and repeat the movement.

For all variations of the hay baler, you'll want to start with 5–7 repetitions on the one side, then change sides and complete 5–7 repetitions on the other side. Add repetitions before increasing weight.

Common Mistakes

There are a few common blunders to watch for when doing the baler

Swinging Too Much

The movements in a hay baler should be fluid, but you don't want to use too much momentum (as a real hay baler on a farm would do). Controlling the movement requires greater strength and muscular stability.

Furthermore, using too much momentum increases the risk of accidents from either releasing the ball or injuring your back during rotation of the trunk.

Rounding the Back

Try not to slouch forward during this move. It's easy to roll the shoulders forward or round the back, especially if the weight is too heavy. Keep the back straight and strong throughout the movement.

Modifications and Variations

There are a few different ways to make this movement harder or easier.

Need a Modification?

The simplest way to modify the baler for a beginner is to perform the move from a half-kneeling position. The half-kneeling baler is performed on one knee with the other foot placed on the floor in front of you. This position provides more stability and is easier on the back.

Perform the same movement pattern from the half-kneeling position. If the right foot is in front and your left knee is on the ground, start by bringing the medicine ball down towards the left hip. Then keeping the arms straight, bring the ball up and across the body over the right shoulder. Return the ball to the starting position and repeat. Complete 5–7 repetitions, then switch to the other side.

Up for a Challenge?

The simplest way to make this exercise harder is to add more weight. Always be sure that you have perfect form before adding weight.

Cable Baler

You can also perform the baler with cables. To do so, position the cable pulley so that the handle is slightly lower than hip height. Stand with feet hip-distance apart. The cable should be on your right side about one foot away. Reach the cable pulley with both hands, and sweep it up and across the body, finishing above the left shoulder. Return to the starting position and repeat. Complete 5–7 repetitions then change sides and repeat with the cable on the left side.

The cable baler can also be performed with the squat. Simply position the cable lower so that when you reach down to begin the movement you have to lower the body into a squat position.

On a BOSU

If you want to add a stability challenge, this movement can be performed on a BOSU or stability board. Before attempting this with weight, try it first without any resistance. Once you feel comfortable staying balanced during the entire range of movement, add weight slowly.

Studies have shown that resistance training performed on unstable surfaces, like the BOSU, helps to improve neuromuscular function and postural stability, especially in those recovering from injury. 

Leg Lift

Another stability challenge can involve adding a leg lift to this move. To do so, begin the squat hay baler exercise as indicated in the step-by-step instructions. Start by bringing the ball to your right hip. As you move the medicine ball up and across the body over the left shoulder, shift your body weight on to the left foot and lift the right leg slightly off the ground keeping it straight and fully extended. As you move the ball back down, lower the foot back on the ground and repeat.

This version of the hay baler improves balance and adds glute activation.

Benefits

There are a few good reasons to include the baler in your routine.

Improves Functional Strength

The baler mimics activities of daily living moreso that many other abdominal exercises. In fact, the baler got its name because it is based on the daily activity of a hay baler on the farm.

To carry out daily tasks, we usually aren't required to lay on the floor in positions similar to the abdominal crunch or even a plank. But it is very common to have to lift and carry heavy objects across the body while standing. Chores like lifting groceries out the trunk of your car, putting a suitcase in an overhead compartment, and lifting a child all require you to brace your core and stabilize while moving a heavy object up and away, just like the baler exercise.

Functional resistance training can help to improve your balance, posture, and muscular endurance. Most functional exercises (like the baler) also require you to move through multiple planes of movement, so that your body becomes more adept at doing activities that require you to lift, reach, rotate, push, and pull in different directions. A strong, stable body helps you to stay mobile throughout the day.

Functional training can be especially beneficial as we age. These exercises help improve the way that your muscles work together and help us to feel more coordinated to maintain independence.

Better Accessiblity

Standing abdominal exercises provide unique advantages over exercises performed on the floor, either in a prone or supine position.

There are some people who cannot comfortably get down on the floor to exercise. For instance, people with obesity, women who are in the later stages of pregnancy, or those with knee or hip problems may not be able to get up and down from the floor without difficulty. A standing abdominal exercise offers them a way to train the core effectively.

Kinetic Chain Benefits

Kinetic chain is the pathway of interconnected body segments, joints, and muscles that work together to create movement in the body. Movements may be either open chain movements or closed chain movements. Each type has its own place in training and physical therapy.

The baler offers benefits of both open and closed chain exercises. Open chain exercises are movements where the distal working limb (the limb furthest from the center of the body) remains unfixed to a stable surface, like the floor. An overhead press is an example of an open chain exercise because the working limbs (the arms) are moving freely and remain unfixed to a stable surface.

A closed chain exercise is one in which the working limbs are fixed to a stable surface. A squat is an example of a closed chain exercise because the working muscles in the lower body are attached to the floor.

Both closed chain and open chain exercises provide benefits. Open chain exercises are better for isolating muscles, creating rotational forces, and are often used with concentric muscle contractions. Closed chain exercises help your muscles to work together and have been shown to be superior for producing superior eccentric contraction and improving joint stability and dynamic balance.

During a hay baler, the arms holding the medicine ball are unfixed (open chain). But during the lowering phase (especially if you move into a squat during the move) the working limbs (your legs) are fixed, making this movement closed chain. So the baler provides benefits of both open and closed chain exercise.

Safety and Precautions

For some people with lower back problems, this exercise may not be appropriate. If you have a history of back problems speak with your healthcare provider or your physical therapist before attempting this move. You may also want to work with a trainer to make sure that you maintain good form.

Also, those with shoulder problems should exercise caution when performing variations in this movement. Speak with your physical therapist to make sure that the exercise is appropriate for you.

Try It Out

Incorporate the hay baler into one of these workouts that emphasize the core.

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Article Sources
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