Stabilizer Muscles Used in Exercise and for Balance

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Good form is different for every exercise, but a big part of doing exercises the right way is by being able to stabilize your body. For example, even a simple biceps curl requires your core and shoulders to stay stabilized as you curl the weight toward the shoulders.

In other exercises, like squats, you're primarily working the glutes and quads, depending on the type of squat you're doing, but your hamstrings, calves, lower back, abs, and obliques all act to keep everything going in the right direction.

If you are looking to improve your stability as well as ensure your stabilizer muscles are strong, you will need to improve your balance. Here is what you need to know about your stabilizer muscles including how to make sure you are engaging them.

Your Stabilizer Muscles

In any movement, stabilizer muscles act to stabilize one joint so the desired movement can be performed in another joint. These muscles usually aren't directly involved in a movement, but work to keep you steady so that your primary muscles can do their job.

It's also important to note that there aren't specific stabilizer muscles in the body—the name simply describes exactly what these muscles do.

Another example might be chest press on an exercise ball. The primary muscles working include the chest and triceps but the abs, back, and legs work isometrically to stabilize your body.

That means just doing one exercise requires multiple muscles to fire at the same time. Strengthening those muscles will not only help your form, but it also increases your balance and coordination. The good news is, it's very easy to train your stabilizer muscles during your regular workouts.

Stability Exercise Progression

If you're a beginning exerciser, balance and stability may be a challenge, which is a great reason to focus on these areas of fitness before moving on to more challenging workouts. There's a natural progression of stability, depending on where you're starting. Here is how your exercise regimen will progress if you are a beginner so that your stabilizer muscles get stronger and your balance improves.

  • Exercise while seated. When you're seated, you have support for your lower body, so you don't have to work as hard to stabilize.
  • Stand during exercise. As soon as you stand, you involve the entire body in the exercise because you've taken away any support. Now your body has to support itself while you do the exercise.
  • Stand in a wide stance. When you stand in a wide stance, you increase your base of support, making you feel more balanced and stable.
  • Stand in a narrow stance. Bring your feet closer and you'll feel less stable, thus triggering your stabilizer muscles to kick in.
  • Stagger your feet. The next progression is to stand in a staggered position, with one foot just a bit behind the other. This immediately challenges your balance as that stable base is no longer there.
  • Use a split stance. Now try standing in a split stance where one foot is in front of the other, with the feet about three feet apart. This is the same stance you use during a lunge and, again, much more challenging to your balance than a wide stance or staggered stance.
  • Use a tandem stance. This is like standing on a balance beam, with one foot in front of the other. Try doing an exercise in this position and you'll really challenge your balance.
  • Stand on one leg. The final progression is to stand on one leg while exercising. You'll notice that every muscle in the body will contract to help keep your balance.

Balance and Stability Exercises

If you want to increase balance and stability, the only way to accomplish that goal is to work on it on a regular basis. Studies have shown that a regular stability exercise routine of about 15 minutes per day for about 4 days per week can show significant improvements in just 6 weeks.

Performing one balance workout—for example, standing on one leg—can lead to improved core stabilization and strength when practiced regularly and efficiently. This combination of strengthening effects and balance improvement can in turn help reduce pain and prevent falls. Incorporate these exercises into your day to gain the balance and stability benefits.

Beginner Exercises

You don't even need to workout to improve your balance and stability. There are exercises and moves you can do several times a day that will help improve your balance.

Try practicing your moves while watching TV, talking on the phone, when taking a break from work, or when you have some free time. Stay next to a wall at first if you feel unstable, which will keep you from from falling. As you improve, step away from the wall.

Beginner Balance Exercises

  • Stand on one leg.
  • Stand on one leg and close your eyes.
  • Stand on one leg and slowly turn your head from side to side.
  • Stand on one leg and slowly circle your opposite arm in a big circle.
  • Walk across the floor with one foot in front of the other, like you're on a balance beam.
  • Walk across the room on your toes.
  • Walk across the room on your heels.

Advanced Exercises

Once you have mastered the beginner exercises, you may want to move on to more challenging moves, especially if you are working out on a regular basis. Incorporating more balance-oriented exercises will help further develop your balance and stability.

Here are some advanced exercises you can Incorporate into your usual routine. They also are a great way to also work on strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Advanced Balance Exercises

Balance and Stability Workouts

The following workouts include a variety of gear that will help you work on balance, stability, and core strength—all things that will strengthen your stabilizer muscles as well as increase your coordination. Here's how you can incorporate these workouts into your exercise regimen.

Beginner Ball Workout

To improve your balance, try doing a beginner ball workout using an exercise ball. Sit on the exercise ball while slowly rolling your hips in circles clockwise and then counterclockwise. Repeat the move for 20 circles in each direction. This workout will allow you to balance your core and stabilize your hips.

Alternatively, place the ball on the wall and lean your back against it. Slowly squat down, rolling the ball slowly down the wall. You'll be building up abdominal strength as well as glute, thigh, and hip power. Add dumbbells and hold them out straight at shoulder height to increase the intensity of this move.

BOSU Exercises

Adding BOSU exercise moves will help you get used to using a BOSU balance trainer. For example, just standing on the BOSU ball with both feet slightly off-center of the bullseye will test your core stability. Place your hands on a wall or the back of a chair if you need a little more assistance as you work up your balance practice.

To elevate your exercises with the BOSU, try doing a crunch while seated on top of the dome. By bringing this move from the floor to the BOSU, you'll be adding a stabilizer practice into the exercise, targeting your core and obliques as you crunch up. No other equipment is required for BOSU exercises. Adding dumbbells will help you add intensity to some moves.

Exercise Ball Stretches

An exercise ball can help you bring further stability into balance exercises. Use an exercise ball when doing a lunge by placing it between your legs, resting on the ball as you deepen the stretch.

To target your chest, sit on the ball and very slowly walk your feet forward until your back is fully extended on the ball and your chest is open. Breathe deeply and feel the stretch in your chest and abdomen. Overall, exercise ball stretches will allow you to begin a stretching routine that only requires an exercise ball.

Total Body Workout

If you're looking for a fuller workout, try a total body workout. Start by performing a short warmup for up to 10 minutes to start elevating your heart rate and warming up your muscles. Then, progress through a superset of lunges, squats, leg presses, deadlifts, and rows.

Incorporate a medicine ball, exercise ball, resistance band, and dumbbells to add balance practice into each step. By alternating between moves and targeted muscles, you'll benefit from a full-body stabilization workout.

Core Exercises on the Ball

Challenge your core with core exercises that use an exercise ball and medicine ball. Incorporating an exercise ball into your routine—sitting on it, using it as a weight bench, or doing core work—is a great way to work on those stabilizer muscles without having to think about it.

Try sitting on the ball and rolling around while watching TV or sit on it while you work at a computer. Even just a few minutes a day can make a difference. You'll find that strengthening those muscles and improving your balance will spill out into other areas of your life as well.

A Word From Verywell

Proper stabilizer muscle strength is critical in helping you keep correct form in all types of workout styles. By strengthening these stabilizer muscles, you can prioritize and build up your fitness. Start incorporating these workouts into your overall regimen slowly, adding them as you notice increased stability and improved form.

Of course, if you are new to exercise or are a greater risk for falls, it is important that you talk to a healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program. Likewise, you may benefit from working with a personal trainer who can tailor a program to your needs and ensure you stay safe.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Hafström A, Malmström EM, Terdèn J, Fransson PA, Magnusson M. Improved balance confidence and stability for elderly after 6 weeks of a multimodal self-administered balance-enhancing exercise program: A randomized single arm crossover studyGerontol Geriatr Med. 2016;2:2333721416644149. doi:10.1177/2333721416644149

  3. Dizdar M, Irdesel JF, Dizdar OS, Topsaç M. Effects of balance-coordination, strengthening, and aerobic exercises to prevent falls in postmenopausal patients with osteoporosis: a 6-month randomized parallel prospective study. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2018;26(1):41-51. doi:10.1123/japa.2016-0284

  4. Carter JM, Beam WC, McMahan SG, Barr ML, Brown LE. The effects of stability ball training on spinal stability in sedentary individualsJ Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(2):429–435. doi:10.1519/R-18125.1

Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."