Kristin McGee with Pilates ball

The 8 Best Pilates Ball Exercises, According to a Peloton Instructor

Find out how a Pilates ball can help you level up your practice.

By Kells McPhillipsMay 8, 2024


When lifting your toe one inch suddenly becomes arduous, you know you’re in a Pilates class. This form of movement proves that even the tiniest movements can pack a big punch. Add a Pilates ball to your Pilates exercises, says Peloton instructor Kristin McGee, and this modality becomes even more of a muscle-shaking challenge.  

What Is a Pilates Ball?

A Pilates ball is a soft, air-filled ball with a circumference of around ten inches. Don’t confuse them with a medicine ball, which is weighted and hard to the touch. The Pilates version is lightweight and commonly used in (you guessed it) Pilates classes. However, they may also appear in the core section of a HIIT workout or other exercise classes. 

How Are Pilates Balls Used In Workouts? 

Using the Pilates ball essentially changes the stimulus of an exercise, challenging your body in brand new ways, according to Kristin. “They can be used in many ways: between the upper thighs to activate the pelvic floor, under the sacrum to work on stability, under the shoulders to open up the chest and work the upper abs, under the head for those with neck issues,” she says. 

While little research has been conducted on the use of Pilates balls in fitness, studies show that practicing Pilates may improve balance, protect your spine, improve your posture, and increase your core strength, The Pilates ball is just one tool, like ankle weights or a Pilates ring, to help you chase the wins of this workout modality.

How to Use a Pilates Ball

Pilates balls can be used in a myriad of ways, so make sure to follow instructions carefully and consider the stimulus this tool should be adding to your exercise. For example, if you’re performing a plank pose with the Pilates ball under your hands, the ball’s purpose is to challenge your stabilizers and increase the difficulty of the exercise. 

Finding the Right Pilates Ball For Your Needs

Here’s the good news: Pilates balls are easy to come by. Kristin recommends searching for a soft, inflatable ball rather than anything with added weight. The lighter the ball, the more versatile it will be during Pilates practice. 

8 Best Pilates Ball Exercises 

The best way to get to know the Pilates ball is to incorporate it into your next workout. Ahead, Kristin shares some of her favorite exercises for using this accessory. 

Kristin McGee demonstrates a Pilates clamshell exercise with Pilates ball

Clamshell Squeezes

Work your hips and core with this simple but challenging exercise. 

1. Lie down on your back. Roll onto one side and place your elbow on the ground. Prop your head in the palm of your hand. 

2. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and place the Pilates ball between your thighs. 

3. Squeeze the ball with your inner thighs, release, and repeat.


Take bridges up a notch with this glute-strengthening move. 

1. Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor below your knees. Slot the ball between your thighs. Place your palms flat on the ground.  

2. Squeeze the Pilates ball and lift your hips off the ground. 

3. Slowly lower yourself back to the ground. Repeat. 

Kristin McGee demonstrates a single leg bridge exercise with Pilates Ball

Single-Leg Bridge 

Yes, bridges can still get harder. This single-leg version will challenge your stability and make your core work overtime. 

1. Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor below your knees. You can inch your feet forward to make this move a little less difficult. Place the ball below one foot. 

2.  Slowly lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes as you do so. 

3. Slowly lower yourself back down to the ground and repeat. When you’re ready, switch sides. 

Kristin McGee demonstrates a side plank exercise with a Pilates ball

Forearm Side Plank

1. Start on one side, coming onto your forearm for support. Place the Pilates ball in front of you, pressing your hand down on the ball.

2. Lift your hips off the ground, with your body in a straight line from your head to your feet.

2. With your upper hand on the ball, hold the side plank, engaging your core as you do so. 

3. When you’re ready, carefully lower your body down, and switch sides.  

Toe Taps 

Classic toe taps get a makeover with this move. Because the ball is unstable, you’ll have to turn your core on to remain on the prop and tap your toes. 

1. Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place the Pilates ball under your sacrum, the triangular bone that sits at the base of your spine. 

2. Lift your legs so your knees align with your hips and your entire body forms a 90-degree angle. 

3. Slowly tap your left toes to the ground without moving your right leg. Bring your left leg up and tap your right toes to the ground. Again, make sure to keep your left leg completely still. Repeat. 

Kristin McGee demonstrates how to do Pilates Leg Circle exercise with Pilates Ball

Leg Circles

Another great core exercise, leg circles will also mobilize and work your hips. 

1. Lie down on your back. Extend your legs straight forward. Place the Pilates ball between both hands. Keep your lower back flat on the ground and point the toes.

2. Extend your opposite leg up to the ceiling, keeping your leg as straight as you can. 

3. Without moving the rest of your body, slowly draw a circle in the air with your lifted toes. After you’ve repeated a few reps, reverse the circle. 

4. Lower your leg back to the ground and switch sides. 

This old-school Pilates move proves that doing a little can actually feel like a lot. 

1. Lie down on the floor. Squeeze the ball between your ankles. Extend your legs out straight ahead of you without lifting your lower back off the ground. If it’s too challenging to straighten your legs, Kristin recommends bringing the knees into tabletop position: knees directly over your hips, legs at a 90-degree angle. 

2. Lift your shoulders off the ground and bring your arms parallel to the ground. 

3. Pump your arms up and down, engaging your core as you do so. 

Kristin McGee demonstrates a Pilates Swan Press exercise with Pilates Ball

Swan Press

Stretch your chest while working your core with this remix of yoga’s upward dog.

1. Lie on your stomach. Extend your arms forward and place the ball beneath your palms.

2. Engage your lower abs and press into the ball to slowly lift your chest off the ground. 

3. With control, lower your body back to the ground. Repeat. 

How to Incorporate Pilates Ball Exercises Into Your Routine

Kristin recommends reaching for your Pilates ball whenever you want to spice up your workout. “Add the ball whenever you feel stagnant in your practice or want to deepen your practice and fire the muscles in a new way,” she says. 

Pilates balls are a particularly invaluable fitness accessory when you don’t have access to your usual workout equipment. For example, if you’re traveling, you can easily deflate the ball and pack it in your suitcase for on-the-go workouts. 

Finally, once you’re familiar with the many uses of this ball, you can incorporate it into your Peloton Pilates classes as much as you want. Whether you’re burning out your core, challenging your legs, or targeting your arms, consider this piece of equipment the multitasker you need to dial up the heat on your sweat session.


Featured Peloton Instructor

Headshot of Peloton instructor Kristin McGee. She's wearing a red two-piece Peloton workout outfit and smiling.

Kristin McGee

Growing up in Idaho, Kristin had dreams of pursuing dance and acting in New York, but ended up as one of the most sought after yoga instructors in the city.


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