Have a Ball, Will Travel

Leaving on a jet plane for the holidays? Here’s the prop to pack in your carry-on—plus how to use it to work the entire body in 20 minutes or less.

By Zola Williams • Edited by Amanda Altman

As a dancer, I’ve been fortunate to travel the world. The only downside is not knowing whether I’ll have time to get in a Pilates workout between long flights, rehearsals and shows. Since 100 percent of my job requires strenuous movement, sometimes it can be hard to convince myself to make the extra effort to travel to a facility for a full hour of working out. Also, who knows if there will be a reputable Pilates studio in the city I’m visiting?

That’s why a small Pilates ball comes in handy! Not only is it practically weightless (unlike hand weights), but it can fit anywhere once deflated (a Magic Circle’s odd shape can be tricky to fit into your luggage!). More importantly, the ball helps me find a connection to muscles that tend to get overlooked. If I want to up the ante on my normal mat routine, adding the small ball lends just the right amount of instability.

I think the classical mat system works wonders, especially if you’re time-crunched; the full advanced repertoire can be done in about 20 minutes! You can still reap the benefits if you subtract some of the exercises you’re not particularly “feeling” that day. Read on for a few simple ways the small ball can add challenge to some of the foundational exercises, no matter where life takes you. Safe travels!

Prop: small ball that’s been slightly deflated
Reps: 3–5
Breath: Varies.
Tip: Want more challenge? Up the reps.

The Hundred

Purpose: warms the body; challenges the core
Setup: Lie on your back with your legs together and your heels on the ball. Curl up to the tips of your shoulder blades, hovering your arms off the floor with your palms down.

1. Inhale slowly for 5 counts as you pump your arms up above thigh height, and then back down; repeat as you exhale for 5 counts. Do 10 sets.

Tips: Press your heels into the ball to engage your hamstrings—don’t let the ball bounce up and down, or roll from side to side! Feel free to experiment with flexed feet, which might offer more stability. As you pump your arms, imagine that you’re splashing through water.

Advanced: Hover one leg off the ball, and then switch legs midway.

The Roll-Up

Purpose: promotes articulation of the spine and openness in the back body while working the abdominals
Setup: Same as the Hundred, but extend your arms toward the ceiling.

1. Begin to roll up, peeling your spine off the floor one vertebra at a time.

2. Keep your spine in a C curve as you reach your fingers toward your toes.

3. Roll back down with control.

Tips: Press your heels into the ball. Breathe naturally throughout.
Modification: Place your hands behind your thighs, or let them slide on the floor alongside your body.
Advanced: Begin with your arms by your ears, and keep them there throughout.


Purpose: works the back extensors
Setup: Lie facedown with your legs together. Extend your arms overhead, and stack your hands on top of the ball.

1. Inhale as you push your hands into the ball and lift your chest off the floor.

 2. Exhale as you lower.

Tips: There should not be an arch in your low back—feel your hip points pull upward toward your low ribs to maintain length in your lower back. Keep your shoulders away from your ears, gliding your blades down your back, especially as you lift your chest.

Get the rest of this article and more exercises like this in our current issue, available on newstands and on Magzter now!

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