Exercise Progression

Exercise progression is necessary in any exercise program to improve strength and endurance. Muscles must be challenged continuously in order to develop. Muscle will adapt over time to a given load, becoming more efficient. If your body is challenged beyond what it is used to doing it will respond by increasing strength and endurance. For continued benefits from exercising, challenges need to be increased.

Factors that determine difficulty
Static exercises
Dynamic exercises
Exercises involving limb movement
Fundamentals of any exercise progression

Factors that determine the difficulty of an exercise ball exercise:

  1. Lever System - As ball support moves further from the point of support on the floor, the more difficult the exercise becomes. The closer the ball is to the midline of the body the less flexibility and stabilizing is required. For example during push ups on the ball, the longer the distance between the support points ( the ball and the arms) the harder the exercise will become.

  2. Base of Support -
  • Reducing the contact surface of any supporting limb can increase the neural demand of any exercise. Push ups with one foot on the ball is more difficult than push ups with both feet on the ball.

  • Blowing up the ball so that is is firmer reduces the area of contact of the ball with the floor making it less stable.

  • Moving the supporting limbs on the ball closer together reduces your base of support also making the exercise more demanding.

  1. Speed of movement - The faster movement changes your centre of gravity relative to your base of support requiring quicker adjustments.

  2. Adding Resistance - The addition of weights and resistance bands 
  3. is great for exercise progression.

  4. Visual Input - Closing your eyes during the exercise removes visual feedback as to where your body and the ball are in space forcing you to rely on proprioceptive input form joints and muscles.


A static exercise ball exercise is one that requires you to maintain a certain position for an extended period of time to emphasize endurance in the spinal stabilizers. When you are beginning an exercise ball exercise program you might hold each position for 5 -10 seconds. To progress these hold each for longer periods, up to 30-45 seconds. A good measure of how long to hold a position is technique failure. As soon as you lose your neutral position, the benefits of the exercise are gone. Take a rest. As your endurance improves, you will only need to do say 5 repetitions held for 45 seconds each. An example of a static ball exercise is the reverse plank. 


A dynamic exercise ball exercise require you to move while maintaining a stable trunk or core. An exercise progression for this type of exercises is to perform more repetitions. Use technique failure as a measure of how many repetitions to perform. Perform as many repetitions as you can before your technique fails. Then rest.  Once you can perform 20 or 30 repetitions before failure then it is probably time to move on to a more challenging exercise. An example of a dynamic exercise is the rolling plank. 


 Exercise progression for these exercises can be made by simply adding light ankle and wrist weights. Make sure you are able to perform 20-30 repetitions of the exercise without weight easily enough before adding the extra resistance. Remember that you are increasing the challenge to your core stability as well as your prime movers and you will not be able to use as much weight on the ball as you do a bench. An example using limb movements is the prone leg raise exercise. 

The fundamental rules of exercise progression for training the core are the same as those for training any other segment in the kinetic chain.

Simple to Complex:
Start simple, progressing to more complex exercises only after you master the basic movements of each exercise.

Known to Unknown:
The training environment should begin with controlled, low-neuromuscular-demand exercises and then proceed to less-controlled, more proprioceptively challenging environments. Start an exercise with a spotter or someone to help support the ball while you get accustomed to the movement patterns involved.

Low Force to High Force:
Train with low resistance controlled movements until you can master the exercise. A progression in exercise is to add light wrist or ankle weights.

Static to Dynamic:
Start with exercises in a stationary posture, then as those movements are mastered, add more dynamic movements. Practice bridging for sustained periods prior to trying the hamstring curls. Practice the reverse bridge and hold it before trying leg raises.

Lying to Sitting to Kneeling to Standing (two legs) to Standing (one leg):
Lying and sitting are proprioceptively less challenging than standing. Standing on one leg is proprioceptively more challenging than standing on two legs.

Core exercise programs should be tri-planar, multi-dimensional and proprioceptively enriched. Because the core consists of slow-twitch muscles, it can be trained daily. However, it is important to vary the movement and type of loading to prevent over training and avoid possible injury.

How do you know where to start?

Try the Active Straight Leg Raise Test.
Read some instructions.
Start with the basics