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Exercise Analysis #2: Ball Squats vs. Traditional Squats


Exercise Analysis #2: Ball Squats vs. Traditional Squats


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We at the Cybex Research Institute (CRI) see many variations of the squat exercise.  One popular variation is when someone leans up against a physio-ball placed between their back and a wall.  The ball allows you to easily ‘roll’ up and down the wall as you complete the squat range of motion.  One might assume that leaning against the wall is a safer alternative to the traditional squat because the ball provides you with some support… but is this true?

Episode 2 of our exercise analysis series examines the biomechanics of the legs during both the traditional squat and ball squat.  We found that performing the exercise with the physio-ball results in reduced glute and hamstring involvement and an increase in quadriceps involvement compared to the standard body weight squat.  Thus, the exercise becomes much more knee-focused with the use of the ball.  If one objective of the exercise is to protect the knees from increased stress, then leaning against the ball may not be advisable.  However, if an exerciser is unable to complete a standard squat because of glute weakness, then the ball squat might be an acceptable alternative – just be aware of its limited ability to increase the strength of the glutes and hamstrings.

We should be careful not to simply follow popular trends when prescribing or performing exercises.  It is always important to prioritize the desired training outcome, while considering potential stresses that we may be imposing on ourselves or our clients.


Cory L. Hofmann, M.S.
Research Project Manager, Cybex Research Institute

Cybex is a provider and manufacturer of premium commercial fitness equipment.  Content featured in the Cybex Fitness Blog is meant to inspire healthy living and wellness and should not be taken as medical advice. For medical advice please consult a doctor. 


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Great stuff as usual Cory! So for beginners, instead of using a ball to "teach" appropriate squat technique, we should probably use an exercise like a box squat, as the ball squat did not efficiently engage the hip extensors? 
However, it appears that the ball squat may be an appropriate exercise for beginners looking to strengthen the quads. This is probably why it appears in so many rehabilitation programs...not so much as a low level squat technique exercise, but rather as a way to strengthen the quads without the use of a leg extension machine. 
It would be interesting to see a comparison of the ball squat and leg extension machine (comparing extensor torques).
Posted @ Monday, March 03, 2014 8:18 PM by Scott Moody
Hello, I am a citizen of Spain, I feel my poor English. 
I agree with the information given in this article, is something I already knew. Is it feasible or interesting to do squats on fitness ball to strengthen the muscles that support the knee gives further eliminating mechanical stress on the joint? Knowing that in that position he falls more in the distal fibers of the quadriceps, is not, therefore, more interesting in people with a degenerate knee? Thank you.
Posted @ Tuesday, March 04, 2014 4:09 PM by Nacho
Very interesting, I never thought of the stress on my knees doing squats maybe the ball is the way to go.
Posted @ Thursday, March 13, 2014 8:16 AM by Calgary Crossfit @fitnessequipment
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