The baler—or hay baler—is a standing abdominal exercise that mimics the same motions you’d make while baling hay on a farm but uses a medicine ball for resistance instead. There are ways to modify it for different fitness levels, making this exercise a solid addition to your strength training workout.
Also Known As: Hay baler, side oblique medicine ball toss
Equipment Needed: Medicine ball
Level:Intermediate to advanced
How to Do a Baler
When first learning the baler exercise, use a small, lightweight medicine ball. As you become more comfortable with the move and begin to increase your abdominal strength, you can add more weight.
Before beginning, make sure you have enough space in front of your body and on both sides. Then, stand in a split stance position, with your feet about hip-distance apart and the right foot slightly behind the left. Hold the medicine ball in both hands, directly in front of you.
- Rotate the upper body to the right, moving the ball below the right hip.
- Reverse the motion to sweep the ball up and across your body, lifting it above the left shoulder. As you do this, shift your weight slightly onto the left foot. Keep your arms straight throughout the movement.
- Bring the ball back to the right hip and repeat the steps, completing your desired number of repetitions before performing this exercise on the other side (with your left foot slightly behind the right and rotating from below the left hip to above the right shoulder).
Benefits of a Baler
The rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis—all of which are abdominal muscles—become engaged during the baler exercise. The muscles in your shoulders and back are also activated to help move the ball.
The baler provides benefits of both open and closed kinetic chain exercises. The kinetic chain is a pathway of interconnected body segments, joints, and muscles that work together to create movement in the body. Open exercises involve a working limb that is unfixed, whereas a closed exercise has a fixed limb.
Open chain exercises are better for isolating muscles, creating rotational forces, and are often used with concentric muscle contraction. Closed chain exercises help the muscles work together and have been found superior for producing eccentric contraction and improving joint stability and dynamic balance.
When the arms are holding the medicine ball, they are unfixed, representing an open chain. During the lowering phase, the working limbs (the legs) are fixed, making this portion of the movement a closed chain exercise.
Standing abdominal exercises like the baler provide advantages for people who cannot comfortably get down on the floor to exercise. This includes people with obesity, those who are in the latter stages of pregnancy, or individuals with knee or hip problems.
The baler also mimics activities of daily living more so than many other abdominal exercises. Lifting groceries out of the trunk of your car, putting a suitcase in an overhead compartment, and lifting a child all require you to brace your core and stabilize while moving a heavy object up and away, just like the baler exercise.
Functional training can be especially beneficial as we age. These exercises can improve the way that our muscles work together so we feel more coordinated, allowing us to maintain our independence for longer.
Other Variations of the Baler
There are a few different ways to make this movement easier or harder, so you can adjust it to your fitness level.
Half-Kneeling Hay Baler
The simplest way to modify the baler for a beginner is to do it in a half-kneeling position. This variation is performed on one knee with the other foot placed on the floor in front of you. This position provides more stability and is easier on the back.
Lunge Stance Baler
You can also do the baler in more of a lunge position. Lunges target a number of lower body muscles, from your quads and hamstrings to the glutes, hips, and calves.
When moving the ball below the hip, lower into a slight lunge position with both knees bent. As you lift out of the lunge, raise the body out of the lunge. Return to the starting position and repeat the movement.
The heel of the back foot should remain on the floor during the upper body rotation, while the heel of the front foot lifts off the floor and stays lifted during the sweeping movement.
Squat Stance Baler
This variation engages the muscles in the thighs and glutes as well as the core and shoulders. Start with the feet hip-distance apart with the medicine ball in your hands in front of you. Lower into a squat position while rotating and bringing the ball down toward your right heel.
Lift out of the squat and sweep the ball across your body and over your left shoulder. As you do so, shift your weight slightly onto the left foot. Return to the squat, bring the ball back toward the right heel, and repeat the movement.
You can also perform the baler with cables. To do so, position the cable pulley so the handle is slightly lower than hip height. (The cable should be on your right side, about one foot away.) Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.
Reach for the cable pulley with both hands and sweep it up and across the body, finishing above the left shoulder. Return to the starting position and repeat. Once you’ve completed your desired reps, repeat with the cable on the left side.
The cable baler can also be performed with a squat. Simply position the cable lower so that when you reach down to begin the movement, you have to lower the body into a squat position.
If you want to add a stability challenge, this movement can be performed on a BOSU balance trainer or stability board. Try this variation without any resistance first. Once you feel comfortable staying balanced during the entire range of movement, add weight slowly.
Studies have shown that resistance training performed on unstable surfaces, like the BOSU, helps to improve neuromuscular function and postural stability, especially in those recovering from injury.
Baler With Leg Lift
For another stability challenge, add a leg lift to this move. This version of the hay baler improves balance and adds glute activation. To do it, follow the squat baler instructions and bring the ball to your right hip.
As you move the medicine ball across the body and over the left shoulder, shift your body weight onto the left foot and lift the right leg slightly off the ground. While lifting the right leg, keep it straight and fully extended. As you bring the ball back down, return the foot to the ground and repeat.
There are a few common blunders to watch for when doing the baler exercise. Be on the lookout for these so you can avoid them, which will make the move safer and more effective.
Swinging Too Much
The movements in a hay baler should be fluid, but you don’t want to use too much momentum, as a real hay baler on a farm would do. Using too much momentum also increases the risk of accidents from either releasing the ball or injuring your back during the rotation of the trunk.
Controlling the movement requires (and builds) greater strength and muscular stability. So keep moving during the baler, but always retain control.
Rounding the Back
It’s easy to roll the shoulders forward or round the back, especially if the weight is too heavy. Try not to slouch during this move. Instead, keep the back straight and strong from start to finish.
Safety and Precautions
Always seek the guidance of your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise or coming back to exercise after an injury. You can also work with a qualified fitness trainer to get form tips and exercise advice.
This exercise may not be appropriate for people with lower back problems. Those with shoulder problems, such as a rotator cuff injury, should also use caution when performing variations of this movement. If you have a history of back or shoulder issues, speak with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before attempting this move. You may also want to work with a personal trainer to ensure that you maintain good form.
Stop the exercise immediately if you experience pain in your shoulders, back, or hips. While some discomfort is normal when pushing muscles beyond their regular limits, exercise should never be painful.
For all variations of the hay baler, start with 5 to 7 repetitions on one side, then change sides and complete 5 to 7 repetitions on the other side. Add repetitions before increasing weight.
Try It Out
Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:
- Intermediate Abs and Core Workout
- Advanced Ab Workout for Super Core Strength
- Total Body Strength Circuit Workout