Exercise got you down? Want to shake up your routine? Well, have a ball! An exercise ball, that is! The use of an exercise ball (also known as pilates ball or Swiss ball) can provide much-needed variety in your regular workout regimen. Exercise balls are user-friendly enough that novices can use them right away, to set themselves on the road to better health. Exercise balls can help improve the tone of your muscles, and help your sense of balance. They are filled with air, so they are comfortable to use. They are not heavy, and they can take a lot of hard use. Some exercise balls can support as much as 600 pounds of weight.
The plastic exercise ball itself was invented in the 1960’s by an Italian chemist; however a doctor in Switzerland started incorporating the use of exercise balls at a physical therapy clinic she headed. That’s why exercise balls are sometimes called Swiss balls, and not Italian balls. It didn’t take long for Swiss ball exercises to catch on in America and around the world. Today, many physical therapists, personal trainers, and orthopedic surgeons recommend the use of Swiss ball exercises.
Exercise balls are lightweight, inexpensive, and available at many sporting goods stores and online. They are available in a variety of different colors and sizes and are frequently utilized in tandem with other exercise equipment. For example, to keep the ball from rolling around too much while you exercise with it, you can use stability cushions positioned under the ball, to help it stay in one place. Also, new exercises are continually being developed that use dumbbells and cable systems along with exercise ball training.
Let’s talk about some of the many ways you can get a healthy body in this way. By incorporating exercise ball training, you can:
Improve your flexibility. Correctly and safely using an exercise ball can improve your flexibility. Because of the large, round shape of the ball, you will experience an increased range of motion not found in many traditional exercises. You can utilize an exercise ball during the warm-up and cool down phases of your workout. This will prevent injury, and will also help the flexibility and functionality of your muscles and joints.
Strengthen your core muscles. Proper use of an exercise ball can help strengthen your abdominal muscles and your lower back muscles. These are known as core muscles, or simply your “core”. Your core helps keep your body stable. This is the group of muscles we use mostly throughout the day, doing tasks like lifting and reaching. Some of the muscles in the core are the erector spinae, obliquus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis. These core muscles and others help your body move in all directions, while keeping the body stable. A strong core protects your lower back and helps balance your body while you carry heavy objects.
Improve your balance. Just sitting on the exercise ball involves working your stabilizer muscles. To keep your balance on the ball, which is harder than it looks, your body uses your abdominal and back muscles. For this reason, utilizing the exercise ball in your workout promotes healthy posture. Keeping a correct posture and spinal alignment helps prevent injury, both while using the exercise ball, and throughout your daily life.
To get started doing ball exercises, all you’ll need is the ball itself! You can incorporate cushions or dumbbells after you get used to exercising with the ball. Exercise balls are available in many sizes depending on your height and weight, and are sold for as little as twenty dollars. With any exercise program, make sure to ask your doctor before you begin. It’s also important to start slowly, warm up beforehand, and concentrate on proper breathing. Especially for ball exercises, make sure to focus on your posture. Proper posture means ensuring your back is straight. Sit tall, and don’t lock your knees.
Starting any new exercise program can be a little disorienting. Here are a few safety precautions you should keep in mind before you begin:
Use the correct size and air pressure. You’ll want to make sure, right from the beginning, that the exercise ball you are using is the proper size, and that it’s properly inflated. A good rule of thumb is, when sitting on the exercise ball, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Make sure your exercise ball is properly inflated using the air pump included, and note the air pressure recommendations written on the box or on the ball itself.
Exercise area and clothing. Although a Swiss ball takes up less room than other exercise equipment like a Bow flex machine or a yoga swing, you’ll need lots of open floor space. Since the ball is movable, and you’ll initially have to work hard to keep your balance, you’ll want to avoid using exercise mats or throw rugs which can change position and slip under you. Wear good athletic shoes to keep a good grip on the floor, and wear a shirt while you work out to avoid injury from slipping on the ball.
Storing your exercise ball. The simplicity of working out with basically an inflatable plastic ball should not be taken for granted. Avoid storing your exercise ball in a very warm place. The air inside the ball could expand, and cause the ball to break. Conversely, in cold environments, the air would contract, and cause the ball to shrink. Before starting a session with the exercise ball, always verify that it’s properly inflated.
Here are some exercises you can do using your Swiss ball. First, we’ll start with exercises for the beginners.
Beginner sit-ups. Sit on the ball with your feet flat, and spread as wide as your hips. Sit tall, and position your shoulders directly above your hips. Cross your arms at your chest, lean back, and inch your feet forward so your lower back is resting on the ball. Your body should be parallel to the floor, from your knees all the way to the top of your head. Curl your chin and raise your head and shoulders until you can see the tops of your knees. Don’t attempt to sit all the way up. All you’re doing is flexing your core, between your hips and ribcage. Return to the parallel position, and repeat ten times.
Beginner leg extensions. Sit on the ball with your feet flat, and spread as wide as your hips. Sit tall, and position your shoulders directly above your hips. Lift one foot and straighten your leg, so that your calf is parallel to the floor. Hold for ten seconds. Try to keep the ball stable by using your abs and your other leg. Slowly lower your foot to the floor and raise your other foot. Repeat ten times, each side.
Beginner ball lifts. Lie on your back with the exercise ball between your feet. Interlace your fingers, and hold your hands behind your head. Tighten your abdominal muscles, and squeeze the ball between your feet. Keeping your legs straight, lift the ball to the ceiling. Keep lifting the ball until your legs are at a right angle to the floor. Hold for a second or two. Then, lower the ball, but don’t touch the floor. Keep the ball raised, to within an inch of the floor, and repeat ten times.
Beginner ball squats. Stand with your back to the wall, and put the ball between your lower back and the wall. Lean back against the exercise ball, and inch your feet forward. Your knees should be above your ankles, and your thighs even with the floor. Hold that position for ten seconds, then push back up to a standing position. Repeat ten times.
Ready to take it to the next phase? Here are some intermediate ball exercises that are a bit more challenging:
Intermediate standing plank: With one leg extended behind you, lie down on the ball, bend your elbows ninety degrees, and rest your elbows and forearms on the ball. Bring your other leg back so your feet are together. Hold for ten seconds, and repeat. To intensify your workout, keep your elbows straight, and support yourself on the ball using just your straight arms.
Intermediate ball lunge: Stand up straight, and put the exercise ball behind you. Put one foot on top of the ball, so that the top of your foot rests on the ball. Step your other foot forward approximately six inches, and bend both knees deeply. Make sure your front knee does not extend past your toes. This exercise challenges your stability plus your strength, so attempt ten reps on each side.
Intermediate reverse extension: Lie down on the ball, with your chest resting on the ball. Rest your fingers and toes on the floor. Now, roll yourself forward so that your hands are under your shoulders. Your hips should now be resting on the ball. With feet together, tighten your core and lift your legs until your entire body is parallel to the floor. Hold for a second or two, and then repeat ten times.
Try these exercises, or invent your own! Enjoy using your new exercise ball. Your body will thank you!