Exercise balls are fun, easy-to-use and are loved by physiotherapists the world over for their extremely powerful benefits, including core strength, muscle development, flexibility, balance and posture. Using an exercise ball can increase overall health and stability, help prevent injury, and aid in physical recovery…
What Is An Exercise Ball?
Exercise balls, also known as Swiss balls, stability balls, physioballs, or fit balls, are large and vinyl, used to strengthen and stretch the body, improving core stability and balance. The soft elastic air-filled balls come in five sizes ranging from 35 to 85 centimeters (14 to 34 inches) in diameter, and can be sat on, squeezed, lifted or used to lean against. When selecting an exercise ball, it’s important to choose the correct size. To do this, sit on the ball with both feet flat on the floor. If your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, then it’s the right fit!
Benefits Of Using An Exercise Ball
There are endless ways to use these balls, and they can benefit anyone from pregnant women to people recovering from injuries…
For Core Strength
This is one of the most recognized benefits of fit ball exercises because there are so many sit-up and crunch variations you can do with the ball. As well as that, balance is a key part of using an exercise ball, which stabilizes the core and works the abdominal muscles and lower back muscles, which protect your spine, pelvis and shoulders. These muscles are extremely important and we use them often in daily tasks, such as lifting and reaching. By working on core stability and muscle condition, you can protect against injury, especially around the back. Some of the muscles you work during fit ball and balance exercises include the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliquus abdominis and erector spinae.
For Muscle Development
As well as working the large group of abdominal and back muscles, you can target just about every muscle in your body using an exercise ball. Some of the exercises below target arm, calf, inner thigh, hip and pectoral muscles, for example. The ball can be used as a weight bearing tool, for example, squeezing it between your ankles to work your inner thighs. You can use it to lift up and down over your head, working the muscles around your shoulders, which are great for posture.
Exercise balls are extremely beneficial for stretching and increasing flexibility. They can be used to aid yoga poses, or to warm up, cool down and stretch before and after a workout. Because they are so supportive but soft, you can use them to aid with backbends, seated forward folds and side body stretches, to name just a few. For example, to work on your backbends, you can begin by leaning your lower back against the ball, squatting down, but not sitting on the floor. Curl back, pushing yourself up and over from your feet so that you are lying over the ball. Extend your arms over your head, placing your hands on the ground behind you, and release your head and neck back and down. You should feel a significant stretch along the front of your body, while, at the same time, working your back muscles.
Just about every exercise you do on the fit ball works on balance, especially any which involve sitting or lying on it. Balance exercises like this constantly work just about every muscle in your body, particularly your stabilizer muscles, which are largely around your core and back. This, in turn, increases core stability and strength, having a knock-on effect for core strength and balance…
…And posture! Yes, by working on balance and stabilizer muscles, you are also working on posture! In order to stay balanced on an exercise ball, your stabilizer muscles need to be engaged, and that involves good posture. Your back should be straight, shoulder blades back and down, chest open and abs engaged. By practicing this position, you are incidentally working on your posture and practicing good posture. Not only that, but you can also use your ball to target postural muscles around the shoulders and upper back. For example, lifting the ball up and over your head, opening your chest and releasing your shoulder blades towards each other and down your back as a repetition exercise, you are strengthening those important postural muscles.
Exercise balls make very useful workout equipment for pregnant women to exercise with. They can be used to relieve discomfort, prepare for childbirth and maintain overall fitness. As well as strengthening the legs, back and core muscles, which can condition the abdominal muscles for labor, it can also help with relaxation, comfort and physical relief. With the extra weight the body has to carry during pregnancy, women can often alter their correct posture, putting excess strain on unwitting muscles. That’s where the exercise ball can come into play again, working on those deep supportive muscles in the lower back and core, improving posture and minimizing back pain.
Exercise Ball Workouts
There are countless repetition exercises and ways you can use your fit ball. Here is a sequence that targets every muscle group in your body…
This is one of the most recognized fit ball exercises, but crunches on the ball are actually much more effective than doing them on the floor because you can’t ‘fake it’ or collapse into your lower back – you have to practice balance at the same time.
Sit on the ball and place your hands either behind your head or crossed over your chest. Walk your feet away to a 90-degree angle from the floor so that your middle back is resting on the ball. Use your core to lift your upper body by about 45-degrees while scooping your deep abs towards your spine (think of your navel moving towards your back). Make sure you don’t strain your neck or lead with your head – your core should be doing all the work. As you inhale, return to your starting position. Continue 15 to 20 reps, then sit back up normally on the ball for a 10 to 20 second rest and repeat, completing a total of three rounds.
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