Whatever you call it – swiss ball, exercise ball, fitness ball or balance ball, they are all big, wonderfully bouncy and keep you fit. Great for flexibility, balance and targeting specific areas, exercise balls are also one of the top tools for training your core and abs.
Exercise balls are appearing more and more regularly in gyms . This is because fitness experts have realised that the huge ball which looks like it belongs in a playground actually offers a highly effective way to get fit. Originally used by physiotherapists for rehabilitation, exercise balls are increasingly used by personal trainers, athletics coaches and PE teachers.
So why are balls so effective?
Because of their unstable nature they force the body to work multiple muscles at once as it tries to keep balance. For example, tricep dips performed on an exercise ball activates more muscles to keep you stable, as well as moving you up and down. You are basically getting more exercise in less time. Now that’s got to be good for those of us with busy lives.
Core muscles require technique
One of the main reasons people choose to use exercise balls is because they believe ball-based exercises increase core strength. Doing exercises to strengthen your core is essential to improve your performance in all activities and minimise injuries. Research suggests that virtually any exercise performed on balls will improve the strength of your core. And that includes getting a six-pack!
However, the quality of the technique appears to be crucial to reaping the benefits. In other words, you really have to perform any exercise properly to gain any extra benefits from using the ball. Otherwise you may as well perform the exercise on the floor.
For example, the popular swiss ball crunchie is meant to have a superior training effect than floor-based crunchies. But many people perform this by balancing their lower back on the ball and raising their trunk up with their hip flexors. While this is still effective, maximum benefit is gained by fixing their gluteals to hold the pelvis fast while lifting their shoulders only. Otherwise you might as well ditch the ball and do it on the floor.
The solution? Get a professional to show you exactly how to use an exercise ball. All qualified gym instructors will know how, and it only takes one visit to learn a technique to boost your results.
Exercise ball vs office chair
Many people purchase an exercise ball as an alternative to the office chair. This is often to increase core strength, reduce back pain and improve posture. However, recent research suggests that sitting on an exercise ball offers little advantage over your usual chair, with only minor increases in core muscle activation. In fact, some studies show that people may be harming their backs by sitting on a ball because an increase in “spinal shrinkage” can occur. Most people end up slumping forwards, just like in a normal chair. Greater discomfort is sometimes reported, although many people do feel that lower back pain is improved. Our advice? Try it out, and see how it feels for a few weeks. If things don’t work out get an ergonomically-fitted chair and leave the exercise ball for exercising.
Exercising with exercise balls
Push ups (great for the chest and core)
Ball wall squats (thigh and butt)
Prone fly (shoulders and arms)
Swiss ball jacknife (challenging, works your core muscles and lower abs)
Go on - have a ball!
by Kath Webb
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