Having a 'Ball' With Exercise
Exercise balls are a recent trend in fitness, and they target muscles that are often forgotten.
"The muscles of the 'core' are the true workhorses of the
body, as they are essential to posture, spinal alignment and support, balance,
and all movement -- both everyday movements as well as exercise," says Jude
Sullivan, a clinical exercise physiologist at the University of Wisconsin
Health Sports Medicine Center. "The muscles of the core are located deep in
your pelvis, abdomen, trunk, and back, and they can be targeted directly
through the use of exercise balls."
Exercise balls, which are large, vinyl balls with varying
degrees of inflation, are also known as Swiss balls, physioballs, spine balls,
or theraballs. They are inexpensive, easy to use and, unlike other forms of
exercise and stretching, they can be fun.
On the Ball
"Exercise balls are used mostly as a
support for strength and stretching exercises," says Richard Cotton, a
spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. The kicker, he says, is that
"the instability of the support activates muscles that would
normally not be stimulated by traditional, well-supported exercise
By introducing the concept of instability into an exercise or
rehabilitation program, exercise balls find the core muscles in the body and
put them to work by forcing a person to maintain balance and proper posture
while doing an exercise -- or risk falling off the ball.
"Exercise balls challenge your core strength," says
Sullivan, who is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
"When sitting on an exercise ball, you suddenly become aware of your trunk
area by virtue of sitting on an unstable surface. This increased awareness, in
theory, will educate the user to better use their core muscles to maintain
their position, essentially counteracting the instability of the ball."
Mastering the Bounce
When first attempting to sit on an exercise ball, it may look
easy, but it's not. First-time users should get help from an exercise
physiologist, certified trainer, or physical therapist to learn how to properly
use the ball. But the good news is that exercise balls come with a low-risk for
"Exercise balls are very forgiving," says Sullivan.
"You can't break them, and more importantly, they won't likely hurt the
To begin, you should find an exercise ball that is appropriate
for your size.
"The strength of an exercise ball is
really important, as is the size of the ball," says Cotton.
Exercise balls come in a range of sizes; to
be appropriate for a person's size, it should allow the hips and knees to relax
at a 90-degree angle, while the back is in a neutral position.