By Robert Reames, CSCS, *D, RTS1, CPT
The stability ball, a.k.a. the body ball, physio ball, exercise ball, swiss ball and "Resist-a-Ball," has most certainly been established as a staple in today's exercise world. Ball training originated as a mode for rehabilitation in Europe, becoming popular here in the U.S. in the 60s. It's here to stay. No home gym or public fitness facility should be without at least one unit of this most versatile and effective piece of exercise equipment.
The ball is relatively inexpensive, yet your return on the investment is astronomical. There are many exercises that can be done on the ball for weight loss, strength conditioning, balance, toning, core stabilization, muscle building, muscular endurance, sports-specific work and overall body conditioning. And, it's downright fun to use!
Performing exercises on the ball places your body in an environment that is unstable. Integration of many physical conditioning systems are at work. Hence, the many joint stabilizer muscles, neutralizer muscles and mechanisms are immediately incorporated to provide your body with necessary stability, coordination and balance for a given exercise. As a result, you are less prone to injury. Valuable neurological benefits are achieved as well.
Optimal postural alignment (OPA) is essential both in the gym and in all aspects of life. It allows you to maximize your exercise experience, giving you a strong muscular-skeletal foundation, and enhancing all activities of daily living as well. Most work done on the ball requires a great deal of recruitment from your core musculature, which contributes immensely to your OPA.
Ball Inflation and Sizing: When sitting on the ball with both feet firmly planted on the ground, utilizing OPA, your upper leg should be parallel to the floor. Or, the knee may be slightly above the hips. Pumping up the ball more increases the level of difficulty in a given exercise. By pumping the ball up less, you increase the amount of contact surface area to the floor, which decreases difficulty and provides a more stable foundation for the work.
45 cm ball: Shorter than 5'
55 cm ball: 5' to 5'8"
65 cm ball: 5'9" to 6'3"
75 cm ball: Taller than 6'3"
Ball Wall Squat:
Works: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus (comprehensive thigh)
Execution: Place the ball against the wall. Facing away from the wall, place your body against the ball at around mid-back level. Stand with feet planted firmly a little further than shoulder-width apart with toes facing directly forward. The knees are directly aligned with the toes and should track on the exercise between the first and second toe for optimal and safe knee alignment. Draw your navel to your spine, maintain normal breathing, keep your chest high and face straight ahead. Upon achieving this position, simply lower your hips to the floor to a comfortable range of motion (no more than 90 degrees at the knee) and return to original position. Repeat for desired amount of reps.
Points: Plant feet firmly, particularly the back half of the feet. Descend slowly as to maximize each repetition.
Works: Hamstrings, pelvic musculature, spinal erectors
Execution: Lie on your back with legs straight, placing the backs of the feet on the ball with feet together. Have your arms directly to your side for maximum stability. Raise the pelvis toward the ceiling so that your body is in one straight line. (This placement is a hip bridge, which is an exercise in itself.) From this position, bring the feet toward your glutes, bending your knee no more than 90 degrees. Return to original position. Repeat for desired amount of reps.
Points: Do not let your lower body move from side to side.
Works: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hip adductors and abductors, deep pelvic musculature
Execution: Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lying face up with the ball placed in the mid to upper back, shoulder and neck area. (You want full support for the neck and shoulder as to not put excess strain on these areas.) Your neck should be in a neutral position, not letting the head drop backward or chin down. Align your hips, knees and ankles as well for maximum stability. From this position, with control, simply lower the hips to the floor then raise them up toward the ceiling to where your hips are parallel to the floor, keeping your knees directly over your ankles, not allowing your legs to move inward or outward, and keeping the ball absolutely stable. Repeat for desired amount of repetitions.
Points: Keep your feet firmly planted, particularly the back half of the feet. Press equally through both feet.
Works: Pectoralis major, anterior (front) deltoid, triceps, core musculature
Execution: Begin by lying over the ball, placing the ball at about the top of the leg, keeping your legs straight. Place your hands on the floor in push-up position with your shoulders, elbows and hands in perfect vertical alignment. Face the floor, maintaining optimal spinal alignment. Make sure that you feel stable in this position. From here, simply bend your elbows to 90 degrees (or less if you cannot achieve 90 degrees) as you would a standard push-up, and return to original position. Repeat for desired repetitions.
Points: As you place the ball further toward your feet (increasing the distance between your hand placement and the ball), you increase the level of difficulty for this exercise. Make sure that your positioning is comfortable but challenging. Remain stable so as to not roll from side to side.
Works: Rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques
Execution: Lie on the ball face up with the ball placed at about mid back level with both feet planted firmly on the floor. Your upper body should be parallel to the floor. Place your hands behind your head for added neck support. Look at the ceiling as to maintain optimal spinal alignment. From this position, leading with the chest, bring the chest toward your knees, keeping the hips absolutely stable. (The ball will try and roll with you on this motion.) Return to beginning position. Repeat for desired reps.
Points: If you are unable to achieve the position of the upper body being parallel to the floor, then lower the hips to a comfortable yet challenging position. Note that wherever you place the hips initially for this exercise, you must stabilize the hips in this position throughout the exercise for optimal abdominal muscle recruitment.
Works: Spinal erectors, neck extensors (postural musculature)
Execution: Lie over the ball face down placing the ball at about chest to midsection area with both knees placed on the floor and arms to your side. Face the floor (not letting the head drop backward or chin to chest). From this position, bring your spine to a straight position where your spine is in total alignment. Add a slight squeeze between your shoulder blades. Return to original position and repeat for desired reps.
Points: Breathe consistently, exhaling on the downward phase of the motion. You can increase the level of difficulty for this motion by placing your hands behind your head. Do not let your body roll from side to side. If this position on the ball is not comfortable for you, then discontinue the exercise.
These are a few of the many exercises that can be done on the "Resist-a-Ball." Integrate this method of training into your fitness program. As always, with any exercise modality, do what is comfortable yet challenging for you. Broaden your horizons and incorporate all that you can into your program. Maintain consistency and safety. Continue the great work! Train to the best of your ability!
Disclaimer: All information and answers are given for educational purposes only. Your individual needs may vary. Always consult with your physician before starting or changing any exercise fitness programs and activities.