In the age of fitness gimmicks and equipment that promise to produce staggering results in 2 minutes or less of use per day, most of us “more” informed people have become weary of the fitness equipment industry. Yet one simple piece of equipment that has literally stood the test of time and is generally accepted by all health and fitness professionals as being effective, is the stability ball. The stability ball is also called a yoga, Thera-, exercise, fitness, or Swiss ball and regardless of the name given, it is an air-filled heavy-duty plastic ball that comes is a variety of sizes to better fit individual users. The stability ball is an inexpensive piece of equipment and because of the fitness benefits that they offer it is a must for all exercises to have in the home and office.
Although many people think of the stability ball as a relatively recent invention, they have been around since the early 1900’s. Originally they were developed for use in rehabilitation by physical therapist and continued being used in physical therapy and sports medicine fields today. Stability balls are very durable and generally have a weight rating of 600-700 pounds, so there is little reason to worry about them popping during regular use.
Among the health benefits offered by the stability ball, the fact that they assist in stretching and flexibility gains is paramount. Many people that suffer from chronic back pain have found that they are able to stretch the muscles in the back using the stability ball because of the back support it offers. Stretching while standing or lying on the floor offers little to no back support, and therefore make it impossible for back pain suffers to effectively stretch those muscles to improve mobility. The stability ball supports the entire length of the spine when you lie over the ball on your back. Even for those of us that do not suffer from back pain, because of the support of the stability ball, we are able to stretch much more deeply, and can increase range of motion and mobility.
Fitness trainers began using stability balls in their training programs as a result of the core strengthening benefits they offer. Even just sitting on a stability ball requires that we engage the core muscles (the muscles in the abdominals and lower back) in order to maintain balance. Abdominal exercises on the stability ball are more effective in that exercisers must constantly engage the core while on the ball. Also, any weight training exercises that you perform on a bench can be performed with dumbbells on the stability ball. Again because of the need to maintain balance on the stability ball, users increase the strength of stabilizing muscles that would not otherwise be worked by the same exercises, if performed on a traditional weight training bench.
Stability balls can help users to improve their posture. Using a stability ball helps to improve alignment of the natural curve of the spine. Having a stronger core also improves posture. Using a stability ball in place of a desk chair at work is an easy way to improve posture, while also burning additional calories throughout the day resulting from maintaining balance and keeping the core tight. Stability balls also introduce an element of fun for users, so if you are using one in place of a chair, you are much more likely to rock back and forth and bounce around during the day which burns calories. If using a stability ball in place of a chair, it is important that you use the correct size ball. Find a ball that allows your thighs to be parallel to the floor when seated.
In Wellness and Love, Dr. Chris