This time of year, I find it amusing with all of the fitness and exercise tricks that are released and pushed on to consumers. Particularly, the fitness equipment that “you can’t be fit without”! When it comes to exercise equipment, the error is never in the product itself, but rather how it is sold and used. No product in and of itself is never a solution, just perhaps a creative, ingenious way to accomplish the task. Case in point, let me tell you about a simple exercise tool that on the surface looks like something kids would play with (they do and they love ‘em; so do the dogs) and is part of 90% of my fitness programming: the stability or exercise ball, aka the fitness orb.
A Little History
The stability ball was developed in 1963 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer. It had first been called a Swiss ball after American physical therapists saw techniques used in Switzerland with great successes. Since its introduction here in the States, the stability ball became a stalwart piece of equipment used in physical and athletic therapy settings before it became popular in the fitness realm. Now, every gym, studio, or anywhere where fitness is conducted at least one of these balls can be found. But are the worth it?
Despite its popularity and wide spread use across the fitness continuum, very little research has ever been conducted. What’s more, most of the purported benefits such as greater core strength, balance training and increased strength have never been proved. Furthermore, the benefits of just sitting on the ball have never been proven either unless used in conjunction with other exercises which I will further explain. So what gives? Remember what I said previously? The error is never in the piece of equipment but rather how it is used. I will stand by and fully endorse the use of the stability ball so allow me to explain.
Due to its round nature, the stability ball is unstable; it moves and rolls. Instability will always recruit more muscles than just the primary muscles. EMG (electromyographic) studies have proven that. Stabilizing or secondary muscles are more highly recruited aiding in more total muscle activation. This “stabilizing” is what separates the stability ball from a lot of other unstable training devices. They can safely be used from the very young to the very old. The balls come in a variety of sizes from 45 – 85 cm and are generally prescribed based on the height of the individual but can easily be adapted to any size regardless of the individual’s height. So while just sitting on the ball will do very little, adding a movement or exercise to that seated position will yield results. Taking it a step further by adding more advance type movements like push ups off of the top of the ball or abdominal movements done with the both feet on the ball and even the most basic looking exercise can be that much tougher.
The stability ball is just a tool, an option or way to add more variety to your current workout routine. The possibilities are endless and with some creativity, safe and effective exercises can be accomplished with the stability ball. Just ask anyone of my hundreds of clients who have used them through the years. Never under estimate its use and when utilized properly, it can be just what you’re missing.
Til next time. Train smart, eat well, and be better