Stability Ball Training – Benefits of Exercising with a Ball

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One of the most versatile pieces of equipment used today by conditioning professionals is the Stability Ball, also known as “Swiss balls”,”Physio Balls”, “Balance Balls”, etc. The Stability Ball has a prominent role in the world of clinical rehabilitation.

More recently, due to their effectiveness in developing balance and core strength, athletic trainers, coaches, personal trainers and physical education teachers have begun to integrate them into their training programs. Now they are the new “buzz” in the world of athletic and functional conditioning.

Due the Stability Ball’s success and growing popularity, the last decade has seen the birth of various programs developed to educate professionals on their use and multiple applications.

In Europe, they have been used in schools as chairs. The benefit of this type of application has reported as; improved focus, concentration, handwriting skills, better understanding of class material, and better organizational skills. There are several pilot studies in the US using the Stability Ball in schools and the preliminary data is consistent with that found in Europe.

The Stability Ball is likely one of the most versatile pieces of equipment. It’s fun, it’s easy to use and everybody from pediatrics to geriatrics literally finds the stability ball to be something unique, effective, inexpensive and productive. Another unique feature about the stability ball is that it employs the neuromuscular system in a way that no other piece of exercise equipment can. They incorporate the use of:

  • Multiple muscle systems
  • Neurologically induced muscular responses
  • Normal and natural process of balance
  • The body’s own natural processes
  • Establishing, restoring and maintaining balance

stability-ball-training-3Therapists with athletic backgrounds quickly realized that the Stability Ball could be applied more aggressively to actually enhance the performance of athletes. Now, the stability ball can be found in just about every professional strength facility. Articles with many top name athletes using the stability ball have made their way into conditioning magazines, furthering the popularity of this device.

As the popularity of the Stability Ball grew, it also started to make its way into fitness conferences. As professionals using the balls delivered educational presentations, personal trainers immediately saw it as a tool to enhance client interest and performance. Personal trainers have now brought the Stability Ball into commercial training facilities. Just about every commercial fitness facility has at least one stability ball. Some have even developed group classes.

Due to the Stability Ball’s popularity within the rehabilitation and fitness industry, they have also made their way into the private sector. While the initial home use was directed toward rehabilitation, the stability ball is now used by many as a chair for their office, for regular strength training, flexibility training and for relaxation. Most at home users employ them regularly to keep their core functioning at an optimal level.

The science and practice behind the Stability Ball goes beyond anecdotal observations into scientific efficacy. Stability exercise balls have become a very popular tool within the clinical rehabilitation setting. Their versatility allows their use with any population. Recently, stability exercise balls have become popular outside rehab settings. Their effectiveness in developing balance and core strength has earned them a spot in the world of athletic and functional conditioning.

Various strength and conditioning experts have designed a multitude of exercises covering the entire body with stability balls. In fact, the only limitation encountered when using this great conditioning tool is your imagination.

Ball Selection
Selecting a stability exercise ball is simple. A properly sized exercise ball will allow you to sit on it with your knees and hip at 90 degrees. Using different size balls will allow you more flexibility and variation with your stability ball training.

General Recommendations
The following recommendations will increase the safety and fun of working with the stability exercise ball.

  1. Always exercise with a shirt – a sweaty body will slide off the ball which could cause an injury, especially if you’re using the ball in conjunction with free weights.
  2. Avoid the use of any type of support or anchors for supporting your limbs when training with the stability exercise ball. The whole idea is to train in an unstable neuromuscular environment.
  3. When using external resistance, opt for lighter loads than you would when training on a standard bench. Do not use high loads to failure with this type of training.
  4. Spotters are a good idea when using external resistance equipment. However, if you are using appropriate loads and form, nothing more than minimal supervision is generally required.

Body Alignment
Unless otherwise indicated, a neutral alignment of the spine should be maintained when exercising. This means:

  1. Head (ball under hips) – The cervical spine, or neck, should not be hyper-flexed. Try to maintain it in the position used when you are standing – in a neutral position. Likewise, do not hyper extend the neck when exercising.
  2. Core (ball under hips, knees and feet progression) – When performing exercises where the body is suspended in the prone (face-down) position between two distal support-points, make sure your core is strong enough to maintain a posterior (backwards) pelvic tilt. This protects the lumbar spine from hyperextension but does require exceptional abdominal and hip flexor strength. Notice the straight body alignment from head to toe.

Benefits of Stability Ball Training
stability-ball-training-2Maintaining proper alignment on the ball stimulates the body’s natural motor reflexes and encourages the body to react as a whole, integrated unit. This type of movement corresponds to how you move about in a normal day. Training on the ball challenges the whole body to participate in order to maintain correct posture and balance, and to perform dynamic exercise movement.

When using the ball correctly, the body is required to utilize various muscles for stabilization. These muscles may not have been previously challenged using traditional exercise equipment. Because the ball is versatile and dynamic the training outcome will deliver maximal results.

The ball can improve muscle strength and endurance in all of the major muscle groups. Training with the ball can improve muscle tone, increase muscle endurance and strength, restore or improve flexibility, enhance spinal stability, complement your resistance and aerobic training programs, help you lose weight, and improve your balance, posture and coordination.

The ball is ideal for stretching and offers additional options to traditional static stretching. Traditional stretching usually requires you to stretch on the floor and can be difficult to achieve and maintain many of the stretching positions.

Versatility

  1. The ball can be used at home, in group exercise and personal training settings.
  2. It can be adapted to all ages, all fitness levels and special populations.
  3. The ball is portable and light weight.
  4. It is easy to travel with and easy to store.
  5. The ball is an inexpensive exercise tool.
  6. The ball is maintenance free over a long life.

The simplicity of the stability ball translates into balance! Because the ball demands balance, you’ll work muscles you never knew you had or challenge them in a different way. The trial of maintaining perfect posture, on a round and mobile surface can be invigorating, fun and amazingly effective in building functional strength, and challenging your abdominal and back muscles like nothing else!

The Stability Ball was originated for rehabilitation purposes (spinal injuries), but now it has crossed over to a wide variety of training types. The Stability Ball is a great tool for incorporating spinal stabilization, core strength and endurance, and balance and coordination to any routine. It is also a good way to had spice to your workout.

The versatile nature of the training is designed to improve balance, body awareness, coordination and posture. There are different positions and exercises where this can be used so it will never be boring. The training is considered to be the most effective exercise tool to improve and develop pelvic, shoulder and spine stability because the person has no other support to rely own except his or her own body. If you feel like falling off, your body will automatically alert you of the problem and then make the necessary corrections thus reinforcing positive movement patterns.

Besides being a tremendous benefit to your body, it adds another layer of variety to your current strength training protocol. By replacing your bench with the ball you can add a whole new level of coordination and balance to your seated and lying exercises; not to mention the great core muscle strength and endurance you develop from stabilizing your body during all of your sets and repetitions.

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About Author

Dr. Richard A. DiCenso

Published author, international speaker, and complementary care expert, Dr. Richard A. DiCenso has over 30 years experience in treating the chronic symptoms of Vicious Cycle disorders (VCD). With his extensive experience in "Whole Person Therapy", he is the leading authority in Biological Fluid Analysis. See my profile page for more information!

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