The fitness ball has become one of the most popular items in most gyms. While many people use them only for abs workouts, they are actually an incredibly versatile piece of equipment, which can be used for a whole variety of exercises.
It is possible to do both upper and lower body exercises using the fitness ball, and you can easily combine core, upper and lower body exercises into a mini circuit that works the whole body effectively.
If you aren't familiar with them, they actually go by a variety of different names, including:
- Exercise ball
- Gym ball
- Sports ball
- Swiss ball
- Stability ball
- Pilates ball
They were originally developed for rehab work, but their effectiveness has seen them embraced by the whole fitness industry. What makes them so effective is that they introducing instability into your workouts.
This may sound like a bad thing, but it is in fact a benefit. Rather than performing all of your exercises in a fixed, stable position, the exercise ball allows you to perform exercises while fighting the movement of the ball. This forces a range of peripheral and stabilizing muscles to be worked, muscles that are often untapped by normal workouts.
Prime among these is a deep abdominal muscle called the transversus abdominis. The transversus abdominis is crucial in the stabilisation of the lumber spine - when it is strong it hugs you like a tight, muscular corset, providing tremendous stability to the core. For this reason, a range of fitness experts including sport scientists, physiotherapists and osteopaths, all support the use of these types of workouts.
Used regularly, you will experience a range of benefits, including:
- Increased control and strength in your core muscles
- Increased low back mobility
- Improving balance and stability
The most popular exercises are those for the core muscles - simply doing staple abs exercises like crunches or twisting crunches on the ball will dramatically increase their effectiveness. In addition, there are numerous exercises designed specifically for the ball that utilize its inherent instability to really challenge the muscles.
However, it's not just about core work. You can also use them for a variety of upper and lower body exercises. They are very effective for squats (place the ball between your low back and the wall - a great way to develop one-legged squatting), and can also be used to work the hamstrings.
For the upper body, they can be used as an unstable platform to add some challenge to exercises like push-ups, and are also a great alternative to a bench for traditional exercises like dumbbell bench press and flyes, seated shoulder press, and seated biceps and triceps exercises.
For anyone looking to work out at home, this is a great piece of equipment -with the addition of a good set of dumbbells, you can get a great all round strength workout at home.