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ExerciseMay 14, 2006: Exercise - The fabulous stability ball
The stability ball is the perfect piece of home exercise equipment that can double as a chair. Those big air-filled, colourful balls are full of whimsy and make exercise fun, yet give a surprisingly tough workout. When I got my first one I did one set of abdominal curls on it and my abs were sore for a week. And at that time I thought I was in great shape! The stability ball (Swiss ball, physio ball) is one of the best ways to train the body because you must stabilize yourself while you do the exercises. You are forced to use not only the movers, but also the stabilizers of the body, and as such, you teach your body how to move in a coordinated way. If you think of yourself as a bit of a "clutz", using a stability ball will go a long way to solving that problem. Because you use far more musculature with stability ball training, you burn far more calories as well.
Compare that to doing machine training in a gym, where you are usually seated in a chair that is bolted to the floor, often wearing a seat belt, and pushing or pulling the handles, or moving your legs back and forth. Fewer stabilizers are necessary, so your mover muscles become stronger at the expense of the stabilizers. Do that for a long time and you develop joint pain, because the small stabilizer muscles that are supposed to control the motion at the joints can no longer do the job because they are so over-powered by the mover muscles.
For this reason, include stability ball exercises in your fitness routine. For example, lie on the floor and put your feet on the ball. Draw in the tissue just above the pubic bone, and push through your feet to lift your pelvis into the air, then slowly lower your pelvis back to the floor. This is an excellent exercise for strengthening the back body, and it teaches the brain to coordinate the movement with the trunk as well. Or, put your stomach on the ball, hands on the floor and walk out on your hands until your shins are on the ball, keeping your spine in neutral. Then without allowing your back to round, bend your knees and pull the ball under you, then push it back to the start position. This exercise is called prone jack knife, and is excellent for strengthening the entire front body as well as the arms and shoulders. Any exercises that can be done with a bench and dumb bells can be made more challenging using a stability ball. There are many resources that have stability ball exercises included, some of the best from Paul Chek, in the form of videos or books. The best way to learn stability ball exercises is to hire a CHEK Practitioner or qualified personal trainer who can teach you the exercises and ensure you are doing them correctly.
When purchasing a Swiss ball, be sure that when fully inflated the ball you choose allows you to sit such that your knees are slightly lower than your pelvis. The quality balls are two layers thick, so if you roll over a staple they won't pop. If you are planning to do heavy duty weight training, ball quality is critical. Buy the Duraball Pro, as it can take up to 1000 lbs of force. If you are wanting one for a desk chair, buy the larger size and only inflate it to the smaller size so that the ball will be soft enough to prevent numb bum. Using a ball as a chair will keep you moving enough to keep your spine and disks healthy, although you will have to gradually build up your time on it. Have fun and get fit!
Chek, Paul; How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2004.
Chek, Paul; Golf Biomechanic's Manual: Whole in One Golf Conditioning Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2001.