Exercising with fitness balls adds benefits
Exercising with fitness balls (physioballs) helps you increase trunk and pelvic stability, develop core strength, elongate and strengthen the back, tone leg muscles and improve your balance and coordination.
One of the best total body conditioning and stretching tools around, physioballs force you to recruit your core - abdominal, back, leg and gluteal - muscles to avoid falling over, which is key to its many additional benefits beyond developing strength.
In general, it is best to begin with the most stable, static positions or postures with a low center of gravity and a wide base of support. Progress to more dynamic, less stable positions with full range of motion movements.
Your physioball should be firm enough to get a good bounce, but not so firm that you bounce right off. It should also be large enough that you can drape your body over it. When sitting on your ball, your knees should be level with you're hips.
For lower body strengtheners, try the following: Wall, sit, squat. Stand with the physioball at your low back between you and a wall.
Slowly bend your knees to approximately 90 degrees and shift your weight back on your heels, pressing your low back into the ball. Hold the squat for 30 seconds, working your way up to one minute, eventually three minutes.
For upper body strengtheners, try ball pushups. Lie face down on the physioball and walk your body forward until your chest is in front of the ball, hands on the floor, shoulder-distance apart. Lower your chest toward the floor then straighten the arms as though performing a push-up. Keep your hips and abdominal muscles form.
To make the exercise harder, move your arms and upper body further in front of the ball.
For core-specific strengtheners, try the 'bridge on the ball.' Lying with your back on the ball, rest your head and shoulder blades on the physioball.
Place your feet hip-width apart and raise your pelvis until your back is flat (don't arch). Hold for 30 seconds as you squeeze your glutes. Extend your arms at your sides and use them for balance only.
Be sure to do post-workout stretches. For a whole-body stretch, begin by lying on your back over the ball with your feet flat on the floor, arms reaching behind you and with your belly, front of the hips and chest open.
Slowly turn on to your side, reaching over your ball for a side stretch, then roll over onto your belly and hug the ball to stretch your spine. Finally, finish by stretching on your other side.
Spend at least 30 seconds in each position to maximize muscular release and relaxation.
Debbie Foerstner is certified as a fitness instructor by the American Council on Exercise. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.