As a trainer I am fascinated by the stability ball for many reasons, starting with its simplicity to its many uses from rehabilitation, to stretching, to balance, to strength training; to its affordability and accessibility; to how many different exercises can be performed on it; and lastly that it can be used even in yoga and Pilates.
The stability ball was developed in 1963 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer. His creation of vinyl balls that were durable and burst resistant, were sold throughout Europe. After discovering them while in Bern, Switzerland, English physiotherapist Mary Quinton started using them in her treatment programs for newborns and infants with cerebral palsy. In the late 1960’s, Dr. Susan Klein-Vogelbach, director of the Physical Therapy School in Basel, Switzerland, started using them with adults. In 1989 Joanne Posner-Mayer, a physical therapist, began instructing US therapists on the neurological, orthopedic and fitness applications of stability balls. Even though it was started by an Italian, it got the name of “Swiss ball” from US physical therapists, who started using them after seeing its use in Swiss clinics. Besides stability ball or Swiss ball, some refer to it as balance ball, sport ball, or yoga ball.
Today almost every gym, studio, and physical therapist office has stability balls because it is multipurpose, accessible, economical and adaptable from beginners to advanced users. For those same reasons, and the fact that it doesn’t take much space and doubles as a chair, it is popular for home use as well. Whether just sitting on the ball, lying on it for abdominal crunches or using it like a bench, the ball popularity is also due to its core strength benefits. It forces abdominal and back muscles to be constantly engaged and active in order to support the spine and keep the body stable and balanced. Having to remain balanced on an unstable surface, recruits more muscles, allowing an exercise to become harder without having to increase the weight. For example, people who can easily do many push up, are often unable to do even one on the stability ball because now, besides upper body strength, there is a need for strong stabilizers as well to keep the ball steady.
Push up on the stability ball can be done with either the hands or the feet on the ball. The feet on the ball will target more the upper chest and the difficulty can be increased by only having the feet, instead of the shin, on the ball. With the hands on the ball, make sure the chest is over the ball and increase the difficulty by not having the ball against a wall.
For a squat, put the ball on your lower back and against a wall. With the weight in the heels and the knees behind the toes, lower to a 90 degree hold, and return to starting position without locking the knees. To increase the difficulty, hold in the down position longer or lift one heel while performing the squat.
For a chest press or fly, start sitting on the ball with a pair of dumbbells and roll out till head and upper back are supported on the ball. Lift your butt and start pressing. To increase the difficulty, bring the legs together or do one arm at the time. When finished, get back to a seated position before standing up.
For an abdominal crunch start sitting on the ball and roll out till the navel is in the middle of the ball. If positioned correctly, the abs should shake even before starting the exercise. Looking at the ceiling, with the hands to the sides of your head, lift your shoulder blades only, hold and return to starting position. Increase the difficulty by holding it for a longer time or by holding a dumbbell horizontally with both hands.
For balance try sitting on the ball next to a wall corner (for safety) and lift one leg. Increase the difficulty by not touching the wall with the ball or the hands or by crossing one leg over the other. Another good balance exercise is standing behind the ball with one leg on the ball and rolling the leg in and out. Increase the difficulty by rolling the ball right and left instead.
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The stability ball comes in various color and many sizes, and the most common sizes are 55 cm (for those 5’1″ to 5’8″ tall), 65 cm (for those 5’9″ to 6’2″ tall), and 75 cm (for those 6’3″ to 6’7″ tall). The correct size is the one where you can sit with your knees at a right angle and your thighs parallel to the ground.
Now that you know the reason the stability ball is used worldwide by strength coaches, athletic trainers, personal trainers and physical therapists, it is time to start including it in your own fitness routine to make the workouts more fun while improving balance and strength.
About the Author
Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following: