Exercise balls are great for low impact exercise routines
Exercise balls, or Swiss balls as they’re sometimes known were developed in the 60s and were first used in the medical sense to assist with neurological development, particularly in children. More recently they have migrated into the fitness world and are now common in gyms and the home.
The great thing about exercise balls is that you don’t need to be fit to start using them, the exercises you do are low impact and you can vary the exercises to help with fitness and toning of various parts of the body. Generally speaking you don’t do cardio-vascular exercises with a Swiss ball but that doesn’t mean you won’t work up a sweat.
General stretching exercises
Stand about 60cm from a wall, facing away from it and place the ball in the small of your back. With your hands on your hips and your feet apart gently lower yourself into a squat position (thighs at right angles to shins) and then back up again. Repeat this 5-10 times as a gentle warm up. If you want to ‘feel the burn’ in your legs then squat and hold the position for about 10 seconds.
Lumbar extension exercises
These are stretching exercises for the back which help to loosen the muscles and help with posture.
Lie on the ball with the ball on your chest/upper stomach area, legs stretched out and feet apart for balance. With your hands resting on the side of the ball (but not pushing) lift your head and torso slowly up from the ball. Repeat this as many times as you feel comfortable. To make it harder do the same exercise with your hands behind your head.
Lie flat on the floor and put the swiss ball under your calfs. Keep your arms at your side, hands flat on the floor and lift your buttocks off the ground so that your back is straight. Tense your abdominal muscles to keep your back straight and hold the pose for 5 seconds then lower slowly back to the floor. Repeat 5 times.
Your core muscles are those around your abdomen and lower back which extend up the back and help support it. Core muscles exercises can be difficult to start so take it easy and don’t over-exert as you may do more harm than good. Start slowly and build up.
Lie on the ball with your chest/upper torso on the ball then, using your hands, walk forwards, rolling the ball down your abdomen as you go. Tense the abdominal muscles so that the back stays straight. In the early stages only do this a short way down the body to the top of the legs; then, as you build up the core muscles, increase the distance so that you roll it down to your thighs.
Sitting on the ball, put your feet out in front of you and, like the exercise above, walk your feet away so that the ball moves from your buttocks up your back towards the neck. Keep the abdominal muscles tensed and the back straight. Reverse the walk until you are back in the sitting position. As above, start with short movements then gradually build up the distance you roll as you build the muscle tone.
These are the exercises you will see the ‘Gym Bunnies’ doing down at your local gym as they tome their six packs.
Sit on the exercise ball with your arms raised above your head. Lean back to 45 degrees, flexing your hips but keeping your feet in the same place on the floor. As you flex backward raise your heels until you’re on tiptoe. Then slowly move your right arm down and touch your left knee and back up, then your left arm to right knee and back again. Do this 10 times to each side.
Sit on the front of the ball with arms to the side, legs stretched out but with feet flat on the floor in front of you. Lean back and roll the ball up your back, keeping your feet in the same place. Return to the sitting position using your abdominal muscles to sit up. Repeat 5 times.
Precautions when using an exercise ball
As with any exercise if you find it hurts then stop and, if necessary, speak with your doctor. If you suffer from any back injury you should speak with a doctor before using a swiss ball as it may compound any problems you have. Always stat out slow and small; you’re not going to win any prizes for doing multiple repetitions the first time you use the ball so relax and take it easy until you feel you can move on to increasing the repetitions or holding the pose for longer.
Above all, be safe and enjoy it; if you enjoy it then you will do it more, if you do more you will see more improvement, if you see more improvement you’ll do more, feel better and get fitter.