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Keep It Rollin'!
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By Nawaz Modi Singhania  

Whatever name they are identified by- Swiss balls, Flex-a-Balls, Fit Balls, Resist-A-Balls, Physio balls or stability balls- they are large air filled balls used as a piece of exercise equipment. This new & dynamic revolutionary idea is sweeping the fitness industry today. They offer effectiveness, safety, & are a fun way to workout. You can work on functional strength, flexibility, endurance, muscle toning & on keeping that fat off, while targeting balance & co-ordination.

Physical therapists have used these large, resilient, stability balls for years to challenge, encourage, & improve movement. As one learns to use the ball to stretch & strengthen, the exercises can be difficult & challenging, but can be adjusted to meet all ages, fitness levels & special requirement categories.

Introduced in Switzerland in 1909, the ball was initially introduced into the physical therapy circles to treat orthopedic & neurological disorders. The trend caught on extensively in the United States in the 1970's & 80's.

In 1992, the Swiss ball began to be used more extensively in field of physical fitness.


The ball can improve muscle tone, help you lose fat by increasing your lean body mass, increase muscular endurance & strength, improve or restore flexibility, increase abdominal & spinal strength & stability, improve your balance, posture & coordination.

The ball is great fun to train with, & brings a freshness & newness to your exercise programme.

Improving, developing & maintaining motor control is an absolute essential of life. As the ball gets you up off the floor, it allows one to move easily on a cushion of air. This results in more comfortable movement for most participants. Many strengthening exercises & stretches can be performed on the ball that are not possible on the floor. Isometrics can be practiced very effectively. Maintaining proper alignment on the ball stimulates the body's natural motor reflexes & encourages the body to react as a whole, integrated unit. In other words, the whole body is challenged to participate in order to correct posture & balance while performing dynamic stretches & contractions.

Working with the ball is extremely effective in targeting the abdominal & back muscles. Strong postural muscles & proper posture are important for relieving & preventing low-back pain.

The ball can improve muscle strength & endurance in all major muscle groups.

One of the most attractive features is the ball's versatility. It can be adapted to all ages, all fitness levels & to people of all health conditions. Demands placed on the body during activity on the ball vary dramatically. The overload & challenge is anything but consistent & predictable. As the ball is portable & light weight, it is easy to travel with, & to store. It is an inexpensive exercise tool, & is maintenance-free over a long period of time.

A Healthy Back

At least 90% of our population has, at some time or another, experienced some degree of low-back pain. Much of this pain can be attributed to poor posture, and an imbalance of flexibility & strength in key postural muscles.

This can be rectified while working with the ball. Both the anterior & posterior musculature can be strengthened & stretched.

Closed & Open Chain Exercise

One of the reasons as to why the ball is so effective, is that it incorporates both closed chain exercises (CCE) & open chain exercises (OCE). To best understand this, it is useful to view your whole body as a length of chain. Imagine your arms & legs to be the opposite ends of a chain.

Open chain exercise is when an end segment of a chain (arms or legs) are not fixed, & do not support the weight of your body. An example is a seated bicep curl.

Closed chain exercise occurs when either set of limbs, upper or lower body, is involved in supporting your weight. A squat, for instance, is an example of a CCE.

Muscular Strength & Endurance on the Ball

Muscle strength is defined as the amount of force a muscle, or group of muscles can exert against a resistance in one singular attempt. Strong muscles are effectively developed by progressively overloading, or gradually taking on more & more pressure or resistance. Once a muscle or group of muscles adapts to a particular exercise, it is necessary to overload to see further gains in strength being made. Otherwise, you'll stagnate. This is known as progressive overload. Another way to overload the muscles without changing the resistance or pressure, is to introduce new movements, or place/ position the body differently for a movement you have been regularly doing. The ball offers all of these options.

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated muscular contractions for an extended period of time without extreme fatigue. Muscular endurance is important as it allows us to complete repetitive everyday tasks of everyday life. This way you can sustain strenuous everyday activity, & still have enough energy to go through the day without fatigue. The stronger your muscles are, the more endurable they will also be!

Stronger muscles can also resist dangerous mechanical stress to the body better, due to their increased resiliency. They act as shock absorbers, protecting joints & other anatomical structures.

Warm up & Cool Down

These are important segments for a safe & effective workout.

Your warm ups will increase the temperature of your muscles & connective tissues, thereby reducing the exercise-related risk of injury, & will enhance flexibility gains. Your warm up will also get the heart & lungs ready for the rigors of exercise.

Your cool down will relax & stretch the muscles you have worked, eliminating the waste products of exercise (such as lactic acid, excess blood, carbondioxide), out of your muscles, & then out of your system through your circulation network. This prevents or reduces delayed muscle soreness, which is typical 24- 48 hours post-exercise.

What should I look for?

Some of the features one needs to look for when buying a ball include:

  • Make sure the ball you buy stays in place & doesn't roll away when put down.
  • Some balls are available with legs. These assist you in controlling the ball, by gripping the legs. You might be more comfortable & feel more balanced & stable when working with these. Legs can also be used as a handle for carrying one or several of these at a time. This feature also makes stacking on the floor easy, eliminating the need for racks or nets.
  • Get a large enough ball, which can be used as a focal point for exercises such as squats, or as a balance point for dynamic stretches.
  • Get a seamless ball, which cannot under pressure burst, as other balls can.
  • Balls are available in different sizes for adults & children. Get the appropriate size.
  • Many balls are available with a lifetime guarantee. Get one of those!
Comfort & Safety

To make sure your ball training is safe & effective, make sure:

  • You work on a non-slippery floor. Carpet or a mat under the ball works best.
  • Make sure you've got adequate exercise space. Generally speaking, a body's length from the ball in all directions is an ideal amount of space.
  • Wear workout shoes or go barefoot while performing stretches. Avoid wearing just socks, as you won't have the necessary traction for secure body positions on the ball, & your feet could slide out from under you.
  • Comfortable, contact clothing is the best choice. Tights & unitards are good as these will not slip or move & therefore allow for more effective stretching on the ball. Clothing that rides up or allows exposed skin to contact the ball may hinder smooth movement on the ball, introducing the problems that go with friction.
Exercises Demonstrated In This Article

For the Upper Body

Hold the ball up at chest level. Two exercises can be done in this position. Firstly, throw the ball against a wall, & catch it as it bounces off the ball. Get faster as you get the hang of it. Secondly, push one arm closer to the other, using the ball in between the two as resistance.

For the Inner Thighs

Lie on your side on the floor, with your top leg on top of the ball. Make sure your hips & thighs are aligned properly, directly above one another. Maintain neutral alignment of the neck/ cervical spine by either propping the upper body onto your elbow, or by lying down completely, resting your head on your arm. Press the upper leg down into the ball, towards the floor. Lift the lower leg up, to meet the upper leg, & then lower it back down to the starting position.

For the Lower Limbs

Get up onto your hands & knees, with the ball behind you. Straighten one leg out onto the ball. Two exercises can be done in this position. One is pushing the straight leg downward into the ball. Another is to lift the straight leg up off the ball, but only by an inch or two, so that the back does not arch.

Start by doing 2 sets of 8- 10 each of the above exercises. Always exhale during the toughest part of the exercise, & inhale as the movement gets easier. As you get fitter & stronger, you'll find you're able to do more & more. Then you can gradually increase the number of reps & sets.

What more can I say? You need more reasons to consider this form of training? I don't think so. Just get out there, & have a ball!

For classes & gym training call the columnist's centre, Body Art, on 2380-5929 or 2380-2602