In relative terms, the gym ball is a newcomer to the home exercise family. Also called a Swiss ball this versatile piece of kit was first used in Switzerland in the 1960s for infant physiotherapy. Back then manufacturing costs meant it was still a (relatively) pricey piece of equipment but as prices have fallen the gym ball has enjoyed an exponential rise in popularity.
Exercise balls remain a firm favourite in group exercise classes at most health clubs. They’re also a popular training tool for serious sports folk but in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of homes that have one.
The key selling point for a fitness ball is its shape which makes it unstable, so when exercises are performed on it the core muscles in the stomach and back are forced into more vigorous action than they would be based on a stable, firm surface. Many exercises performed on one of these balls are solely about that crucial area in the torso and result in greater strength and improved posture.
When using a gym ball as part of your workout, even when your primary muscles are the focus of an exercise, the core also has to keep working. Try a press up on a mat and then on a ball and you’ll be left in no doubt about the difference it makes!
A better-inflated ball will challenge your stability more so if you’re new to a gym ball you can begin with less air and build up as your confidence, control, strength and endurance improve.
POSTURE & SUPPORT
When your core muscles are strong, your posture improves and your efficiency while undertaking pretty much all other exercises also is significantly increased. So even if running is your thing, introduce a gym ball to your routine, and you’ll soon be running faster and further.
Having said that, a stability ball can also give you support during certain exercises and stretches and there are various Yoga postures and Pilates exercises that involve the use of a ball to help build up strength. The Yoga pose of ‘The Wheel’ is a great example (AKA the crab). Few people can get into The Wheel pose without intense, consistent practice, but if you lay on your back on an exercise ball with your feet on the floor, the chances are you’ll find the floor with your hands relatively easily.
VARIETY OF EXERCISES
Many gym balls come with DVDs while additional DVDs can be purchased. Of course, as ever, the web has a practically limitless number of suggestions too.
Aside from the quality, the primary factor to consider when buying a ball is the size. Generally speaking the taller you are the bigger the ball. Here are the general parameters:
4’ 11” – 5’7” a 55cm ball
5’5” – 6’2” a 65cm ball
Over 5’11” a 75cm ball