Are you using an exercise ball as part of your exercise routine? I cannot think of a cheaper, more versatile piece of equipment. Exercise balls (also known as stability balls) have multiple uses that can enhance your fitness and prevent you from becoming dysfunctional or imbalanced. They are a great addition to any home gym (or work space). And super cheap. The one I’ll be using below is the Forever Flex stability ball (55cm), which you can find here. It’s great because it will hold up to 2200 lbs without popping.
Ergonomics (proper posture)
1. Using the ball as a chair, at home or at the office. This is one of my favorite ways to utilize a ball… so simple! Most of us when we sit around at home or in an office chair, we sit biomechanically incorrect. This means we sit with poor posture, which affects the health of our spine, muscles, and joints negatively. I always make sure to assess this when I have people coming to me with low back pain or neck pain, because it is a HUGE contributor. Many times if you make this one change, you can eliminate a lot of pain. Proper sitting can be seen below on this exercise ball.
- pelvis rolled forward
- curve in the lumbar spine or low back
- shoulders back
- head in line with body
2. Pelvic rocks. This exercise is GREAT for anyone who has problems with their SI (sacroiliac joints), sacrum (triangle bone at the base of your spine), and PREGNANT WOMEN. Yes, this exercise is fantastic for pregnant women. It keeps the pelvis moving properly so that the bones do not get ‘stuck’ and there is no inflammation build-up or pain. This exercise helps keep the pelvis aligned in anyone and especially in pregnant women so that baby has adequate room to be positioned properly. I use the Webster Technique to help pregnant women with their pelvic alignment, and I always have patients perform the below movements.
3. Midback or thoracic spine extension. When we sit for extended periods of time with poor posture, we can develop an exaggerated curve in our midback, which puts a lot of strain on the spinal joints. This can lead to midback pain and muscle spasms in the around the spine. Resting with your back on the ball in extension, helps to relieve pressure off the spinal joints, relax the musculature, and promotes range of motion.
4. Abdominal exercises. An exercise ball is a great addition to any ab workout. Many people have ab muscles that do not fully engage. Exercise that introduces a component of instability is a great way to retrain muscles to fire properly. The abdominal muscles are an important factor in lumbar spine, or low back, stability. I see many case of low back pain as a result of instability, or too much movement. In these case, retraining of the muscles is crucial. Below is a butter churner exercise. This is an advanced plank move. Once you are stable in the plank position, you use your elbows to roll the ball in a circle, like churning butter.
Below are 2 videos of me performing crunches and an abdominal pike on the ball. Great exercises and so simple!
5. Using the exercise ball for balance training. You can stand on the ball to improve your balance. Or NOT. Haha, I do not recommend standing on an exercise ball. But this picture is pretty fun, and I’m impressed he could do it. However, this same concept can be used on another similar piece of equipment called a Bosu Sport Balance Trainer. It’s basically an exercise ball cut in half with a platform on it. I recommend practicing standing on a Bosu Ball with one leg for anyone who has painful hips, or one side tighter than the other. I prefer standing on the platform barefoot with the ball portion on the ground. Stand on one leg for as long as you can, then switch sides. This should be done daily. Once it comes easy, you can start to introduce small movements like a partial squat while maintaining your balance. It is also important to make sure your hips are level as you are standing on one leg, to properly utilize your glutes.
The above ways to use an exercise ball are crucial movements and techniques used in rehabilitation of many musculoskeletal conditions. As humans, we often become imbalanced with our daily routines of sitting, crossing our legs, or standing with poor posture. At first these habits will not cause problems, but over time can lead to nagging aches and pains.
I highly recommend using an exercise ball as a chair for proper sitting posture, as sitting is one of the worst things we can put ourselves through biomechanically. That along with the above small movement exercises can make a world of difference between being in pain and biomechanically sound. Treat yourself.