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NOTE: During the coronavirus pandemic, most equipment used in fitness classes was abandoned except for weights and resistance bands. The stability ball is an excellent tool for fitness classes, but we may not see them used again in classes for several more months, even years. With the hope that they will be used again, I will maintain this article.
How it started
The stability ball was introduced in 1909 by Dr. Susanne Klein-Vogelbach; exercises were first used with children afflicted with cerebral palsy to develop balance and maintain reflex response; it was then extended to assist patients with spinal injuries and orthopedic problems. In 1992, Mike and Stephanie Morris, the developers of the Resist-A-Ball exercise ball, developed a total body conditioning program. 2
Here is a short list of the stability ball’s greatest advantages:
It will improve your core strength (the abdominal and lower back muscles), no matter what exercise you are performing. Dr. Michele Olson, Ph.D., administrator of the Human Performance Lab at Auburn University, says, “focusing on core strength improves functional strength, making you more able to handle every day tasks such as carrying groceries.”
By toning your core muscles, exercise balls will improve your posture. When your core is toned, the muscles keep working after the workout to help you sit and stand straighter.
It will improve your balance. Specific exercises can target balance issues, but just doing exercises on the ball stimulates the proprioceptors (a sensory receptor, found chiefly in muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear, that detects the motion or position of the body or a limb).
If you find it hard to bend or move, and even touch your toes, an exercise ball can help to improve your flexibility. It can help you stretch farther, but it also provides support so you can stretch muscles more safely.
Choosing the size
To choose the right size ball, first sit on one. If your knees are bent at a 90°angle and your feet are flat on the floor, you have the right size. The following guidelines give you a general idea of what size ball to use but keep in mind that it’s your comfort that matters most:
- 42 cm. (16 in.) — 4 ft. 10 in. tall
- 53-55 cm. ball (22 in.) — 4 ft. 11 in. to 5 ft. 6 in. tall
- 65 cm. (25 in.) — 5 ft. 7 in. to just under 6 ft. tall
- 75 cm. (29 in.) — 6 ft. tall or taller
At the West End Community Centre, we have 55, 65, and 75 cm balls. How much air the ball has in it will make a difference. Soft, mushy balls are easier to handle, while balls that have been blown up very full are harder to sit on.
Using the Ball
A stability ball is a tool that can be used by all ages and fitness levels. You should, however, combine its use with other types of training and, if you have never used it, begin slowly.
While in class, do not assume you must try all exercises — do what you feel comfortable with. In time, you may be willing to try everything. Do not use a stability ball if you have an injury. Let your fitness instructor know if you have any health issues such as osteoporosis, low back pain, or arthritis of the spine, as there may be some exercises you should not do.
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.