Low back pain and stiffness is no picnic. If you're the active type, it can keep you from doing the physical stuff you truly love. Even if you're more of a "sitter" than a "mover," pain in the lumbar area can wreck your productivity. You can lower your risk of developing low back pain by keeping your back and other core muscles strong and supple. Using a physio ball brings instability into the equation, making your low-back workout all the more fun and challenging. If you're just getting acquainted with your ball, stick with basic -- but effective -- exercises and be strict about using proper form.
Work with your ball two or three times a week, resting for a day between workouts. Precede your routine with 10 minutes of general cardio activity; light jogging in place or jumping jacks are fine for this. When you break a light sweat, do a set of dynamic back stretches -- such as trunk rotations with a light arm swing -- to further stimulate the muscles of your lower back and prepare them for action.
Take a seat on the ball, planting the soles of your feet firmly on the floor in front of you. With your head aligned over your spine and a slight curve in your lower back, gently shift your hips from side to side. Pause briefly after every shift to encourage the stretch. Counting hip movement to the right and left as one repetition, complete 12 to 15 slow, rhythmic reps.
Pick up the pace with a light march. Sitting on the ball, maintain the gentle curve in your low back as you raise your right knee several inches. Hold the knee lift for one to three seconds. Lower the leg and immediately raise the left knee, holding for up to three seconds. Repeat the right-left march 12 to 15 times. Add to the challenge by raising the opposite arm with every knee lift.
Do a set of ball squats. Standing with your back facing a wall, place the ball between the wall and your lower back. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, 12 to 24 inches in front of your hips. With your hands on your hips, slowly bend your knees, allowing your back to glide along the ball. Avoid pressing into the ball and keep your knees over your heels or insteps. Hold the squat position for one or two seconds and then slowly straighten -- but don't lock -- your knees. Repeat 12 to 15 times. As you become more adept, boost intensity by holding the squat for up to 10 seconds.
Lie face down with your hips on top of the ball and your legs extended behind you. Rest your palms on the floor in front of you and your toes on the floor behind you. Tighten your abs and raise your right arm and left leg to form one continuous line from your fingernails to your toenails. Hold for five seconds and then lower the arm and leg. Repeat the movement with your left arm and right leg. Complete 12 to 15 reps.
Lie on your back on the floor for glute bridges. Place your calves and ankles on top of the ball, leaving several inches between your feet. Extend your arms to your sides, palms down, and flex your feet slightly. Keeping your shoulders on the floor, tighten your abs and lift your hips and buttocks until your torso and legs form a single, continuous line. Breathe evenly and hold the position for one or two seconds before lowering the buttocks to the floor. Repeat 12 to 15 times.
- Harvard Health Publications: The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening your Core
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Workout
- Spine-Health: Beginning Exercise Program on an Exercise Ball
- Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Core Conditioning -- It’s Not Just About Abs
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Shoulder (Glute) Bridge
- Keep your movements slow and smooth, maintaining control at all times.
- If you have trouble finding your balance on the ball, consider deflating it slightly to create a wider, more stable surface for sitting.
- If you've never worked with a physio ball, ask a trainer for feedback about your form.
- If you haven’t been physically active for quite some time or if you've had back problems in the past, speak to your doctor or a trainer about the advisability of specific exercises.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.