Unleash your inner child with a fitness ball workout. Otherwise known as physioballs, stability balls or Swiss balls, those big bouncy balls may look like child’s play but they can really up the ante on your fitness routine. The constant movement and round shape of the ball can challenge muscles in a whole new way.
When you sit or lie on a fitness ball for an exercise, it wobbles and waves a bit. Your muscles have to work overtime to stabilize you on the ball so you don't roll off. Compared to bench exercises, more muscle fibers are activated and smaller muscles that wouldn’t get worked come into play when using a fitness ball The result is balanced strength and sleek, toned muscles in less time. Fitness balls are most famous for working the core muscles, which is important for promoting solid functional movements and balance. Fitness balls are ideal when it comes to space and convenience; balls and dumbbells are compact and inexpensive, which makes them perfect for at-home workouts.
You need to have the right equipment so you can do the exercises with proper form and prevent injuries. Not all fitness balls are created equally and size does matter. Make sure you have the right sized fitness ball for you. A fitness ball should be sized according to a person’s height. Those 5’ to 5’7” need a small ball, those 5’7” to 6’3” need a medium ball and anyone over 6'3" should use a large ball. A good rule of thumb is that your thighs should be parallel to the floor when you sit on it. The firmness of the ball affects position as well, so inflate it according to manufacturer directions. When it comes to dumbbells, it’s best to have a variety of weights on hand and use your best judgment to select an appropriate weight for an exercise.
You may do most dumbbell exercises on a workout bench or while standing. You can also do them while seated on a stability ball for added benefit. Try the biceps curl, shoulder presses, lateral (side) dumbbell raises and the dumbbell chest press. Do crunches or other abdominal exercises while lying on the ball. Place the ball between your back and a wall and do squats while holding dumbbells and rolling the ball along the wall. Lie with your stomach on the ball, and use dumbbells to do inverted rows, back flys or back extensions. This is by no means an exhaustive list; if you are unfamiliar with these exercises or want more options, consult a fitness professional or other fitness resource for help.
While the instability of a fitness ball effectively challenges muscles and balance, it can also pose risks for some people. Obviously, if you fall or roll off a ball, you could get hurt. Fitness balls are not best for those who are beginner exercisers, are very overweight or lack basic muscular coordination. For anyone, it’s a good idea to become familiar with a dumbbell exercise by using a bench or solid surface first. If you are unsure about the safety of using a fitness ball for your dumbbell exercises, consult a fitness professional and confirm with your doctor that you are healthy enough for resistance exercise.
Jilana Dennis is a health and fitness writer based out of San Antonio, Texas. Dennis is a nationally certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and holds a B.S in exercise science from Illinois State University.