Exercise balls were introduced to the fitness world in the early 90s. It was a breakthrough to lay over the ball and work the abdominals in a crunch against gravity. It changed the way people thought about abdominal strength and was one of the perfect ways to perform a correct set up. The next great "aha moment" was using the ball to sit on while at work to engage the core and improve posture while sitting at a computer or desk. The only downside was when you stood up the ball might roll away without you knowing it, and the result was missing the ball and falling on the floor. There became solutions for that small problem as well - adding a base to prevent the ball from rolling or adding sand into the ball took care of this minor issue. However, there are many great ways to utilize the big exercise balls.
Here are six ways to incorporate a large exercise ball into your daily stretch routine and the benefits of each exercise. We know that stretching can release tension in the muscles, but tight muscles are typically weaker muscles and need strengthening to help increase flexibility. This increased flexibility allows one to move more easily through the day and of course improve performance.
1. The Big Curl. The lower body hamstrings and glutes are the key muscles for almost every power movement. They even play a strong role in posture and day-to-day activities like walking. The big curl targets the glutes and hamstrings together and can be a very important exercise for everybody.
How to do it: Start lying on the floor with your feet up on the ball and hands in the wide V on the floor. Make sure that the feet are hip distance apart and toes are pointing upward. Slowly lift the hips until the body is in a straight line leaving the rib cage on the floor in the pelvic tilting upward. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then bend the knees and roll the ball in towards the body. In this position, lift the hips up and down (3 to 4 inch range) for 15 to 20 repetitions. Then, extend the legs back out to straight. Roll the ball in and out for 15 to 20 repetitions.
2. The Big Ball Lift. In addition to the glutes and hamstrings, the quadriceps and lower abdominals are another part of the lower body complex. Although many people think lunges and squats are the key exercises for these muscles, this leg extension with lift strengthens the muscles around the knee which creates stability as well as the core.
How to do it: Start lying on the floor with the ball between your ankles, then lift the ball over your hips. Hands are at your side in a” V” position to the body. With the ball between your ankles and legs extended over your hips, bend the knees and lower the ball slowly and then extend it back to the ceiling. The key is to keep the knees over the hips and not the belly. Keep the lower back pressed into the floor by pulling your abdominals into the spine. Perform 20 to 30 repetitions of lifting and lowering the ball to strengthen the quadriceps and abdominals.
3. The Jack Knife. Although crunches on the ball are a great way to challenge the core using the upper and lower body as lovers can also challenge the midsection. The key to this next exercise is making sure that the abdominals hold the pelvic stability pressing the low back into the floor while lowering the legs. Avoid having the legs lowered too far, causing the low back to arch away from the floor, as this causes stress on the lower back.
How to do it: Start lying on the floor with the ball between your ankles, lifting the ball into the air with arms extended toward the ceiling. Bring the ball towards the hands and transfer it. Now, reach the arms away from the body overhead and the legs lower towards the floor. Keep the lower back pressing into the floor by pulling the abdominals into the spine. Next, bring the ball back to middle and the legs to the ball transfer the ball from the hands to the feet and perform the same open reach. Open and close the body as you transfer the ball between the feet then to the hands for 10 repetitions.
4. The Pointer. It's important to work the opposing muscle groups equally throughout a workout. One of the most common areas that is left out of a daily workout regimen, is the back muscles along the spine. This exercise targets these muscles helping to improve posture and movement.
How to do it: Start by lying your body over the ball with hands and toes touching the floor. Slowly lift the arm extended forward and the opposite leg extended backward. Then, lower both the arm and leg back to starting position and perform on the other side. If this exercise is too challenging by balancing over the ball. Start first with just the arms for 10 to 15 reps alternate lifting, and then alternate lifting the legs 10 to 15 repetitions. Next ,try to lift one arm and leg and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Be sure to perform this exercise with both sides of the body.
5. The Shoulder Roll. As we work the way up the body, we incorporate the shoulders and core combination. The course debility with the upper body is key for all racquet sports and even day to day lifting luggage, children and loading and unloading the dishwasher.
How to do it: Start kneeling on the floor with hands on the large exercise ball in front of you. Using the abdominals and pressing with the hands down into the ball slowly lean forward hinging at the knees and roll the ball outward. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, and then roll back to the starting position. This exercise can be very challenging, and it is important not to arch the back but to keep the spine straight. Perform 8-10 repetitions. At the end of this exercise, press the hips back into the heels and the chest towards the floor to stretch out the shoulders. Hold a stretch for 30 seconds.
6. The Big Open. The final exercise in this series allows for the stretch and realignment of the forward-facing muscles of the body. This stretch allows the shoulders, neck, chest, and hip flexors all to be lengthened against gravity and the way to the body. This is a great stretch for the end of any day even if you've skipped your workout. Resetting muscle tension is key to helping prevent joint pain.
How to do it: Start seated on the ball with hands at your side and slowly walk the feet forward as you lean back into the ball. Once your legs are extended reach your hands to the floor overhead. Hold this position for 30 seconds to two minutes. Change the position of your arms to deep in the stretch where you need it. Some people feel more stretch with the arms straight overhead while others feel more stretch with the side.
Remember that stretching and strengthening go hand-in-hand. These are a few great ways to improve performance, feel better and prevent joint pain.