The Core and a Lot More
B. Daryl Shute, M.S., CSCS
For nearly 20 years, Daryl has worked in the fitness industry where he has had the opportunity to work in many areas. His experience includes assisting or leading the education departments for ISCA, Resist-A-Ball, and now Power Systems Inc. He holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and he is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with NSCA. Daryl has had the honor of sharing his knowledge with individuals at the conference level as well as many others while personal training.
THE CORE AND A LOT MORE
Those big, colorful balls found in gyms and group fitness rooms have a lot more purpose than most people put into practice. Touted as the ultimate training tool for the core muscles of the body, stability balls have emerged in popularity during the last few years due in part to lots of late-night infomercials, the well-educated fitness professional, and a deluge of “core” information in virtually every magazine on the newsstand. This reputation is not wrong, but it is very limiting!
The stability ball is an excellent tool for training balance, coordination, flexibility, and strength. Due to the dynamic nature and inherent instability of the ball, maintaining stability on it requires the recruitment of more muscles. For example, performing push-ups with your hands on the ball rather than on the floor completely changes the exercise and calls more muscles into action.
Disciplines such as yoga and Pilates have found that participants who use a stability ball for support achieve postures and positions they otherwise could not attain, and they get the benefits of an enhanced, more challenging exercise.
Balance and Coordination
Regular usage of a stability ball can enhance balance and coordination greatly. As mentioned earlier, the body works harder to maintain stability in an unstable environment by recruiting all muscles necessary to stand up or maintain a fixed position. Depending on your ability level, feedback on a stability ball typically is immediate as well. The good news—noticeable improvement happens rapidly!
With flexibility training, you can remain off the floor and move in and out of stretches based solely on your ability level. The body conforms to the shape of the ball making it an easy, efficient way to begin a stretching program that is more comfortable and much less time consuming than stretching on the floor or using other equipment.
You can strength train with a stability ball by including it in body-weight exercises such as push-ups, squats, hip extensions, abdominal crunches, and back extensions. A major advantage of strength training with a stability ball is that it can act as a bench for seated or lying exercises. By adding external resistance such as dumbbells, weighted bars, or tubing, the stability ball becomes the most versatile tool a personal trainer or individual can have. It gives you the ability to change the benefit and intensity of an exercise dramatically simply by making slight modifications to positions or angles. For example, a seated shoulder press works most of the shoulder joint, but by moving into more of an incline position, the emphasis of the exercise changes.
Keep in mind that not all stability balls are created equal when it comes to weight capacity. For your safety, be sure to check weight limits before adding external resistance. When using a stability ball instead of a standard bench, most people will decrease the amount of external weight or resistance due to the instability and the increased need for balance.
Proper sizing of stability balls to the user’s height, weight, and ability level is paramount. A beginner, deconditioned, or senior adult typically needs a 65 cm ball. That larger size ball provides a greater surface area to sit on. This aids in comfort and gives a greater sense of stability. A soft ball, one that is partially inflated, is more comfortable and limits instability. A ball that is firm, or fully inflated, is much more difficult to use due to the decrease in rolling resistance. As participants become more accustomed to the use and dynamics of the ball, they will want to use a smaller ball such as a 55 cm. The smaller ball increases the level of difficulty because more of the user’s body is off the ball. Having more body off the ball forces the recruitment of more muscles to maintain stability and balance. Rule of thumb: Inflate the stability ball to where the hips are slightly above the knees when the user is sitting on the ball. This will help avoid undue stress on the knees. Stability balls also come in sizes smaller than 55 cm to accommodate small-framed adults and children.
Although the stability ball can be adapted to fit most ages and ability levels, it is not suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain balance or physiological conditions. As personal trainers and fitness professionals, we must make sure our clients and members have the physical capability to perform before incorporating the ball into their routines. A medical clearance is advised if you are unsure.
The stability ball truly is a valuable tool that can make exercise beneficial but more importantly FUN!