The large ball is our perfect partner in a Pilates approach to strength training. I began integrating balls into my group Pilates mat classes in 1999 because I was concerned that my students were not receiving weight-bearing, resistance and balance training from the ordinary mat work. Though the ball works the body differently from a piece of Pilates apparatus or a stable gym bench, it has some definite advantages, not the least being that we have to interact with an unstable surface. This changes the body’s relationship to gravity and uniquely challenges the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, providing balance training at the same time. All of which adds up to a smart functional workout designed to better prepare us for our sports activities and everyday tasks. Ball work is especially helpful for older adults who need to maintain strength and balance as they age.
How will the ball work for your body? Try today’s video and see. Ball work (with or without weights) trains the body through multiple planes: you will be using the limbs at different angles, in diagonals and circles, swivelling inwards and outwards, across the body and overhead. Be ready, also, for the unstable nature of the ball to sneak in a lot of challenge (see last week’s blog on Sneaky Pilates). The goal is to work the body as a unit, using deep postural muscles (stabilizers) as well as the larger more forceful muscles (mobilizers). These movements will hopefully inspire you to use a wider range of muscle groups, do more reps, test your balance, and at the same time have fun.
Ball as Bench
The weight room never got so exciting as when people started to use the ball as a bench. Because you are working on a mobile surface, and moving the arms through a full range of motion, you won’t need to load up with heavy weight. Begin with light weights and increase as desired.
Take care with the exercises in the video. Check that you have enough room around you and that there are no sharp objects, however tiny, on your floor or your mat – such as little bits of gravel or tacks – that can damage or deflate the ball. When using the ball as a bench, make sure your head and neck are totally supported by the ball and not hanging backwards. Keep the hips lifted and remember to engage the abdominals. The feet should be parallel and hip distance apart, and the centre of the knee cap should align with the second toe. If you feel any pain in the low back, drop your tailbone down into the squat, or modification position, as shown in the video. I highly recommend you watch the video first to ensure that you are in correct position on the ball before you begin. With ball work, safely getting into each position, and getting out of it are as important as doing the exercises themselves.
Just to recap, here are some of the advantages of using the ball for strength training:
- Targets deep as well as superficial muscles
- Adds resistance and weight bearing to mat exercises
- Works the body as a unit more functionally than a stable bench
- Challenges by varying the angle of movements and works through full range of motion and multiple planes
- Trains the muscles to work together, engaging more muscles fibres and encouraging correct sequencing
- Creates higher demand on the motor and nervous systems
- Supports relaxation and allows us to have fun
Next week’s blog explores the origins of the exercise ball and includes highlights of my trip to northern Italy to meet the inventor of the so-called Swiss ball.