Here’s an Infographic that you may also find useful….
For all my Interval Training I use a Gymboss Interval Timer
For all my Interval Training I use a Gymboss Interval Timer
It’s hard to find a gym now that doesn’t have a selection of Stability balls or Swiss balls rolling around on the gym floor. Although all gyms seem to offer them I’m often surprised to find very few people using them.
Throughout this article I’m going to help you get familiar with these exercise balls. Hopefully, by the end of this article you will feel confident enough to start exercising with an exercise ball and enjoy the benefits that this great tool can offer.
Stability Balls are basically large inflatable balls that are used to provide an unstable platform for exercises.
There are lots of manufacturers of these exercise balls but they basically fall into 3 categories based on their overall inflated size:
You will also find that many manufacturers produce Anti-Burst Balls now too. The trend of producing these Anti-Burst type balls began when people started lying on the balls and holding heavy dumbbells. My advice would be to purchase an anti-burst ball if you can afford the extra expense.
If you are a Personal Trainer or intend to use your exercise ball at home then I would also recommend that you purchase a Swiss Ball Pump. These excellent devices will enable you to inflate your ball very quickly and some have a special valve that enables you to inflate both on the push and pull of the handle.
There are many benefits to using an exercise ball but these 2 are my favourites:
Performing exercises on top of an inflated ball seriously challenges your balance. This doesn’t mean you have to stand on the ball, more often than not you are lying on top of the ball either facing upwards or lying face down. As the ball tries to move underneath you the smaller stabilising muscles of the body have to work hard to maintain your position. It is these small stabilising muscles that are often neglected in modern day training because most people concentrate on the large (look good) muscles.
Ignoring the stabilising muscles is a big mistake because child development shows us that as we grow it’s the stabilising muscles that develop first and the larger muscles second. Without stabilisation muscles we cannot maintain correct joint alignment or provide a safe platform for the larger more powerful muscles to operate off. In simple terms, the stabilisation muscles are part of the muscular foundation. The better the stabilisation muscles the less prone to injury you become and ultimately the more power you can generate.
Performing exercises on top of the Swiss Ball allows for a full range of forward flexion and back extension. As you lie over the ball backwards you will notice that the ball beautifully fills the arch of your back. When you exercise on the floor back extension is limited, the ground prevents you from bending too far backwards. The spine is developed to bend backwards just as it bends forwards and so exercising on top of the ball allows for full movement in both directions.
A perfect example of this is evident when you look at Swiss Ball Crunches that involve performing crunches while lying on top of the ball. If you were to perform this exercise on the floor your crunch would be limited to only half the movement by the floor. Using a ball for this exercise enables you to get full back extension along with full abdominal flexion.
Before we dive into the exercises it’s a good idea to get used to the exercise ball and warm up the hips because the hips spend some much time sitting statically.
Begin by just sitting on the ball, your thighs should be parallel with the floor. If your thighs are not level with the ground then you need to change the size of ball you are using. If your thighs slope forwards then the ball is too large and if they slope backwards then it’s too small.
Next start to get used to the movement of the ball beneath your buttocks. Try these mobility movements to really get your hips moving and your back warmed up:
Following this hip mobility routine you should have a better feeling as to how the ball moves beneath you. You will have fired up your small stabilisation muscles and also given your hips the movement they desperately need from spending so much time sitting still.
OK, so you have your Swiss Ball or you have grabbed hold of one down your local gym, what now?
Here is a list of some of the exercises you can try:
I’ve included this exercise first because its probably one of the easiest exercises and excellent for helping people to Squat properly if they lack core stability.
Basically you place the ball behind your back and up against a wall, so the ball is sandwiched between you and the wall. You then lean into the ball as you perform a full Squat. I’ve used this method for teaching the Squat with clients that want to practice by themselves but require the ball for extra confidence. It works very well and is an excellent start to using the ball.
The regular floor plank is an excellent exercise for activating the core muscles that prevent back extension. However, when you add a Swiss ball into the mix it become a far more challenging exercise.
Here’s a quick guide to how its done:
You will find when you try this exercise that the ball will try to move underneath your elbows. It is this constant movement that increases the demands on your core activation. If you start to feel it in your lower back then it’s time to stop your core has given up!
Although the Swiss ball is often associated with core exercises it is also a great tool for working hip extension and the Hamstrings. Again the instability of the ball puts a much larger demand on the stabilising muscles and causing the muscle to work harder to achieve the exercise.
To perform the exercise:
Hip extension and the Hamstrings are often neglected in many peoples workouts but they are vital for a balanced body. Not only are the hamstrings the body’s natural brakes but hip extension is vital to counteract all the sitting we do these days.
The Jackknife is a great exercise for working the core muscles for all angles. It is a more advanced exercise so if you struggle with the Swiss Ball Plank then this is going to be too much for you at this stage.
Here’s how its done:
During the whole exercise it is vital that you do not let your hips drop. Keep your core tight and maintain good alignment. The ball will want to move underneath you so a greater emphasis is placed on the core during this exercise. For the more advanced you can try this exercise with just one leg rather than 2 🙂
Another excellent way you can use an exercise ball is to improve your Push Up Stability. Simply by performing a push up either with your hands on the ball or your feet on the ball you can challenge your stabilisation and core muscles even more.
The push up with your feet on the ball is an excellent progression on from the regular raised feet push up, so the progression would look like this:
Performing push ups with your feet on the ball seriously challenges your core stability at the ball tries to move underneath you.
If you perform the Push up with your hands on the ball then you challenge not only your core stability but your shoulder stability too. I personally love this exercise.
Now you have a basic understanding of the exercises you can start to put them together into a workout.
Remember that this type of training is very demanding so you don’t want to include too many of the same exercises into each workout.
Here are a few effective circuits that you could try:
Once you have finished your workout it’s time to cool down. Cooling down enables the heart rate to return back to normal and the body temperature to reduce.
Many people advocate stretching straight after a workout but I’m NOT one of these people. Following exercise your nervous system is too Sympathetic, meaning that you are still in a ‘Stressed Out’ state, stretching is simply not effective in this state. To get any benefits from stretching your nervous system needs to be Para-sympathetic, this means you need to be relaxed. To maximise stretching your should aim for times when you are relaxed, like the evenings before bedtime.
I do recommend that you return to the hip mobility routine that I outlined earlier to assist the cool down process. Run through the list of hip movements for 5-10 minutes and concentrate on your breathing.
One Stretch that most people can benefit from at any time of the day is too simply lie backwards over the ball. Place the ball in the mid back and slowly let the ball fill your backs natural curves. This position is highly relaxing and helps to lengthen the full ‘fascial backline’. You will also find that it releases a lot of the backs residual tension.
People with low blood pressure should be careful because your may feel light headed during this movement.
I hope you enjoyed this article on Stability Ball Training. Just like any other piece of exercise equipment it is only as good as the person using it, so start out steady. Take your time and get used to the unstable surface that the ball offers.
Swiss Balls are not for everyone but if you feel that you are ready to take the next step then they can offer you a multitude of options and some great results in return for your efforts.
Take care and enjoy the workouts!
Do you use a Swiss Ball? What’s your favourite exercise?
Welcome to my October 2012 Monthly Workout!
As this is the first of my Monthly Workouts I’m going to focus this month on the Core and Abs.
If you are familiar with my training philosophies then you will know that I believe we should start by training the centre of the body in order to build a strong platform. A strong core means that you are able to handle movement from multiple directions and also transfer movement from the lower half of the body to the upper half.
Most importantly, a strong core means you are less prone to injury while enjoying anything you like to enjoy in daily life 🙂
The exercise programme is very simple and only involves 3 exercises:
Each exercise is performed for a certain number of reps before moving onto the next. Once you have finished all 3 exercises then you continue repeating the circuit for a total of 7 minutes. Rest should be kept to a minimum between exercises.
The workout only lasts 7 minutes but it is intense. Â You can choose to perform the workout at the end of another workout as a core finisher or by itself as a stand alone workout.
If you are new to these types of workouts or haven’t really focused much on your Core / Abs in this way before I would use it as a stand alone workout. Get familiar with this type of training first and practice the exercises before integrating it into other workouts.
Word of Warning: this workout will totally fatigue your core muscles so don’t perform it before another workout. Totally wearing our your core muscles and total spinal stability system before embarking on other exercises is a seriously badÂ idea.
I will list below ways you can make the exercises easier or harder so you can continue to use this workout for a full 4 weeks or maybe longer.
As with all exercise training everyone is different so I would recommend you start with a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule and see how it goes. Remember that the core muscle are like all other muscles and need time to recover and repair themselves. The trick is to work hard during the workout and then rest hard so they will recover stronger. More is not always better!
If you discover that your core muscles are still very sore after the days rest then please take another day off.
During this workout you will be challenging your core stabilisation in the 3 fundamental movement directions: Frontal (side to side), Sagittal (forwards and backwards), and Transverse (Rotational).
Training your core in this way ensures that all the muscles that are responsible for all core movement directions are catered for.
The exercises described below are focused on Core Stabilisation. Basically, what this means is that you are moving arms and legs while the core is staying rigid and protecting the spine.
Core Stabilisation is fundamental for preventing injury and developing a strong platform for your limbs to operation from.
Here’s how the workout goes:
The Slow Mountain Climber starts from a basic push up position and then alternating knees are raised to the elbow slowly while keeping the hips and core tight and rigid. Your core muscles are challenged in this position both by gravity pushing down on your hips and also the movement of your legs.
Here are a few teaching points:
My advice would be to start by performing 10 reps in total, alternating sides each time. If you find that 10 is too much, especially later on in the workout, then cut it down to 8 or 6.
If you find 10 is too easy then increase the total up to a max of 20. Just remember the slower each rep the better 🙂
If you find the exercise too difficult then you should practice the movement but touch your toe down next to your elbow with each rep. Touching down your toe with hugely reduce the demand placed on your core muscles.
To make the exercise more difficult, focus on technique, keep everything still except the moving leg and increase the reps. Keep them very slow!
The side plank works the muscles down the side of your body and by adding a rotation you further challenge your core stability. Like the slow mountain climbers gravity is pushing down on you as you post up into the side plank position.
Here are my teaching points:
Start with 5 reps per side. Keep them controlled and slow. If you find 5 reps too easy then increase them to a maximum of 10 reps per side.
If you find 5 reps too difficult then you can reduce them down to 3 reps.
If you find this side plank with rotation too tricky then you can just hold the side plank and forget about the rotation part. Hold the side plank and count to 10, slowly.
The dead bug is a tricky exercise that works on Pelvic Stability. As you lie on your back and lower alternating arms and legs the weight of the leg wants to rotate your pelvis. Your core muscles are responsible for preventing your pelvis from moving. So of all the 3 exercises this is the one where you will need to really concentrate on the core stability of your pelvis.
It is VERY important that you prevent your lower back from arching during this exercise!
Here are my teaching points:
The main goal is 10 total reps alternating sides. If you find this too easy then increase up to a maximum of 20.
If you find this too tough then reduce down to only 6 or 8 total reps.
For many people maintaining contact with the ground with their lower back is extremely difficult. If this is the case for you then you need to do the following:
OK, there you have it, my 7 minute core and abs triple workout. Give it a try for the next month and see how you get on.
Try to increase the amount of reps that you perform for each exercise each week. So you could try:
Most of all build an exercise habit. Try to perform this workout 3 times per week. Take your time and concentrate on ‘how it feels’ and your technique!
Are you willing to give it a go? Comments welcome below….
Who doesn’t love a challenge? This Dumbbell Workout Challenge requires just one pair of dumbbells so you can perform it at home, in the garden or down the gym. Great for fat loss, and developing strength endurance.
Practice the exercises first and progress slowly. When you are ready take on the challenge.
Choose a set of Dumbbells that you can press overhead 20 times.
How did you get on? What was your time? Please share below…