Sitting in front of the computer for long hours? Prefer to lounge in the sofa than sit upright? Surely your posture and abdominal muscles are bearing the brunt. Everyone from sportsmen to housewives to fitness enthusiasts have to battle the problems of urban living like back pain and faulty posture. The deep stabilising muscles [deep inner abdominal muscles] of the body are the key to protecting you from sports injuries and stress-related aches. These same muscles tend to get neglected even in the most intense workouts on machines leading to their gradual weakening and deterioration. A good way to strengthen these stabilisers is with a versatile piece of exercise equipment called the Swiss ball or fitness/exercise ball.
Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.
Benefits of using a Swiss ball
Using a Swiss ball offers a refreshing addition to your current workout programme. It strengthens the stabiliser muscles in your body, thus improving your body's stability and balance.
Sitting on a Swiss ball helps to bring movement to the lower spine keeping the discs nourished by increasing the flow of fluids in the disc. It also helps to reduce stiffness caused by sitting on regular chairs. The movement on the ball while sitting helps to reduce stiffness as against the chair which is stable and movement is not possible.
The Swiss ball provides an excellent range of motion for abdominal exercises. It strengthens the core muscles which stabilise the hips, pelvis and the spine effectively. There by strengthening the back and neck muscles very effectively.
Frequently asked questions
Can everyone balance on the ball?
Yes. To begin, just sit on the ball and lightly bounce on it. After you are comfortable, carefully lie on it and slowly breathe abdominally. Obese people must refrain from using the Swiss ball since they will not be able to balance and, might get injured. However, in case of rehabilitation it is required that the exercises be done under strict supervision.
Will I fall off the ball?
Not if you are careful. All beginners should consult a qualified fitness instructor trained in Swiss ball exercises before starting off.
How do I purchase a ball?
Buy from an authorised fitness equipment outlet. Ensure that the ball has anti-burst properties, Air pumps are available with the ball. Avoid shiny rubber surfaces. Fitness balls come in different sizes. The basic rule for choosing the correct size is that when you're sitting on the ball, you should be able to easily balance with your feet on the ground. Your hips and knees should both be at right angles.
The following will help you choose the right-sized ball, based on your height:
- 55cm if you're less than 5 ft tall
- 65cm if you're between 5 ft and 5 ft 7 inches tall
- 75 cm if you're between 5 ft 8 inches and 6 ft 2 inches tall
- 85 cm if you're over 6 ft 2 inches tall
How should it be maintained?
Make sure that the ball is regularly cleaned. Dust can make the ball slippery. Keep it away from sharp objects. Do not force it into furniture and gym equipment.
Can I keep it at home or in the office gym?
Swiss balls can be used anywhere. They can be used in office spaces or homes as chairs. However, it is important to sit upright. Also, it is important that one uses it for few minutes at a time.
Can the Swiss ball be used for weight training exercises?
Yes. In fact, strength and stability are tackled together in one exercise. For example, exercising on the Swiss ball has a dual benefit of working out not only the main target muscles, [chest muscles in case of chest press on Swiss ball] but also the deep abdominal muscles which in the case of a bench chest press would have been ignored. This makes the body stable and strong.
The above exercises should be done only when you get comfortable sitting and lying down on the ball. Start with 10-15 repetitions of each exercise. Do the exercises with good form rather than more repetitions. Bad form will result in serious injuries hampering your exercise programme. All exercises should be done under the supervision of a qualified fitness instructor and after approval from a medical practitioner.
Exercises to benefit the chest, upper back muscles, biceps and triceps
- Push ups - Place your hands on the floor wider than shoulder width. Now, place your shins on the ball. Activate your lower abdominal muscles by sucking the navel in and keep your back straight. Slowly lower yourself to the floor while maintaining a straight back and balance on the ball. Then press the hands down to rise up. Repeat. Stop the exercise if the back arches or rounds.
- Chest flyes - Sit on the ball. Then roll down so that the head, neck, shoulders and upper back are on the ball. The knees should be bent at 90 degree angle and the feet should be firmly placed on the floor. Maintain the head, shoulders, hips and knees in a straight line. Keep the lower abdominal muscles activated by sucking the navel in. Now hold a pair of dumbbells above the chest with elbows slightly bent. Lower the dumbbells towards the floor with the shoulders opening out and then return to the starting position. Repeat.
- Dumbbell rows - Lie on the ball with the chest on the ball and feet on the floor. The legs should be stretched out straight with knees straight. Hold dumbbells in your hands and slowly lift them to the chest taking the elbows straight back and bringing the shoulder blades together as you raise the dumbbells. Keep the back and neck neutral and lower abdominal muscles activated throughout the exercise. Now, bring the dumbbells down to the starting position and repeat.
- Pullovers - Get into the same position like in the earlier chest flye exercise. Hold either a dumbbell or a medicinal ball in your hands straight above your upper chest with both hands together. Now, keeping the elbows slightly bent slowly lower the dumbbell towards the floor. Come back to starting position. Repeat. Maintain a straight back and hips should be in line with the back throughout the exercise. Also activate the lower abdominal muscles to avoid injury to the lower back.
- Hammer curls - Sit on the ball while holding dumbbells in your hands as if you were holding a hammer. Now raise the dumbbells up and then lower them back. Keep the lower abdominals activated and the back erect. Repeat.
- French curls - Sit on the ball and then roll down such that the head, neck, shoulders and upper back are firmly placed on the ball. Keep the knees bent at a 90 degree angle and feet on floor. Make sure that the head, shoulders, hips and the knees are in a straight line. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands such that the upper arms are close to the ears. Now, slowly bend the elbows and lower the weights down towards the floor and then straighten the arm up again. Do not move the upper arms and keep the shoulders firm. Repeat.
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