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Using a fitness ball for core exercises

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Core exercises should be a part of any well-rounded fitness program, and not be restricted to a few occasional sit-ups and push-ups. It pays to work those core muscles around your trunk and pelvis, and improve balance and stability.

Using a fitness or balance ball to strengthen your core muscles helps to work even your deepest muscles. Further advantages of using a gym ball for core exercises include:

-          Increase balance and stability – developing muscles in the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen increases balance and stability in all your physical activities. They also improve coordination.

-          Don’t need a gym membership – Fitness balls are inexpensive and can be used anywhere, even in the comfort of your home. They are excellent tools for crunches, push-ups, trunk extensions, abdominal rolls, and different stretches.

-          Tone abs – Core exercises will help to define abdominal muscles. They will strengthen and tone the underlying muscles as well as hard-to-get-to muscles like the TVA and erector spinae.

-          Make you stronger - Strong core muscles will make physical activities, like swinging a golf club, grabbing a plate from the top shelf or tying your shoes, easier. They also strengthen posture, and reduce lower back pain.

-          Reach fitness and weigh loss goals - Aerobic exercise, stretching and muscular fitness are the principal elements of most fitness programs. Nevertheless, a well-rounded fitness plan is incomplete without core exercises. Without them, results will not be totally optimized.

         

When using a gym ball make sure you:

-          Hold onto a wall, or press the ball against a sturdy object, when first trying these exercises. Additional support adds stability. 

-          Perform 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps of each exercise. Always watch your form and only increase the sets of reps when your body can handle more.

-          Avoid exercises that cause you pain or you don’t understand. Performing exercises incorrectly limits the benefits, and in some cases, can harm you.

-          See your doctor before exercising if you have existing injuries or health conditions.


The following moves are examples of advanced exercises and should not be attempted by those new to a fitness ball, or who are in poor physical shape. They should start with a fitness ball workout for beginners.

Ball Balance

Position the ball under your abs and hips. Put your hands on the floor and legs straight, and off the floor; you are basically forming a straight line. Pull in your abs and hold that position for 20 to 30 seconds. While keeping your balance, slowly raise your right arm out to the side. Avoid rolling and don’t allow your body to collapse. Hold for a few seconds and switch arms.  

Hip Extension



Lie down with heels propped on the ball and your arms on the floor next to your body.  Keeping your abs tight, slowly lift your hips up until your body is in a straight line. Hold for a few seconds and lower.  Repeat.

As a variation, you can also lift the hips and then take one leg off the ball. Hold that position for a few a seconds and lower. Repeat by lifting the other leg.

Back Extension



Position the ball under your hips and lower your torso with your knees straight (or bent).  Keep your hands behind your head or back. Slowly roll forward on the ball. Lift your chest up until your body is in a straight line. Your body should be aligned with your head, neck, shoulders and back in a straight line. Make sure your abs are pulled in and that you are not hyper extending your back. 

Butt Lift


Lie back on the stability ball with the head, neck and shoulders supported. Your legs are slightly apart. Fully bend your knees, tighten your abs and resume a table-top or bridge position. Without rolling the ball, lower your hips towards the floor. Squeeze the glutes to raise the hips up again until the body is back into a straight line. Your knees should make a perfect 90-degree angle. Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds, keeping the glutes squeezed and the abs tight. Also, make sure you press firmly through the heels and not your toes.

Ab Roll



Kneel in front of the ball and place your arms on the ball with your elbows bent. Tighten your torso by contracting your abs and pulling your belly towards your spine. Slowly move forward, rolling the ball out as far as possible, but without straining or arching your back. Keeping the body aligned, slowly pull your body back to the start position, using your arms and abdominals – you can push your elbows into the ball. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps. You can increase the difficulty level by placing your hands on the ball closer in or further out.

Avoid this move if you have back problems.

These are just a few examples of core strengthening exercises. They should be quite helpful to increase fitness and lose weight. If you are unsure if these exercises are right for you, consult with your doctor or an experienced fitness instructor. Do not hesitate to ask questions as these professionals are there to help you.



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