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Add a stability ball to your routine for better balance, strength

Bring in the new year with a bounce! If you're getting bored with your exercise routine and would like to jazz it up a little, a stability ball is a fun way to add variety to a traditional workout. You can even use the ball as a weight bench for strength exercises. This big, bouncy ball offers many different exercise options, from warmups to flexibility, strength and balance workouts. The stability ball originally was used for spinal injury rehabilitation. It has since become a fixture in the fitness world, where it is called a Swiss ball, balance ball, physioball, or simply exercise or fitness ball. One major benefit of the stability ball is its effectiveness at targeting the core muscles that are so essential to stability and good posture, offering greater range of motion than lying on the floor.

Before "playtime," you will need an antiburst ball that is fully inflated and the right size for you; sitting on the ball with feet flat on the floor, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. And when you lie on your stomach on the ball, you should be able to maintain the natural arch in your back, to prevent straining it. You also will need an air pump to keep the ball inflated. You may want to consider picking up a stability ball holder.

Cautionary tale

If you have back issues, check with your doctor before you use a ball. Even if you have no back issues, if you're a beginner you should start slowly and gradually build up the time spent sitting on the ball. If you need help with balance, sit next to a wall or stable chair. As an introduction to using the ball for exercise, sit on the ball for 10 or 15 minutes at a time until you feel you can maintain your balance.

The ball as a chair

If you spend a lot of time at a computer, alternate between sitting on a chair and sitting on the ball, and don't forget to take "stand up and walk a bit" breaks. I often use the ball as my desk chair. I like it. Here are two reasons why:

Spinal alignment: Sitting on the ball forces you to sit tall (back straight with a small curve in the lower back) rather than hunched over with rounded shoulders. Because the ball is unstable, the support needed for balance comes from shoulder, hip and core stability; maintaining proper posture is key for providing the stability necessary for balancing on the ball.

Movement while sitting: "Active sitting" helps you avoid the negative effects of prolonged sitting. You can add intermittent movement by simply bouncing or tapping your feet. And you will notice that you are changing positions frequently to help with balance.

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Photos by LARA CERRI | Times

Squat with ball overhead: This targets the shoulders, arms, backs, glutes and thighs.

Stand with your legs hip width apart and hold the ball. Lift the ball overhead, extending arms and keeping them close to your ears. Keeping the weight in your heels, lower your body into a squat position. Hold the squat for a few seconds, then push back to standing. Continue holding the ball overhead as you repeat the squats 10 to 12 times.

Chest press on floor: This targets the chest, shoulders and triceps (back of upper arms).

Lying on your back, place your lower legs on the ball; hold weights, palms facing in at shoulder level. Press weights upward, holding for a count of three, then slowly lower them. To challenge your balance, sit on the ball while performing the chest press or any other upper body exercise.

Pushups on ball: This targets the chest, abdominals and triceps.

To get into starting position, kneel in front of the ball, then roll forward onto it. (Contracting your abdominals will help you maintain balance.) Lying with your abdomen on the ball, walk your hands forward on the floor until the ball is under your shins; beginners can place the ball under their thighs. The torso will be in a flat pushup position. Keeping your head aligned with your back and your hands under your shoulders, bend your elbows and slowly, with control, lower your torso toward the floor. Press your upper body to the starting position, pause, then continue for desired repetitions, working up to 15 reps. When you feel comfortable with 15 reps, try for two sets of 15.

Add a stability ball to your routine for better balance, strength 01/22/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2016 1:57pm]
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