You see large, colorful exercise balls lying around gyms, but what are they? They go by many names-Swiss balls, physioballs, stability balls, birth balls-and have even more uses. Physical therapists have used them for years to treat a variety of injuries, but now these oversized balls are showing up in fitness centers, birthing centers, and even many households. They're versatile tools for exercise and useful during birth. So how can they benefit you?|
Using stability balls during exercise is quite simple. Here's an easy example. Stand up with your feet wide apart. Pretty easy, right? The wider your base is when standing, the more grounded you are. Now bring your feet completely together. Still simple, but a little harder to hold your body still. Now lift one foot off the ground. This is a lot harder because you have to balance yourself. Your muscles in your legs have to work harder. Your foot is probably shaking back and forth a bit to keep your body upright. Your entire core-your abs, obliques, lower back, and hips-are working overtime.
These are endurance muscles (they work for long periods of time throughout the day) that help you balance. Any time you are walking while carrying a heavy bag, any time you lift up to your tiptoes to get something off a top shelf, any time you bend over to pick up a child- your core muscles are there supporting you so that you don't fall over.
Using a stability ball makes what would be normal exercises harder because it provides an unstable surface. So rather than sitting on a bench to do a biceps curl, you have to balance your body weight on a round ball, engaging your core the entire time- without much effort on your part.
Use of the balls facilitates the neuromuscular system, increasing core strength, balance, and posture. During birth many midwives and doulas use them, since they provide a comfortable place for the mother to sit or lean, as well as helping turn a posterior baby to the correct position. The ball can even be used while sitting at a desk or watching TV- so that, without conscious effort, you receive the benefits of both better posture and core strength.
The balls are also helpful before, during, and after pregnancy for stretching and strengthening your muscles, and you can use weights and exercise bands to increase the intensity of your workout with a stability ball. Since balance is required to sit on the ball while you do upper and lower body movements, you'll also work your core while increasing the intensity of your workout.