IstockphotoYou've seen them: big rubber balls that look like they belong on a playground rather than in the gym. But don't be fooled, stability balls are a serious training tool and their wobble factor can spice up a tired routine.
A recent survey from the IDEA, the health & fitness association for fitness professionals, found that 71 percent fitness facilities surveyed nationwide were offering stability ball-based classes. You can check out the schedule at a club near you to join one of these classes. Or order a ball along with a workout video to do at home. Before you start, brush up on your ball basics.
What a stability ball is
A stability ball, also known as a Swiss ball, Resist-a-ball, fit ball, balance ball and body ball is a people-sized, inflated rubber ball. It's strong enough to sit, lie and do push-ups on.
Why you should use one
The rock-and-roll element challenges your muscles more effectively than simply performing a similar exercise on a stable surface like a gym mat. You can perform most upper and lower body weight moves and stretches on the ball—from seated biceps curls to ab crunches to back stretches. Sitting or lying on the unsteady ball engages core ab, leg and back muscles that you might not use if you didn't need to stabilize yourself during the move. Plus, the slope of the ball provides support while you work in a bigger range of motion. So if you lean back on the ball, you get a deeper stretch than if you were just flat on a mat.
Where to buy a ball
You can find stability balls at most sporting good stores or any retail outlet that sells fitness equipment. Or you can order them online at performbetter.com and spriproducts.com. Expect to pay between $20 and $45 depending on the size and brand you choose.
Sizing your ball
Balls come in different sizes to match your height. When you sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor, your hips should be at knee level, thighs parallel to the floor. Check out the list below for the size guidelines from ball retailer perform better to see which ball fits you best. When in doubt, choose a bigger size as you'll feel more supported with a larger ball.
- If you're less than 5'2" tall, try a 45-cm. ball.
- If you're 5'2" to 5'7" tall, choose a 55-cm. ball.
- If you're 5'8" to 6' tall, go with a 65-cm. ball.
- And if you're taller than 6', you need a 75-cm. ball.
Blowing up the ball at home
Your ball will come with a small hand pump, plastic tube and plug. You can also purchase a more powerful upright version that resembles a bike pump. Insert the tube into the air opening and pump the ball until it is firm and does not compress if you push your finger into it. Insert the plug.