Don't Judge a Stability Ball by Its Soft Cover

Push Pull On Ball
August 24, 2007
By Pam Owens Titleist Performance Institute

A stability ball is not so innocent. Its soft, colorful and smooth appearance has fooled many into believing it couldn't be as good to work out with as the hard iron dumbbells that we have all come to associate with sweat, pain and progress. One client said, "I can military press 150, and leg press 400. Come on, what could balls and bands do for [a strong guy like] me?" My answer was, "try pressing just half that amount while sitting on a ball with one foot off the ground and find out." This client more than likely will be more challenged when pressing a lesser amount while sitting on a ball. Why? Because he will be forced to recruit a host of other muscles, i.e., core stabilizers, in order not to fall. Those muscles have not been trained as diligently as he has trained his shoulders and other large muscles. So, don't judge a stability ball by its soft cover. It can provide an extremely challenging workout to the strongest as well as to the beginner.

Traditional weight training is great, but just because you can press a lot of weights around the gym do not be fooled into believing you are in peak form for performing your sport. Peak athletic performance is just as dependant on the stabilizer muscles as it is on major muscle strength. Stabilizers enable you to keep the core stable or unchanged while contracting other muscles to perform other movements. A phrase I learned at the Titleist Performance Institute was "you can't mobilize what you can't stabilize." Or to say that another way, you can't mobilize efficiently when you lose stability. In all movements, a loss of stability equals a loss of power and efficiency.

One aspect of core training is to practice the matching movements of your sport using resistance bands and balls to force you to recruit the muscles which have been underused or inhibited. In the golf swing, for example, you must maintain a consistent posture angle throughout the complete golf swing even though tremendous forces and changes in balance occur during the backswing and downswing. Training with bands and balls in a golf posture is designed to challenge your core to its limits with the end result of better sports performance.

Three effective moves you can perform on the stability ball are plank push-ups, hip bridges, and the Russian twist. Work on bracing your abs and back while performing each one 5 times. Always listen to your body and stop if you experience pain. 1) To get into plank push-ups, start with your stomach on the ball. Roll forward over the ball while using your hands to walk forward until the ball is under your thighs. Keeping your body flat like a plank of wood, bend the elbows and perform the push-up maneuver. The further down your leg the ball is positioned, the more the push-up will challenge your abs, back and chest. 2) The hip bridge exercise starts with your feet resting on the top of the ball while your head and back are resting on the floor. Place your arms in a T-formation until you are able to perform this exercise without shaking or rolling side to side. Squeeze your glutes and lift the hips into the air until your body is in a straight line from head to toe. This exercise works the glutes and back. 3) The Russian twist has been a popular exercise and works on rotational core strength. Start by sitting on the ball, and then walk your feet away from the ball allowing the ball to roll up your back until it stops beneath your shoulder blades. You should have your knees at a 90 degree angle with your upper body and face looking at the ceiling. Place your straight arms over your head and turn your shoulders to one side until you are balancing on one shoulder on the ball while your two feet remain on the floor. Rotate back to center and repeat to the other side. Try these three exercises on the stability ball to train your core for better sports performance.

The stability ball has grown in popularity for a good reason and it is time that you incorporate it into your fitness regimen in as many ways as possible. Pick the correct size ball by checking the angle of the knee when sitting on the blown up ball. Your knees should be at 90 degrees as well as your hips while sitting in the middle of the ball. Of course, if you have injuries or are not in good health, please see a physician before starting any exercise regimen. For further help with correct form and more ball training, see a personal trainer or attend a ball class at a gym near you. ©

Pam Owens, M. A., ACSM, TPI CGFI Certified Personal Trainer and Titleist Performance Institute Certified Golf Fitness Instructor