Originally created 10/10/00

Fitness balls make comeback in exercise regimes

A fitness ball is a grown-up version of the Hippity Hop we played with as children.

Remember it? That enormous rubber sphere, about two feet in diameter, with a handle on top. It was made just for bouncing - and it was fun.

A fitness ball evokes the same child-like amusement.

"It's like sitting on a big marshmallow," said personal trainer Pam Ludlow. Maybe, just maybe, this could make crunches fun.

"Everything you do on the ball challenges balance," Mrs. Ludlow said. "You're using muscles just sitting on it."

But Mrs. Ludlow recommends doing much more than just sitting on it. Crunches, squats, push-ups, and many more exercises, can be done on the ball. Using a fitness ball can help support the neck, back and knees during each exercise.

"Just about anything you can do on he bench, you can do on the ball," Mrs. Ludlow said.

Balls known by brand names such as Resist-A-Ball have been used for rehabilitation for about 80 years. But in recent years the balls have rolled into health and fitness clubs.

And it can be used in the living room. No fancy equipment - just a big rubber ball.

In Augusta, the balls are sold at Fitness Plus, Play It Again Sports and The Sports Authority for $25 to $35.

Having a ball

Personal trainer Pam Ludlow demonstrates four exercises that can be done with a fitness ball. Mrs. Ludlow recommends that beginners start with single sets of eight repetitions and add sets as endurance increases. Click on the name of any of the exercises to see the picture.

PUSH-UPS: Place ball under thighs, knees or shins. To increase difficulty, push the ball further out under the legs, toward the ankles. The ball relieves pressure on knees or toes.

CRUNCHES: Position the ball in the small of the back and lift upper body. Works abs while supporting back.

SHOULDER ADDUCTION: Lie across the ball on your stomach. Keep toes on the floor to anchor your body and keep abdominal muscles tight. Holding hand weights, squeeze shoulder blades together. Works the upper back and shoulders.

REVERSE CURL: Lie on floor. With arms by your sides, grab the ball with your legs and squeeze between heels and thighs. Roll the ball into the body, lifting your butt off the floor. Works the lower ab muscles.

SQUATS: Position the ball under your back. Using your weight to hold it in place, slowly bend knees and lower your body toward the floor. Roll back as you straighten legs. Works legs and butt while supporting the back.

TRUNK EXTENSIONS: Lie across the ball on your stomach. Keep toes on the floor to anchor your body and keep abdominal muscles tight. Start with head lowered toward floor, then lift your chest and shoulders until spine and neck are straight. Works the spine and the lumbar region.

BUTTOCKS TUCK: Position ball under middle of back and roll down until it's under shoulders and neck. Squeeze the butt upward and relax. For added work, squeeze the knees together at the same time. Hand weights can be rested on top of the thighs for more resistance.

CHEST FLY: Maintain buttocks tuck position. Keep the body straight and hold arms out to the sides. Lift weights from the sides straight up and bring hands together. The ball supports the spine. "For this, you have to engage other muscles to keep from falling," Mrs. Ludlow said.

PRONE SPINE STRETCH: After each workout, be sure to stretch out the muscles that were worked. For the Prone spine stretch, lie on your stomach across the ball. Completely relax and let your body fold over the ball.

SUPINE SPINE STRETCH: The supine spine stretch is just the reverse. Lie across the ball on your back. "It's wonderful because it supports every vertebrae of the spine," Mrs. Ludlow said.


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