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Balance Balls: Why They Work
No matter how you use a balance ball, your muscles have to compensate for the air-inflated sphere's tendency to roll readily in any direction. Your first few balance ball workouts might consist of just learning how to sit on the ball without wobbling. But as you build strength and stability you can add more challenging exercises into your balance ball workout, targeting the specific muscles you'd like to strengthen along with your core.
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Balance Ball Planks
During a regular floor plank you support yourself on your forearms and the balls of your feet. This type of isometric (non-moving) contraction strengthens your muscles at the particular joint angle you're holding. Proper plank form means holding your body straight from head to heels, in a classic "good posture" position that puts intense strain on your abs. Including planks in your balance ball workout supercharges the exercise, forcing your abs to work even harder.
- Kneel with your back to the balance ball.
- Place both hands flat on the floor, directly beneath your shoulders.
- Place both thighs on top of the ball, one at a time.
- Squeeze your abs to keep your body straight from head to heels.
- Walk your hands forward, keeping your shoulders over your hands. The further forward you roll, the harder the exercise will be. Stop when you reach the desired level of intensity.
- Continue breathing normally as you hold yourself in position. Start with holding the position for 10 to 15 seconds, gradually increasing the time as you build strength and endurance.
You can also perform a balance ball plank with the balls of your feet on the floor and your forearms resting on the ball. The same basic rules apply--hold your body straight from head to heels, and check your posture frequently to make sure your hips don't pike up or sag down.
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Balance Ball Pullovers
Working your back muscles without weight equipment is almost impossible. At the very least, you need a bar for doing pullups. But with balance ball pullovers, your don't need any additional equipment and your own body weight provides the resistance. Although this is primarily a back exercise pullovers also target your chest and abs, so do them fairly early in your workout before your muscles are fatigued.
- Kneel facing the balance ball.
- Fist your hands and place them on the balance ball, thumbs pointing up.
- Roll your hands slowly forward across the ball. Your body will tilt toward the ball as your forearms, then elbows rest on top of the ball.
- Squeeze your abs to keep your body as straight as possible from knees to head throughout the movement.
- Press down with your arms--think of swinging your arms down toward your body--to lever yourself back to the starting position.
This is an extremely challenging exercise--all the more reason to do it early in your balance ball workout.
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Balance Ball Hamstring Curls
Your hamstrings are just as difficult to work without additional equipment as your back muscles are, but you can target them effectively by doing leg curls on the balance ball. Like pullovers, this is a very demanding exercise that you should do early in your balance ball workout.
- Assume the balance ball glute bridge position: faceup with your heels on top of the ball, shoulders and arms on the floor, body straight from head to feet.
- Bend your knees, rolling the ball toward you. You'll end up with your feet resting flat on the ball.
- Your body will tilt knees-up as you do this; squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your body as straight as possible.
- Straighten your legs to slowly return to the start position.
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More Balance Ball Exercises
These exercises are just a taste of what you can do with one of the most versatile exercise tools in existence. Check out the first article in this series for three more exercises you can include in your balance ball workout, or adapt your favorite seated, supine or prone free-weight exercises to use on the ball: The overhead press is a good example.
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