Even though fitness has become an industry, many of the most useful fitness products and their associated exercises are actually both affordable and simple and many can actually be used in reasonably small spaces. Yoga mats, skipping ropes (including the indoor ones without the actual rope) and fitness balls all come into this category.
Fitness balls are far more than just a fad
Some exercise products take the world by storm and then, just like a storm, they pass over and are forgotten. The ones which stand the test of time tend to be low-cost, low-tech, simple to use and, of course, effective, fitness balls tick all of these boxes.
They are super-affordable
Fitness balls (sometimes known as stability balls) are one of the lowest-cost fitness products it’s possible to buy. You can pretty much buy a fitness ball for the price of a large, fancy beverage from a well-known chain.
They are basically technology-free
Some people love technology and, to be fair, it does have a number of legitimate uses in sports, particularly at higher levels where every millisecond counts. On the other hand, if you just want an effective means of keeping fit, then there’s a lot to be said for low-tech solutions. The fewer components something has, the less likely it is to break and the easier it usually is to use.
They are utterly simple to use
There’s nothing fancy about fitness balls, the principles of using them as a form of exercise are very straightforward to grasp - in theory. In reality, they’ll probably take a bit of practice. They are also simple to use in the sense of being a “go anywhere, use anywhere” product. Fitness balls are inflatable so not only are they simple to bring home (or have delivered) but they are also easy to fit into luggage, even aircraft carry-on, for people wanting to have a means of exercising while they are away from home. Likewise, in today’s small homes, fitness balls can be stored away easily in a small space and just inflated when it’s time to use them. Fitness balls often come with their own pump but if not (or if you lose it) all you need is a standard ball pump. These are widely available and very low cost.
They are very effective indeed
The defining feature of any ball is that it is round, hence it rolls. This means that when you use a fitness ball, you need to engage all kinds of core muscles “just” to keep it steady, before you even get started on the actual exercise. This, of course, has the added benefit of developing your balance and coordination as well as improving the condition of the actual muscles. Putting this slightly differently, unless you already have excellent balance, you’re probably going to find that your early days (in fact maybe your first few weeks) with the gym ball involve a lot of falling off onto the floor. This is perfectly normal. Keep practicing and you’ll get the balance right and be able to focus on the exercises.
On that note, below this videoo are four great exercises for all-round fitness
These are old favourites and they work. They work even better with the balance ball. The key to this exercise is to do it slowly so that it is your muscles which do the work rather than gravity. For safety reasons, you need to ensure that your back is always straight but that there is always a slight bend in your elbow to stop it from locking.
Lie over the ball so it is under your stomach. Walk forward on your hands so that the ball moves onto your thighs. Bend your elbows until you are as close to the floor as you can comfortably manage. Slowly raise yourself back up until your arms are almost straight.
Lie over the ball so it is under your stomach. Walk forward on your hands so that the ball moves onto your calves. Bend your elbows until you are almost touching the floor and hold for 3 seconds. Slowly raise yourself back up until your arms are almost straight.
Once you have achieved your desired level of fitness, 15 to 25 repetitions is a good rule of thumb for a workout. While you are still on your way there, work to whatever level you can manage comfortably. Once you can comfortably manage 25 repetitions of a simpler version of this exercise, then make an adjustment so that it becomes more difficult (if you wish).
This is another old favourite, which is taken to a new level with the fitness ball. Stand with your back to a wall and then put the fitness ball between your back and the wall so the base of the ball is running along the length of your back. Use your back muscles to hold the ball in place without pressing it (yet). Position your legs so they are shoulder-width apart and bend them, slowly, until there is a right angle between your upper and lower legs. The ball will move with you, if it slips, either use your hands to reposition it or start again. It’s important to keep your back straight and your hips square. When you are in position, press the ball against the wall and hold for as long as you can manage. Beginners should aim for about 5 seconds, but at first even this may be a bit ambitious because the ball will want to roll and you may feel (or be) very wobbly. Once you have the hang of the exercise, aim to build up the time you spend with the ball pressed against the wall to a minute. One repetition is sufficient.
Crunches on a fitness ball are significantly more intense than crunches on the floor, so be prepared to discover that you can do fewer than you thought you could.
Lie on the ball so that it supports your back and place your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands somewhere comfortable, behind your head is fine, just as long as you resist the temptation to use them to help with the movement. The whole point of this exercise is to get your stomach muscles to do the work. Using your stomach muscles, raise your shoulders and upper back off the ball. You can either move both shoulders at once or twist from the waist to raise one shoulder at a time. Only come as far off the ball as you feel comfortable. Then, continuing to use your stomach muscles, lower yourself back onto the ball.
Aim for 20 to 30 repetitions but work within your comfort zone (i.e. your safe zone). Even if you’re used to doing crunches on the floor, you’re going to find crunches on the ball are harder work.
Your fitness ball can work like a super-size ab roller and you can see serious results
Kneel down and rest your elbows on the fitness ball. Keeping your lower arms still, roll the ball forwards with your core muscles until your lower arms are flat on it and your chest is almost touching it. Then, again keeping your lower arms still, roll the ball back towards you, using your core muscles, until only your hands are left resting on the ball.
Aim for 15-20 repetitions, but remember this is a whole lot more challenging than using a standard ab roller, so it’s fine to start with a much lower number and work your way up.