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Exercise with caution? Fitness balls recalled

Posted Apr 23 2009 4:19pm
People searching for motivation to exercise may have another excuse to sit still: Inflatable fitness balls that might be key to toning your abs also could explode and send you crashing to the floor.

EB Brands on Thursday voluntarily recalled three million fitness balls made in China after reports that they can pop unexpectedly if overinflated -- despite the fact that the products specifically say they are burst-resistant. Bally Total Fitness, Everlast, Valeo and Body Fit Fitness Balls, all made by EB Brands, are involved in the recall.

Though the action is termed a recall, EB Brands won't actually be taking the balls back unless they have burst. Rather, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced, "Consumers should contact EB Brands to receive a copy of the updated instructions on how to safely inflate the ball."

A total of 47 people have reported that the fitness balls burst since 2000, according to the CPSC. Some people have been injured as a result, including reports of a fracture and multiple bruises.

A woman in Seattle was sitting on a Bally Sports ball playing a board game when it exploded beneath her and she fractured her sacrum.

Another who barely topped 100 pounds in Winter Springs, Fla., was exercising with weights on her exercise ball when it popped, causing her to get medical attention for bruising on her cheek and jaw.

Pregnant women and preteens alike have injured themselves when the fitness balls unexpectedly burst.

"I can just imagine being in Pilates class and having the ball explode on you," said Nancy Cowles, who has a fitness ball at home.

What's more, the executive of advocacy group Kids in Danger said, "They're big bright colorful balls," meaning they're alluring outside of exercise class.

"If you've got one and you've got kids, your kids are definitely on them in addition to the more organized use of them," Cowles said.

Indeed, the announcement came as more people are getting creative about how to use the fitness balls. Restless cubicle dwellers have ditched their traditional chairs. Pregnant women rely on them during delivery. A class of fourth grade students in California bounce on the balls during class at their desks to keep their bodies active as well as their brains.

"They're better than chairs because you get to wiggle around," one student told ABC News earlier this month.

Balls Will Remain in Stores

Despite the recall announcement, the fitness balls will remain on store shelves. And there will be no changes in design or manufacturer. In fact, there won't even be changes to the safety recommendations, other than highlighting the safety and usage paragraphs in bolder type.

"The product out there on the market is fine," Brian Anderson, president of the fitness division of EB Brands, told ABCNews.com today. "The CPSC recommended that for future products we ship, inside the box we have more robust warnings and guidelines."

"For the most part, what CPSC recommended and what we did was make the instructions we already have bolder, larger and easier to read," he added.

For information on how much to inflate the balls, the company also established a hotline for consumers and posted information on its Web site.

"I'm a little disappointed not to see anything more on the part of the company," Cowles said. "With three million balls out there, no refund, no replacement of the product, I think the number of people who are going to comply might be low."

"The recall made it sound almost as if people were not following instructions," Cowles added. "But in fact, the instructions instructed overinflation."

Anderson said he could not comment on whether any lawsuits had been filed. Asked if "burst-resistant" marketing language would remain on the packaging, Anderson said, "We have not addressed that issue."

Bursting Exercise Balls: Tips for Staying Safe

If you use an exercise ball involved in the recall, read instructions and contact the company before further use. For more information, call EB Brands hotline at (800) 624-5671 or visit its Web site at www.ebbrands.com. People also can get more information from the CPSC recall hotline at (800) 638-2772.

"If the gyms have balls under our brand -- because there are many different balls that we don't produce -- if it's covered by the CPSC announcement, the recommendation is for them to call our company," Anderson said.

Measure your exercise ball to make sure it's not too big.

Small-sized exercise balls should be no more than 22 inches in diameter and 68 inches around the center of the ball.

Medium-sized fitness balls should be no more than 26 inches in diameter and 80 inches in circumference.

The largest exercise balls should be no more than 30 inches in diameter and 92 inches in circumference. The company will also provide consumers with a measuring tape to determine the safe inflation size for the product.

"The take-away message for consumers is that if they are using this inflatable fitness ball, they should just make sure that it is inflated to the proper size," Anderson said.

Keep it clean. Gonzago University exercise science professor Tina Geithner suggests making sure the ball has no debris or something sharp on it that might cause it to puncture.

"The best way to safely use stability balls or any other type of exercise equipment is to make sure you purchase a quality product, then inspect it before each use and make sure it is properly inflated and in good condition," Geithner said.

For customers whose exercise balls have burst: EB Brands is offering free replacements or refunds for customers whose fitness balls have exploded. The company will also hand out a letter and poster to stores carrying its products to make shoppers aware of proper inflation instructions.

"We take this seriously, especially when you look at the size of this recall," CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson told ABCNews.com. "This is a very popular product."

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