The exercise ball is not an original Pilates invention. In fact, it has been a staple in many fitness programs all over the world for many years, far beyond when Joseph Pilates first introduced his exercise program to the world. Exercise balls are also known by other names such as Swiss balls or fitness balls and are huge – 21 to 30 inches in diameter. They have been used in a number of fitness situations from general exercise to yoga to physical therapy. Today, it is being incorporated into many Pilates exercise programs thanks to its resistance exercise capabilities.
The reason why exercise balls are becoming so popular in Pilates is they bring quite a challenge to a workout. The basis of Pilates is aligning the spine, achieving balance, increasing flexibility, toning muscles and more through controlled movements and resistance. With the exercise ball, your body is in a constant state of engaging your core muscles along the trunk of your body to maintain stability and control. Because a ball by nature is going to roll, your abdominal muscles along with your pelvic region, hamstrings and back muscles along the spine become engaged during exercise to ensure it does not. Engaging these muscles and creating a stable environment through resistance exercise is an important aspect of Pilates.
You can amplify the difficulty of an exercise with a ball by adding control and balance challenges. Using the exercise ball is a great way to engage some of the deeper muscles within the body’s core that are not often challenged with traditional exercises. Pilates instructors have discovered that using exercise balls can provide their students feedback of their neuromuscular activities.
Exercise balls used in Pilates are perfect additions if you have some physical limitations which may preclude you from using some of the Pilates equipment like the Reformer, Cadillac or Wunda Chair. You might even carry over using the exercise ball into other settings like your office, using it as a chair which keeps your spine muscles and abdominals engaged. They can be used for stretching exercises and even resistance ones. All in all, they can be used in a number of Pilates workout programs.
The key to adding the exercise ball to a Pilates routine is ensuring the overall goal is staying true to the original intent of Pilates. The best way to incorporate the ball is through Pilates mat exercises or even standing Pilates. You could do a number of traditional Pilates moves using the exercise ball such as moves like the hundred, a spine stretch, the plank, a pelvic curl, an open leg rocker or even a roll up.
The good news is that exercise balls are not very expensive so you can get a good one for about $30-$40. As there are different sized balls, choose one based on your height. For instance, if you are short, up to 5′4″, you probably want a ball that is around 21 inches in diameter. For average height people from 5′4″ to 5′11″ the best ball for you should be around 25 inches in diameter. Taller people 6′ and over probably need a ball around 28-30 inches or more in diameter. If you want your ball to last, choose a ball for your Pilates routines that comes with its own air pump as frequent use can leak air from the ball. You need an exercise ball inflated to its potential for it to be effective.