• Stability balls: toys or torture?

  • A stability ball can add an interesting new dimension to your workouts. My clients seem to enjoy incorporating it into their routines for a wide variety of options.
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  • A stability ball can add an interesting new dimension to your workouts. My clients seem to enjoy incorporating it into their routines for a wide variety of options.
    Because these balls' shape and flexibility cause instability, they require the constant engagement of stabilizer muscles to maintain the correct position and proper alignment of body parts. This action improves balance, coordination and functional strength. It can greatly increase core strength by utilizing back and abdominal muscles.
    Don't let their simplicity fool you; many a sore muscle has been earned by working out on these squishy, friendly-looking devices. They are inexpensive, take up little room and because of their effectiveness and versatility, they are a great addition to an at-home fitness regimen. And don't discount the fun factor. Staying balanced during the following exercises will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face!
    Thanks to Charlene Hamilton for demonstrating this month's exercises.
    Ball Transfer with Crunch
    1. Lie on your back with the stability ball gripped firmly between your ankles. Arms are stretched above the head.
    2. Simultaneously raise your legs with the ball and your shoulders up toward the ceiling. Use your abdominal muscles to fold upward, keeping the legs as straight as possible.
    3. At the top of the move, transfer the ball to your hands and slowly return arms and legs to starting position.
    4. Repeat this move, transferring the ball back to between your ankles. Lower arms and legs slowly, back toward the floor. Keep the ball slightly suspended, not allowing heels to touch the floor. Repeat for 12 repetitions.
    Stationary Lunge
    1. Stand with the ball behind you. Reaching back with your right leg, place your shin on top of the ball. Position front leg far enough away to maintain balance.
    2. Lower your body slowly into a squat position by bending the front leg until the thigh is parallel to the floor. Maintain shin contact with the top of the ball.
    3. Return to starting position. Repeat movement for 12 repetitions.
    4. Change legs and repeat the 12 repetitions.
    Tip: Go only as low as you are comfortable with at first, deepening the squat as you increase your strength and balance. Avoid allowing your knee to go past your toes as you lower your body.
    Cindy Quick Wilson is a certified trainer at Women's Fitness Company in Medford.
    The Pike
    1. Assume a push-up position with shins balanced across the top of the ball. Use core muscles to maintain balance and keep legs stiff.
    2. Use abdominal muscles to roll the ball forward, lifting your hips toward the ceiling.
    3. Hold this pike position for a count of three, using core muscles for stabilization.
    4. Return to push-up position and repeat 10 times.
    Wall Squat
    1. While standing, place the stability ball against a smooth wall and lean your back against the ball with feet slightly out in front, about shoulder-width apart.
    2. Keeping the ball between your back and the wall, lower your body into a sitting position with your thighs parallel to the floor.
    3. Keeping your back straight, slowly return to a standing position by pressing your feet into the floor. This should be a controlled movement, using thigh muscles to raise and lower your body. Repeat for 12 repetitions.
    Abdominal Crunch
    1. Begin by sitting on the ball. Lean back and roll with your feet until the ball is positioned at your lower back. Your head should be facing up and legs should be at a 90-degree angle.
    2. Cross your hands in front. Do NOT put your hands behind your neck! This adds too much pressure, causing neck strain. Keep your head in a natural position.
    3. Use abdominal muscles to "crunch" forward. Keeping muscles contracted, hold for a count of five and return to start position. Repeat 20 times, working up to 50.
    Tip: The secret to any ab exercise is to keep the muscles tight, like an isometric exercise, throughout the entire movement. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell in your hands for added resistance.
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