Do you remember those large balls in the toy store with a handle on top that you would sit on and bounce? I think they were called hopper or hop balls. For some reason I had "romper stomper" in my head and then realized that was something completely different. This ball reminds me of that scene in "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead" with Christina Applegate. Remember, she goes on a date with a guy that takes her to toy store and play with a bunch of toys including the Hopper ball? If not, google it. It's funny.
What does that have to do with pilates? Nothing, but the stability ball reminds me of that scene mentioned above. The stability ball has been around for quite some time too. It is used for more than just pilates. I remember my Lamaze teacher suggested we use one as a desk chair while at work. I wasn't so into the idea but as a pilates instructor, I understood her point. So it isn't even just for fitness classes! It is actually used a lot for pregnant women but anyone can benefit from this prop.
Just sitting on the ball will engage your pelvic floor muscles. They have to kick in. You are on an unstable surface so those deep muscles will immediately start working. So to begin you can just sit on the ball with knees bent and feet flat on the floor as wide as you feel comfortable. Just start breathing and find your pelvic floor muscles. Then you can move on to some rotations of spine as well as imprint and release. To perform the imprint you contract your abdominal muscles and roll pelvis under to roll ball forward. Then you inhale to come back to neutral. You can move on to flexing forward with either your hands by sides resting on ball, or interlaced behind your head for more of a challenge.
Now you don't just have to sit on the ball. You can plank (see photo above), just make sure that you your hands are under your shoulders and you are doing your best to hold your spine and pelvis in a neutral position. Not as easy as it sounds. I like start kneeling behind the ball and then slide on top of it and walk my hands on floor as far as I'd like to feel my core engage. Note: make sure you have some space for this one!
You can also do a very challenging abdominal curl by lying down on top of ball with knees bent and hands behind your head. The ball can be right about mid-back. However, if this is challenging you can just move the ball up the spine a bit and walk your feet to assist you. This is another one that is more challenging than it looks.
Too much? Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on top of the ball. From here you can place your hands by your sides and begin doing some hip rolls articulation the spine off the floor from the tailbone up to just between your should blades. You don't want any tension in your neck. You will think of the "bridge" in an entire new way. You and then switch back to doing some abdominal curls and straighten your knees as you come up. You will get a nice stretch through front of the legs but you will still be challenging your core.
Single-leg bridge here which is even more challenging! I admit, the below exercise with or without the ball is one of my least favorite exercises, but I do it because it is hard. I can do hard things. So can you.
Don't always think you have to be on the ball in some way. You can also hold it. I know it is full of air, but holding on to it while doing some squats and lunges will engage your shoulder stabilizers and work them isometrically. Just because we are heading into longer sleeve season, doesn't mean we shouldn't still work our shoulders. Right? Right. Add a sight squeeze as you stand up out of squat with an exhale and you also engage the pec muscles. Maybe even bend and straighten your elbows along with your knees to add biceps and triceps. Woot woot!
These are just some example of what you can do with the stability ball.They aren't too expensive and you can always deflate them if they get in the way. Even if you just want to sit on it while you lift light weights is a great way to challenge your core while you work upper body.
Moving on to some more advanced exercises. The following should NOT be done if pregnant regardless of your physical ability. Got it? Cool.
Ok, so here is my FAVORITE use of the ball. It is also my favorite in TRX (more on that later). You will notice that the exercises for all these various props/tools are similar, they just challenge your body in different ways. I learned this exercises as "knee stretches" and "elephant" as they simulate those exercises on the pilates reformer. I have heard them called "reverse crunches", "pikes", etc. Anyway, they all begin in that plank position shown in the second photo on this blog post. The further the ball is toward your feet, the more challenging. Just remember that if the ball is at your thigh, your range of motion will be smaller. No big deal...this is is still challenging.
Knee stretches: pull knees in toward torso using your core. Remember that internal corset? Use it. Now my favorite variation on this I like to call "moguls". Yes after skiing. I even make the "swish" sound to make it more fun. Instead of bringing knees to belly button, bring them to the outside of one elbow, then the other.
Elephant or Pike. Last but no least. Imagine there is a string on your tailbone and it is being pulled up to the ceiling. Yep, this is me showing off. Well, not really. This was during a workout at about 5:30 AM at the gym last year. I can tell you one thing: the people that are at the gym at 5 AM are paying NO attention to you at all. They do not care one bit that my friend is taking all these photos of me using the ball. They don't even hear my "swishing" sounds.
There are just so many exercises and I have just highlighted a few. I may have to do a second or even third part to this blog post. Any questions? You know where to find me. I still have a boot on due to my ankle fracture so I've got nothing but time on my hands.