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Stability ball workouts help strengthen your core

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Stability ball
Natural Journey's "On the Ball: Yoga" featuring Sara Ivanhoe incorporates the ball into a sun salutation and other yoga poses.

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(CNN) -- Stability balls have been used for decades in physical rehabilitation clinics around the world. But these days, stability balls have gone mainstream as personal trainers, group fitness classes and home exercise videos have all embraced this versatile and economical piece of training equipment.

While stability balls, or Swiss balls, as they are also known, are typically thought of for use in abdominal exercises like crunches, the ball can also be used in place of a bench while doing traditional strength exercises. The instability of the ball forces a person to use his core muscles of the midsection to keep his body level.

Core strength is important, says the American Council on Exercise (ACE), because the muscles of the lower back and abdomen serve as a solid foundation for day-to-day activities as well as posture.

Before beginning an exercise program using the stability ball, however, Reebok University education manager Lisa Wheeler says there are some things to remember -- starting with, "Balls are not one size fits all."

According to Wheeler, when sitting on the ball, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Most brands of stability balls come in several sizes, and generally speaking, adults 5' to 5'6" tall should use a 55cm ball, while those 5'7" and over should use a 65cm ball. Parents wishing to purchase a stability ball for their child should consult with a trained professional to ensure proper sizing.

When inflating the ball, Wheeler suggests more air for a more unstable, or tougher workout, while less air is better suited to those just getting used to ball workouts.

Most exercisers will be familiar with traditional stability ball exercises like crunches and curls, but the ball also has been incorporated into some non-traditional workouts like yoga and Pilates. For instance, Natural Journey's "On the Ball: Yoga" video featuring Sara Ivanhoe incorporates the ball into a sun salutation and other yoga poses.

Wheeler also points out that office dwellers can replace their desk chair with a stability ball. She says the constant adjustment and readjustment that your body makes on the ball will work your core muscles -- even sitting at your desk.


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