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Why Laura Loves the Stability Ball

It’s Workout Wednesday and you know that means? It’s time to get on the ball! Literally.

This past weekend, I did something I haven’t done in far too long. Since the cardio area was super crowded, I grabbed a stability ball and some free weights and got started on a total-body workout that kicked my endorphins into high gear. (The bonus: when I finished my stability ball workout, the traffic had died down a bit in the cardio area and I added 30 minutes of high-intensity elliptical training to round out my routine.)

What makes doing exercises on a stability ball so effective? The scientific explanation is that it creates a proprioceptively enriched environment for your workout. This type of environment challenges the internal balance and stabilization mechanisms of the body. When performing exercises on a stability ball, your body is forced to balance itself, which means you get the added benefit of working multiple muscles at once.

Think of it this way: If you lie on a bench to perform a chest press, you get good work for your pectoral muscles, but not much else. However, perform that same exercise on a stability ball and you have to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes to remain stable and perform the exercise. Talk about a great way to get more from your exercise routine without spending countless more hours working out!

If you need one more reason to get on the ball, here it is: virtually every exercises performed on the ball works your core, which is responsible for stabilizing the rest of the body. Maintaining a strong core improves your performance in and out of the gym with daily activities ranging from walking up stairs to carrying groceries.

I leave you with some of my favorite stability ball exercises and would love to hear about yours. Remember, getting on the ball is a surefire way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Ball Bridge Start Position

Ball Bridge Start Position

Finish

Finish

DSC_3521

Ball Cobra Start

Ball Cobra Finish

Ball Cobra Finish

Ball Dumbbell Chest Press Start
Ball Dumbbell Chest Press Start

Finish

Finish

Overhead Press Start

Overhead Press Start

Finish

Finish

Tricep Extension Start

Triceps Extension

All photos by Lauren Bachner

All photos by
Lauren Bachner

Getting “Back” to Flexibiity

Photo by Leslie Hassler

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If only I knew more about human movement science back in my 20s (and probably even in my teens), I’m pretty sure I could have avoided a whole lot of hurt in my 30s. This is why I will never shy away from writing about the importance of stretching muscles so that you can strengthen others correctly. Since my high school friend, Jennifer, took the time to write in and express her shared interest in learning more about how the various muscle groups work together, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address some other common postural distortions that can wreak havoc on your body if you don’t take the time to address them.

In my previous post about flexibility training, I discussed how sitting at my desk for long periods of time causes the tightening of my hip flexors. Unfortunately, that’s not the only part of the body that suffers because of my day job. I admit my posture can get pretty bad after typing at the keyboard for awhile. Instead of sitting up straight, I slouch or round my shoulders and stretch my neck out much more than I should.  Needless to say this creates lots of tension in my neck and shoulders. (Just ask my chiropractor.)

This tension is a common problem for many office workers, and it comes from the tightening of the upper trapezius, scalenes and levator scapulae.  If you bring that tension to your workout without stretching the muscles,  it’s likely that when you try to perform an exercise that requires a push or a pull (e.g. a seated row or using a chest press machine) the shoulders will elevate and the head will protrude forward. This also indicates the mid/lower traps, rhomboids and rotator cuff need strengthening.

Again, while I can’t assess how you move through this blog post, I can tell you about what has worked for me in addressing this specific postural dysfunction as discovered by one of my own personal trainers in the past.  This link illustrates a static stretch that helped my overactive upper traps and scalenes.   I would perform one to three sets on each side, holding each stretch between 20 and 30 seconds. To strengthen my weaker muscles, my trainer had me perform the ball cobra. When it comes to strength training exercises for anyone just getting started on a fitness program, the recommendation would most likely be to one to three sets of 12-20 reps.

On any given day, our bodies are put under so many different stresses. The more we know about how flexibility and strength training work together in taking care of the muscles that move us, the better our chances of being able to stay on the right track to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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