Exercise or therapy balls have been used in the therapy world for many years as a tool for core strengthening, developmental exercises, and for sensory stimulation. More recently they have popped up in gyms and people’s homes as an inexpensive, fun and dynamic piece of exercise equipment.
What is the Right Size?
One of the first questions people will usually ask is what size to get. For an adult or adolescent, the rule of thumb is 65 cm for an average sized adult. 55 cm and 75 cm are other common sizes for adults on the shorter or taller ends. The goal is to be able to sit on the ball with legs at a 90 degree angle at hips, knees and ankles. Younger children can often get away with sitting on a large playground ball rather than a true exercise ball. Also, be sure not to inflate the ball all the way so that it has some give to it.
What to do with an Exercise Ball?
Now that you have the ball, what can you do with it? Exercise balls are good for sitting on instead of a desk chair to improve attention and posture while doing homework, or to use while watching TV or playing video games. The ball requires the core and the legs to stay active and engaged in order to keep your balance. To challenge your balance while sitting on the ball you can march, alternate lifting one leg and the opposite hand up, or play catch. The visual-vestibular systems can be challenged by bouncing on the ball while reading letters/numbers/colors/words on the wall. Adding another motor challenge, such as clapping while doing this activity in rhythm increases the level of challenge.
Run with your Imagination!
Exercises on the ball are only limited by your imagination! You can do bridges with feet on the ball and back on the floor or do push-ups with legs on the ball and hands on the floor. You can walk out with your belly on the ball and see how far you can go while keeping balance. When you walk out on your hands, make sure the back doesn’t arch. If it does, that indicates that the core is not active. Don’t go as far out if you can’t control it.
After all, it is a Ball!
Of course, the exercise ball can be used as a ball as well. Play catch with it: the size of the ball challenges standing balance and requires use of both hands together. Encourage the child to lift the ball up over their heads and then bounce pass it to maximize trunk and shoulder strengthening. Alternatively, the child can sit on the floor, lean back on elbows, and hold their feet up in the air. The parent throws the ball and the child kicks it back with their feet. Lying on their back the child can pick up the ball with their feet and pass it to their hands.
An exercise ball can be a fun way to develop better posture, increase attention, or strengthen, but safety needs to always be kept in mind. Don’t leave the ball out where a child could play with it unsupervised. I don’t recommend parents doing ball exercises with their infants or young children. The child’s therapist may use an exercise ball during therapy, but that therapist has a lot of experience handling children on the ball and knows how to keep the child safe. It can be a motivating fun way to do exercises during therapy, but there are endless alternatives that can be done at home to accomplish the same goals.
I would love to hear other exercises ideas once you try them out!