done on a fitness ball superior to those done without?
According to most fitness instructors and personal trainers, the answer
is yes. Yet more and more studies
are suggesting that the current trend of replacing traditional exercises for
those done on the ball may have been done in haste.
A study by Stuart
McGill of the University of Waterloo was one of the first to suggest that a
fitness ball (also called a Swiss ball or stability ball) beefs up the benefits
of a traditional exercise. McGill
and his team of researchers compared muscle activity in the trunk during a
regular sit-up performed on the floor to one done on a fitness ball.
showed twice as much activity in the rectus abdominus (the muscle that runs down
the centre of the trunk) and four times as much activity in the obliques (the
muscles that run along the sides of the trunk) during sit-ups performed on the
ball vs. those done on the floor.
that placing the body on an unstable surface, like a round fitness ball, results
in additional muscle recruitment in order to stabilize the body and keep it from
When news of this
study started circulating back in 2000, the fitness community concluded that if
the ball could make a sit-up more comprehensive, it was bound to do the same for
other exercises. And so began the
era of the fitness ball.
hardly an exercise that hasnít been modified to include a fitness ball. Yet more information has come to light showing that, like any
other piece of fitness equipment the fitness ball has its limitations.
In a bid to see
if McGillís findings could be replicated in other exercises, researchers have
been putting the ball to the test. The
results are surprising.
train the stabilizing muscles of the spine donít seem to benefit from the
addition of a fitness ball. In fact
while performing a back extension (lie on your stomach and raise the upper body)
and the quadruped (on you hands and knees with the opposite arm and leg lifted
and extended) more muscles fired off the ball than on the ball.
ďFor a young,
healthy population, there does not appear to be a training advantage to
performing entry-level back extension and single leg extension exercises on an
exercise ball vs. a mat,Ē said a 2006 study published in the Journal of
Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
were found with upper-body exercises performed while sitting on the ball vs.
sitting on an exercise bench. Bicep
curls, overhead presses, tricep extensions and lateral raises were all studied.
So was a chest press performed with a ball under the shoulder blades and
a curl-up with the ball under the lower back.
exercise bench with a Swiss ball is not a guarantee for increased trunk muscle
activation during upper-body strength exercises,Ē said researcher Gregory
Lehman in a 2005 article in Dynamic Medicine.
is that the results varied considerably between subjects performing the same
exercise, which prompted Lehman to state, ďThere does not appear to be a
consistent, generalized response to the addition of a Swiss ball.Ē
were found when comparing push-ups on the ball to push-ups on an exercise bench.
Little or no difference was found in the muscle activity of the shoulder
while performing a push-up on or off the ball.
are discovering is that not all muscles or all exercises respond the same to the
addition of an exercise ball. Plus,
some subjects activated more muscles than others while performing the same
exercise, which left researchers wondering if some subjects were better than
others in their ability to respond to the challenges of exercising on a ball.
discard your fitness ball altogether, itís important to understand that a ball
has more uses than taking an exercise up a notch.
In fact, one of its selling features should be its ability to do the
opposite. For those who find
certain exercises difficult to accomplish due to weakness or injury, in the case
of a back extension for example, the addition of a fitness ball can make the
exercise that much easier. In fact,
one of the ballís first uses was as a rehab tool.
Also, the goal of
a fitness ball isnít always to recruit more muscle fibres.
Used properly, the ball can help improve balance and proprioception (the
bodyís ability to know where it is in space), both valuable skills for
Finally, if you
use a fitness ball because itís an inexpensive and portable exercise tool,
then go ahead and continue. Just be
aware that like any other piece of fitness equipment, its benefits arenít all
encompassing. Some exercises may
benefit from the use of a ball and some may not.
If fun and convenience are what youíre after, the ball is hard to beat,
but old-fashioned exercises done on the floor arenít quite ready to be put out