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Pilates Fitness and the Exercise Ball


Updated June 30, 2014

Pilates Fitness Ball. Click Next for Exercise Demo.

Pilates Fitness Ball

photo: (c) Marguerite Ogle 2006

Exercise balls, also known as fitness balls and Swiss balls, are big balls, 55cm - 75cm, that are used in all kinds of fitness scenarios from physical therapy to yoga, Pilates, and general exercise. There are actually many types of balls used in fitness, you can read about those in my article, Types of Exercise Balls, but for the purposes of this article, we will limit to the big balls that are most widely used.

Exercise balls were certainly not invented by Joseph Pilates and they are not considered traditional Pilates equipment in the way that magic circles and reformers are. Nevertheless, the fitness ball has been heartily embraced by much of the Pilates community.

An Exercise Ball, is a Balance Ball, is a Stability Ball, is a Core Challenge:

Actually, Instability Ball, Off-Balance Ball, or Engage All Your Core Muscles Ball would be more appropriate, and give a big hint as to why fitness balls are so popular in Pilates. The tippy nature of a ball makes it quite a balance challenge when one it trying to sit or lay on one while exercising. Whenever you challenge balance you have a great opportunity to test core strength using the powerhouse and stabilizer muscles. You will find that even having just the hips or legs on the ball, while the rest of the body is stable on the mat, is an increase in difficulty.

Ways to Use Exercise Balls:

  • Increase the difficulty of an exercise by adding balance and/or leverage challenges.
  • Engage the subtle muscles of the core to keep balance.
  • Instructors use exercise balls to provide neuromuscular feedback to their students.
  • Exercise balls are found in many therapeutic settings
  • Sit on the exercise ball at work to keep the abdominal muscles and spine active.
  • Squeeze it for light resistance exercise.
  • Stretch: balls are great to drape yourself over - front or back.
  • Play!

Balance and Leverage - Using the Fitness Ball:

The ways to incorporate fitness balls into a Pilates based workout are really innumerable. The important thing is to stay true to the intent of an exercise.

Add challenge and variety to Pilates mat exercises by experimenting with the inherent instability of the ball, or using the shape and weight of the ball as a leverage challenge. For example, one could do The Hundred with the legs propped up on the ball(balance), or one could try doing The Hundred holding the ball between the ankles(leverage).

Buying a Pilates Fitness Ball:

Pilates exercise balls are inexpensive, useful, and so much fun it is really worth getting one. Fitness balls are available anywhere exercise equipment is sold, from all the big discount stores, to fitness stores, gyms and studios, and online.

Compare Prices on Exercise Balls

Pilates Exercises with the Fitness Ball:

  • Do Pelvic Curl - legs in table top propped on the ball.
  • Do Spine Stretch - hands on the ball, allowing it to roll out with the exercise.
Moderate:More Difficult: See more exercises for the exercise ball.
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