Have a Ball: Your Stability Ball Stretch Workout
The Stability Ball, often referred to as the Swiss Ball, was originally developed by chiropractors and physical therapists in Switzerland during the 1960s. It was used in patient therapies to both strengthen and stretch muscles.
By creating an unstable surface, the stability ball forces you to engage your core muscles throughout each exercise or stretch in order to maintain your balance. The constant shifts to maintain your form and position result in improved balance, coordination, and flexibility. A stability ball can be used for both an intense workout and a dynamic stretch routine.
Last time I gave you the tools for a great stability ball workout, and today we’re going to focus on stretching.
The Importance of Stretching
Let’s be honest, we all push through our workouts, but most of us at times rush through the stretching afterward. I won’t name names, but many people in my group exercise classes begin packing up their mats and putting their weights away during the cool down – heck, one of them skips the cool down all together if there is a Mets game on.
Then there’s the whole “stretching is for girls” way of thinking. I don’t know who came up with that, but let’s try and start with a clean slate and learn why stretching is so important.
Stretching before and after exercise dramatically increases the function of your body. Stretching before a workout readies the muscles for the work that is to be done. Stretching at the end of a workout lengthens the muscle and relieves the lactic acid build up that leads to sore muscles a day or two later, yielding faster muscle recovery.
While most exercise puts the body at risk for things like stress fractures, tendon pulls, and muscles strains, stretching has the opposite effect. Not only does it improve muscle balance, but it also increases your range of motion and flexibility.
According to Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Exercise Physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE):
“The benefits of stretching include reduced muscle tension and stiffness which help promote greater freedom of movement and improved posture. Because of its shape and ease of use, the stability ball can be a safe and effective form of stretching for all levels of exercisers from beginners, older adults and people with special conditions to highly fit, athletic individuals.”
Choosing Your Stability Ball
As I mentioned in Have a Ball: Using the Stability Ball, choosing the right size ball is important to your workout. To choose a ball, you want to sit on it and make sure your hips are level or just slightly higher than the knees. When seated on a fully-inflated ball with your knees directly over your ankles, your knees should be bent at a 90 degree angle.
These are the size recommendations based on height:
- 55 cm – 4’11″ – 5’4″
- 65 cm – 5’5″ – 5’11″
- 75 cm – 6’0″ – 6′ 7″
Size recommendations are just that — recommendations. It is best to try a few exercises or stretches on the ball and decide what size is best for you.
Things to Remember
The following stretches can be done in the morning to relieve morning stiffness or after a workout for a full body stretch. It is important to note that stretching is best done when your muscles are warm. This doesn’t mean you need to do a hard workout prior to beginning your stretch, but it is recommended to walk around and get the blood flowing first, rather than stretching cold muscles.
Do not force the stretch. You should feel a slight pressure on the muscle, but you never want to overdo your stretching. It is the same premise as overdoing your weightlifting; you can cause muscle tears, ligament pulls, and other issues.
As you perform each stretch, focus on the muscle you are stretching and try and remove tension from all other parts of your body. You should be relaxed and breathing through your stretches.
Get Ready to Stretch
The following stretches should be held for 15-30 seconds. As with any workout, it is best to start slow with lighter stretching and work up to a more intense stretch routine.
Chest Stretch — Lay face up on the ball and roll down until you back and neck are fully supported. Relax your hips and head and let your arms fall out to the side, opening up the chest for a relaxing stretch.
Upper and Mid-Back Stretch — Stand in front of ball and place the side of the right hand on the ball (thumb pointing up). Roll the ball towards the left while keeping the hips square. Hold for 15-30 seconds then switch to the other side.
Hamstring Stretch – Laying on your back, place your left leg on the stability ball and lift your right leg straight up. Grab your leg either on your calf or thigh, depending on your comfort level. Slowly pull your leg in toward you until you feel the stretch through the hamstring.
Then, cross the right leg over the left and using the left heel roll the ball in toward you. This change in movement will move the stretch from the hamstring to the glutes. Again, hold for 15-30 seconds and then repeat from the beginning with the opposite leg.
Inner Thigh Stretch — Sit on ball and take the legs out wide on the floor. Place elbows on the inside of the knees and relax into the stretch, using your elbows to gently push the knees out for a deeper stretch.
Standing Back Stretch — This one works better with a smaller ball. Standing up, hug the ball to your chest and then bend forward, resting the ball on the thighs while letting your arms hang down towards the floor. Relax your body, letting your legs support you, and open up through the back.
Back Stretch – Face down on the ball, roll out onto the ball until you can place your hands on the floor. Allow your legs and hips to relax down. Your body weight will give your lower back a great stretch in this position.
Full Body Stretch – Standing up with your feet shoulder distance apart, place your hands down on the ball and slowly roll it forward, pressing your chest towards the floor and your tailbone toward the back of the room.
Ab Stretch – Lay with the center of your back on top of the ball, bending carefully to allow your body to sink down into the ball. Your arms and legs are wide apart for support. This stretch should be avoided if you have any kind of back problems.
A Perfect Ending
No matter what type of workout you do, stretching should be at the end of each workout session. A proper cool down for muscles is necessary for overall muscle balance and health.
A regular stretching program, like the one in this article, will loosen muscle tissue and allow an increased range of motion at the joints. This helps prevent microtears at the muscle-tendon junction — where almost 90% of all injuries from muscle strains occur.
It’s not for the weak or girly . . . it’s to prevent injuries and speed muscle recovery.