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Using an exercise ball adds much to your weighlifting workouts

Published December 04. 2010 09:00AM

Not every weightlifter wants to become massive.

In fact, the majority of people of lift weights whether they be females, endurance athletes, or middle-of-the-road exercisers more concerned about maintaining health than improving fitness don't want to develop too much size. This desire, however, does not mean the lifting has to be halfhearted.

Your workouts still should be intense; it's just that the end product should result in something other than adding two inches of muscle to your quads and an inch to your chest.

Like greater muscle control, more core strength, or improved performance in a certain sport.

That's why an exercise ball, also known as a Swiss ball, a stability ball, or a gymnastic ball, is such a valuable piece of weightlifting equipment. Using one while performing traditional weightlifting exercises naturally creates greater muscle control and more core strength; using one while performing weightlifting exercises that recreate movements in a specific sport add strengths to the muscles that need to be strong without building up ones that don't.

Additionally, an exercise ball is relatively inexpensive piece and simple though not necessarily easy! to use.

Here's what you need to know to use an exercise ball effectively.

First, there are sizes. If you're 5'4" or shorter, you should use a 55-cm ball and inflate it so that stands at least 20 inches from top to bottom. If you're taller but not more than 6', you should use a 65-cm ball and inflate it so that it's at least 24 inches from top to bottom.

Second, the degree to which you inflate the ball really matters. Underinflating an exercise ball increases how much of your body comes in contact with the ball, and the more contact, the greater the stability. Since beginners often lack balance and rolling off a ball with dumbbells in hand can be dangerous, it's better to underinflate initially and add air progressively as you become more comfortable.

Conversely, keeping the ball fully inflated makes an exercise more difficult.

So does narrowing your foot positioning. To begin, however, keep your feet shoulder-width or wider. As you acclimate, reduce the distance.

The same strategy should be adopted toward where you sit on the ball. The lower you sit for most exercises, the more stability you should have.

To make an exercise more difficult, sit higher.

Third, while there have been specific exercises created as a result of the exercise ball's popularity, you really don't have to learn anything new to use and exercise ball. Many of the most effective exercises you can do with it are simply the old standards performed while using the ball.

Consider, for instance, a favorite exercise of those interested in increasing muscle mass, the bench press.

To perform a bench press with an exercise ball, you would replace the bench with the ball and the barbell with dumbbells and already have them in hand as you sit directly on top of the ball. Then you roll your backside down the ball, moving your knees out until you feel stable.

In all probability, however, your torso would not be parallel to the floor as it would as if your were supported by a bench. That's a rather advanced position.

Instead, your torso would be angled, more reminiscent of the position used to perform an incline bench press. This position is best for beginners because it increases contact between you and the ball, increasing stability and allowing you to concentrate on the pressing movement.

Begin the first repetition slowly, for as you push the weight away, the ball will give. This lack of a solid bench behind you, forces you to contract the core muscles, increasing the degree of difficulty.

But this is not the only difference between an exercise ball and a bench. If one arm is stronger and pushes upward more forcefully as the dumbbells ascend, you will roll a bit to the opposite side.

To keep balance and to move the dumbbells uniformly, you have to exert the same amount of force from both arms. It's this feature that makes the exercise ball a great way to mitigate the muscle imbalances that occur simply because each of us has a dominant arm and more importantly a dominant leg.

And once you begin exerting the same amount of force from both arms and legs and get used to the occasional lateral movement while using an exercise ball, the experimentation can begin in earnest.

For instance, by adopting more of a true bench press position by keeping your torso straighter and eliminating the contact between your middle back and the ball you are increasing the exercise's degree of difficulty by engaging the lower back, the hips, and the glutes for stability.

Once you get comfortable with the position, a concentrated effort "to bridge" with the hips during the exercise to force your pelvis as high as possible makes the glutes work as hard as the pecs as you end the movement. In fact, the your glutes and lower back might even fatigue faster than your pecs, and failure in these muscles and not the pecs might determine the number of reps done.

After mastering the bridge, you can increase the amount of work the chest muscles have to do, by alternating the arm motion. Instead of moving the arms simultaneously, lift one as you lower the other.

Besides making the chest work harder, alternating the arm motion increases the tension on the stabilizing muscles as well. The alternating motion is also more often done in sports.

Once you've mastered altering the arm motion, there are still options. Obviously, you could increase the amount of dumbbell weight or you could lift one leg off the floor.

Talk about intense.

Remember, all these variations can be used with most of the standard weightlifting exercises that you know and that there are other exercises specifically created primarily to improve core strength for the exercise ball.

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