Exercise ball class rounds out fitness

Thursday, November 13, 2003
Laura Johnston got on the ball with exercise along with others at Universal Health and Fitness.

With the holidays fast approaching, fitness seems to be more on my mind. I certainly don't want to gain any weight between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but I don't want to have to diet much either since there are so many treats available.

Willpower isn't one of my better character traits. I need an exercise routine that will give me a workout without being too excruciating.

As part of an occasional series, the Southeast Missourian will visit area health centers to test out their fitness classes and give you our impressions.

So in the interest of good journalism, I'm sharing with you what I've learned from an hour in the ball class at Universal Health and Fitness Center.

I chose the ball class because it seemed like an easy place to start. Besides, I'd just read a story about people using these exercise balls at work. So if they can exercise while they're working, it can't be that tough, right?

Wrong.

I spent an hour on the exercise ball and worked nearly every muscle group in my body. My abs feel like Jell-O.

Exercise balls are a great way for people to get exercise without realizing what they're doing, said instructor Jane Greening. Bouncing on a ball for 15 or 20 minutes while you watch television will give you an aerobic workout, she said.

But Greening took us through more than just 15 minutes of bouncing. We did ab crunches, push-ups, worked the hamstrings and even did some stretching to end the hour.

Building strength

The exercise balls really help with building strength in the core muscles, and in creating balance, Greening said. "But you get an all-body workout."

There were eight women in the room with me, though that number's a little higher than usual, Greening said.

We started the hour just sitting atop the exercise ball, which really looks like a giant beach ball but with more bounce. Choosing the right size ball is important, Greening said. You want a ball that has some bounce when you sit on it and your knees and hips should be at a 90-degree angle when you're sitting. The general rule of thumb is that a 55 centimeter ball will be suited for a person up to 5-foot-7-inches tall.

Once you've found the right ball for you, putting together an exercise routine is next. Sitting atop the ball, you can just bounce to get warmed up and then add other movements like raising and lowering your arms and legs. Or you can march in place as you bounce to get your legs working.

The farther back on the ball you roll or the farther it is from your body's center, the harder your muscles will work. The key is to keep yourself balanced while continuing to exercise.

Adding weights

As you go through the routine, you also can add small barbells or ankle weights -- 3 pounds is average -- to create more resistance, Greening said. The balls also will give you more resistance if you use them on carpet. If you're on a wood or smooth surface, put the ball on top of a mat to keep it in place.

There were plenty of times that I rolled off the ball or dropped it while trying to keep it between my ankles. I think part of that was because the ball I used was a little too big for my body -- and I'm probably more uncoordinated than anyone else you've ever met.

But I finished the class and didn't really work up too much of a sweat. It wasn't like I hadn't exercised, though -- my ab muscles are certainly sore.

A lot of people aren't interested in the ball class because it sounds too easy, Greening said. "They don't think they'll get enough workout. It doesn't sound like aerobics and it doesn't sound too difficult."

But I can tell you it is.

The class is suitable for beginners, though more advanced students can add other movements to the basic routine.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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