Like so many people, the pandemic has changed the way I train.
Formerly a spin studio regular, I became one of those boring people who bought an indoor bike and wouldn’t shut up about it. But I also started focusing more on movements that helped me feel calmer and more aware of my body, which was especially helpful because hovering over my laptop at home exacerbated longstanding neck and shoulder problems.
This led me to core workouts like Pilates and yoga-inspired classes which I now take regularly. And I do my own short self-directed sequences at home incorporating my favorite moves as well. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that, over two years later, these have become a bit stale.
That is, until this month, when I got the chance to try out a humble workout piece of equipment that I never thought I’d include: a simple ball. Known as a Pilates ball or mini exercise ball, this inflatable ball has a circumference of around 10 inches or less. It’s soft and a bit squishy, but strong enough to hold my weight and grip it well.
My experience with a Pilates ball
I had the opportunity to try a ball in a balacize sculpting class taught by New York-based Pilates instructor Ashley DeLeon.
DeLeon had us use the ball to support our mid-back during crunches, which helped isolate only parts of the core, making the move a little easier in some ways and more excruciating in others. At another point, the instructor asked us to use it under the lower back in reverse plank, adding challenging balance exercises to the pose.
During these two movements, I felt the need to go slower than usual and focus a little more on my pelvic tilt and breathing to get through them. It was difficult but almost meditative because I couldn’t be on autopilot anymore. And I felt like I was really engaged – both my muscles and my mind.
At home, I also find myself using the ball as a prop in place of a foam yoga block between my thighs in a bridge, holding it above my head with both hands during wraps, or passing it from one hand to the other between the scissor strokes. .
Benefits of Using a Ball for Core Work
“What I find really amazing about the ball is how it can both challenge a drill or make it more manageable,” said DeLeon, who runs an online subscription workout platform.
“It can completely change what’s available to you in terms of range of motion if you’re just at home with a mat,” she explained. “Just having this raised round surface can open up a world of mobility.”
The ball is just unstable enough that it takes work to stay balanced, and the biofeedback allows you to connect with your body and correct your form without the need for external cues, DeLeon explained. “The ball will speak to you in any position you put it in in a really organic way,” she said. Even when you do the movements without the ball later, you’ll probably be better connected to your body and feel more stable.
If you’re healing from an injury or dealing with chronic pain, a Pilates ball can make certain movements more accessible to you. Placing the ball under your lower back, for example, puts you in a slight inversion and reduces pressure in the abdomen, DeLeon said. Those who notice lower back discomfort after a day of sitting at a desk can feel relief almost immediately simply by raising their hips on the spongy surface of the ball, she added.
Plus, a balloon is inherently fun! DeLeon encourages people who are new to using a Pilates ball to start by simply playing with it and exploring what it feels like to put different parts of their body on the ball. When you start immersing yourself because you’re having fun, “you’ll find that you can do something longer, you have more stamina, and you can get more out of your practice, so you get stronger by accident,” a- she declared.
How to get started with a Pilates ball
To start, DeLeon recommends checking to see if the ball you’re using has a pin (which can come out and need to be put back on) as well as taking note of any weight limits. You want to be able to put a significant amount of your body weight into the ball, she said.
The ball I use was a gift from Bala and is exceptionally soft and thick (feels much sturdier than the ones I remember from PE class), but still has plenty of grip. It also comes with its own easy to use pump. Honestly, I was shocked that given the opportunity to play with the weighted equipment the brand is known for, this was the ball I was left with!
But there are also many alternatives. For example, you might find that you prefer a ball with a little more flexibility, like the one in DeLeon’s OPTP Pilates pack.
When it comes to actually using the ball, DeLeon’s biggest safety tip is to keep your eyes on the ceiling when using a ball under you to avoid putting your neck in weird positions.
Because the ball is unstable, “make sure you feel the ball with your hands before carrying it to other parts of your body,” she said, which will let you feel how hard it is. unstable first. Also, make sure the area around your mat is clear so you don’t bump into anything potentially dangerous, she advised. “But if you fall, you don’t fall far.”
I firmly believe that you don’t need expensive or complex equipment to get a good workout at home. But if, like me, you find you’re up for a little something extra, a Pilates ball can be a surprisingly useful and versatile tool to add to your home gym setup.
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