A new way of tightening and strengthening your abs has muscled in on he traditional sit-up. Looking a little like a Hopperoo and a lot like a beach ball, the fitball is a rubber ball used to isolate core stabilising muscles deep inside our bodies.
Lisa Westlake, a physiotherapist recently awarded Australian Fitness Leader of the Year, has been largely responsible for introducing fitballs into the Australian Fitness Industry. Westlake says, 'Core stabilization is the contracting of muscles close to the spine. Strength of these deep abdominal and back muscles is vital for back health, great posture and injury prevention.'
Fitballs, otherwise known as Swiss Balls, were originally used in Switzerland in the 60s for helping children with cerebral palsy work on balance and mobility. Today, fitball has a place in back care, shoulder and knee rehabilitation, pre and post natal exercise as well as in the labour ward. It's used for training elite athletes as well as making old exercises more challenging. Fitballs are popular for home workouts and they're even popping up in offices as back-friendly chairs!
But how does it work? 'Simple,' says Westlake, "because the ball is unstable, while you're on it working mainstream muscles, deeper core muscles are working as well - to keep your balance.' When performed sitting on the ball, traditional exercises such as weighted biceps curls require contraction and endurance training of deep abdominals to maintain stability. In other words, using the ball gives you a double workout - on the inside and out.
'A good fitball workout' says Westlake, 'trains core muscles while working the more traditional "mirror muscles" such as outer abdominals (the six-pack), buttocks and thighs. But just because you can't see them doesn't mean core stabilising muscles don't help you look good. 'They fight the effects of gravity, narrow your waist and tighten your buttocks. And as core stabilisation is vital for back health, fitball is great for people with back pain and injury,' says Westlake.
Some gyms now offer general fitball classes and there are also specialised classes such as back care, strength training, flexibility and relaxation. If you want to use a fitball at home, Westlake recommends taking a fitball class to learn the full range of exercises possible.