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When it comes to outfitting a home gym, you’re probably familiar with essentials like a mat, dumbbells, and resistance bands. But if you haven’t added an exercise ball to your arsenal yet, you’re seriously missing out.
Also known as stability balls, Swiss balls, yoga balls, or physio balls, these large, inflatable globes can be extremely useful in helping you to reach your fitness goals (that’s why you’ve seen them at the gym or at a physical therapist’s office). They can help improve your strength, balance, and flexibility, says Kyle Gonzalez, a NSCA-certified coach and performance manager at Future.
What kind of workouts are exercise balls used for?
According to personal trainers, physical therapists, and coaches, exercise balls can help you do three things:
✔️ Strengthen your core: Your core is composed of the muscles that stabilize and move your pelvis, lower back, hips, and trunk. They help you balance, twist, change direction, and more. An exercise ball can assist in targeting these muscles by creating some wobbliness that your body has to compensate for, says Gonzalez. “This instability increases engagement in your smaller stabilizing muscles that are often underutilized,” he explains. For that reason, he likes to use an exercise ball with push-ups, squats, sit-ups, and other exercises.
That being said, it can be dangerous to use a physio ball if you’re new to a movement or to the ball itself. Consult a fitness professional to check your form before you incorporate ball-work into your regular routine.
✔️ Increase your range of motion: Because of their height and circular shape, exercise balls “can be used to add greater range [of motion] to an exercise,” says Mahri Relin, a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist and founder of Body Conceptions. For example, to improve your hip mobility, you could use one while performing a lunge (with one foot forward, you would place the top of your back foot on the ball).
You can use an exercise ball for various stretches, as well. Simply laying back on the ball is a great way to stretch your lower back and open up your chest and spine.
✔️ Create extra support: Because of their soft yet firm malleability, exercise balls are perfect to sit on or lean against when you’re doing an exercise that requires additional support. “I love the ball because it’s soft and welcoming,” says Theresa Marko, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., a board-certified orthopaedic clinical specialist in physical therapy and owner of Marko Physical Therapy. She particularly likes using them with patients who have arthritis in their hands or knees since they have trouble bearing weight on those joints.
Relin also likes using balls with her pre- and postnatal clients. “They allow women to continue exercising even when they have back pain or feel extra tired,” she says.
How do I know which size exercise ball to get?
You want one that works for your height so you can do your exercises as comfortably as possible, says Karena Wu, D.P.T., owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. When you sit on it, your legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle. (So, no judgement if you wind up turning yours into a desk chair!)
If you’re ordering one online, look at the brand-specific chart that says which diameter would work best for how tall you are.
What should I look for in an exercise ball?
The quality of the ball is crucial. Before making a purchase, make sure the ball is made of anti-burst and slip-resistant material, recommends Relin.
You’ll know the ball is durable if it can bear your weight without deflating or rupturing. Meanwhile, slip-resistant ridges can create enough friction to reduce the chances of you falling on your tail.
Ready to get rolling? Read on to discover the best exercise balls for any kind of workout.
DYNAPRO Exercise Ball
Dynapro’s model “is durable, thick, and supports a good amount of weight,” says Alex Smith, an ACE-certified fitness trainer and the CEO of Fitness Training Star. According to the brand, this ball can support over 2,000 pounds, which is important if you want to use it for weight training, notes Smith. The PVC material (a tough synthetic resin) has a matte finish with ridges for added traction, and it comes in several sizes and colors.
BalanceFrom Exercise Ball
This is one of Relin’s favorites: “It’s a very reliable exercise ball and many have noted that it’s extra easy to clean,” she says. It’s made of PVC material that’s tough enough to bear 2,000 pounds, and it comes with 2-year guarantee. Priced at $13 dollars, we’d say it’s a steal.
Trideer Exercise Ball with Quick Pump
This is the most popular exercise ball on Amazon, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s made out of a thick PVC anti-slip material that weighs about three pounds more than the average yoga ball. It also can resist up to 2,200 pounds and comes in five sizes and various colors. Reviewers love how easy it is to inflate with the pump that’s provided.
TheraBand Exercise Ball
TheraBand is a popular, trusted brand used in many physical therapy offices. “I have used Theraband’s exercise balls throughout my career, and I find they are solid, long-lasting, and good quality and value,” says Wu. It’s made with “slow deflate technology” which means if the ball is ever punctured during a workout, you’re less likely to hurt yourself.
Power Systems ProElite Stability Ball
This ball stands out because of its dinosaur-like texture. “Its slip-resistant texture allows for a wide range of motion and gives me the ability to ensure that my clients can stay in control of their workouts,” says Corey Lewis, C.P.T. and founder of 1AND1 LIFE. “It’s on the expensive side but I like it because it’s very durable and has an amazing weight capacity.”
URBNFit Exercise Ball
This heavy-duty ball has an incredible 2,000-pound upper limit. “This is one of the most anti-burst, slip-resistant, and durable balls out there,” says Relin. “It’s also very easy to set up.” That’s partially because of the dual action air pump that comes with it. The company claims that you can have this ball pumped and rolling within minutes. The other bonus? It comes in 11 colors and five sizes, giving you lots of customizable options.
Live Infinitely Exercise Ball
This is an extremely durable ball that can withstand up to 2,200 pounds. It is manufactured out of nontoxic, BPA, Latex, heavy metal, and phthalate-free PVC, which is especially good for people with skin sensitivities. One of the perks of getting this ball is that the company gives you instant access to online training resources and workout guides so you can learn how to use your ball safely and effectively.
GalSports Pregnancy Birthing Ball
Pregnant? This ball is designed to help with prenatal exercises, delivery, and postpartum recovery. It has a unique feel because its non-slip resistance comes from its matte surface and anti-glide stripes instead of ridges. And it can handle up to 600 pounds without bursting.
Inpany Exercise Ball
This ball is similar to GalSports’ birthing ball in the sense that it has similar anti-slip stripes. It’s much sturdier, though, as it can resist up to 2,200 pounds without leakage. This ball is also made with non-toxic PVC material that’s free of BPA and heavy metals—all the more reason to give it a roll.
Gaiam Total Body Balance Ball Kit
Gaiam’s exercise ball has ridges and bumps that add great anti-slip support as you move. It has a 300-pound capacity, which is suitable for most bodyweight training, and reviewers love the workouts that come with the kit.
SpoxFit Exercise Ball
Reviewers say that this ball is really easy to inflate thanks to the foot pump. It’s made of quality material, too: SpoxFit uses non-allergenic PVC that can carry up to 600 pounds. The honeycomb surface also helps prevent slipping and sliding. One downside to keep in mind: It only comes in the 65-cm. size, which is generally suitable for people in the 5’7”-6’1” range, according to Wu.
SmarterLife Exercise Ball
SmarterLife’s exercise ball is a good choice because of its heavy-duty anti-burst material that can handle up to 2,000 pounds. It has a matte finish for a secure grip, and it comes in four different sizes and 10 colors. Bonus: It comes with a workout guide that you can use on your mobile device.
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