If you’ve stepped into a gym in the last 10 years you’ve most likely noticed those big rubber balls known as exercise balls (or stability balls or Swiss balls).

In my experience, most times these balls would sit all alone in the corner unless they were being used in a special “ball class” or by a creative trainer showing his client some new challenging movements.

But the question is “Are exercise ball workouts needed and useful in an exercise program?”

I believe that they are. Here’s why:

Reason #1: Improved Proprioception and Sense of Balance

Proprioception refers to the body’s sense of spatial awareness in relation to stimuli it receives from the position and movement of the body. In English what this means is that your body has a better sense of balance. It also means that the body has a greater ability to know where it is.

For instance, when you are sitting on a exercise ball there is an element of instability, right? Because of this your body’s “receptors” send your brain and nervous system specific messages telling it where it is positioned. In turn, your nervous system fires signals to the necessary stabilizing muscles that will enable your body to maintain a balanced position as best as possible.

Therefore, one of the big benefits of performing exercises on the stability ball is the heightened training that your nervous system receives. As a result, you develop a better sense of balance, muscle firing sequencing, and other processes that enable your body to perform on unstable surfaces.

This is important because the ability to respond to sudden surface changes is a reality of life. Think about running on uneven grass, standing while riding the bus or subway, walking on an icy sidewalk. All of these conditions require “real time” adjusting and responsiveness that will be bettered if you have trained your body on unstable surfaces such as wobble boards, bosu balls, and exercise balls.

A greater sense of balance and stability in an ever-changing environment presents many injury prevention benefits especially among the elderly and those who are less co-ordinated to begin with.

Reason #2 – Greater Core Muscle Activation

Core stability training has become a key aspect of most athletic training programs. Many trainers and athletes alike have adopted the use of the exercise ball to enhance the effectiveness of their core training programs. Popular opinion and clinical wisdom would suggest that the use of the exercise ball is beneficial in that it provides an unstable surface requiring more muscle activation by the body to maintain stability. However, the research to support or refute these claims is minimal. Nonetheless, it is still an effective tool for developing greater core strength and stability.

Research examining exercise ball use is limited due to the difficulty in measuring actual core stability, muscle activation in stabilizer muscles and physical loading demands placed on the body. The vast number of possible uses for the exercise ball also makes it difficult for researchers’ to assess and are therefore limited to measuring the effects of a few exercises and extrapolating results to various other versions of exercise ball exercises.

To date most studies have only been able to measure the muscle activation in global stabilizer muscles such as rectus abdominus, external obliques, and erector spinae.

Although the research is conflicting and somewhat inconclusive, my advice is to try it for yourself. You’ll notice an immediate difference. Here are a couple of core-based movements that are far more challenging on the exercise ball (thus eliciting greater muscle activation).

1. Crunches on the exercise ball INSTEAD OF crunches on the floor

2. Planking on the exercise ball with feet raised on bench INSTEAD OF planking on floor.

3. Push-up knee roll-ins with feet on ball INSTEAD OF knee raises.

Try these 3 movements and see for yourself which ones are more challenging. For instance, one of the reasons why crunches on the exercise ball are so much more effective is that they allow a greater motion in the eccentric (or “stretch”) phase of the crunch. The ball enables you to extend further back as you come back from the crunch or sit-up enabling a greater stretch in the abdominal muscles. When any muscle undergoes a greater stretch it’s subsequent activation is enhanced and strength increased!

Reason #3 – The Exercise Ball is FUN!

Aside from the fact that the exercise ball provides more challenge and allows for greater core activation in many instances, my Fitter U™ program incorporates it for another important reason – FUN!

Simply mastering some of the more advanced functional exercises on the exercise ball is an exhilarating feeling. They would definitely make great party tricks that’s for sure. But in all honesty, allowing your workouts to be more enjoyable will better enable you to stay on track to reach your goals. Most people fall off their exercise programs because they’re boring and monotonous.

There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun while putting in some good hard work!

A final note – when choosing an exercise ball you want to ensure that it is well inflated (not soft and mushy) and that when you sit on it your thighs are parallel to the floor. This will ensure that the ball you have chosen is just right for your height.

Author's Bio: 

Fitness Expert, Yuri Elkaim and his Fitter U™ program help millions of busy health conscious individuals lose fat while sculpting lean muscle with just 3 short enjoyable workouts a week. Watch his new You Tube Video and discover 3 core blasting exercises with the exercise ball that will help you build a core of steel. And as a special bonus, you'll receive a FREE special offer to receive one of Yuri’s FREE Fitter U™ fat-burning workouts to help you create a smokin’ lean and fit body!