Home exercise is always appealing. It’s cheaper than the gym and the opportunities for complete public humiliation are greatly reduced: in the privacy of your drawing room nobody can see your flab wobble. However, equally true, nobody can see you give up after five minutes. Thousands of homes across the known world are fitness graveyards, where bits of kit (from steps to slides, bikes to rowers) sit forlorn in cupboards or gather dust under the bed. So what we need is something that gets us moving, keeps us motivated and doesn’t require hours of set-up. All hail the fitball.
The fitball (also known as a gym ball or Swiss ball) has been loitering at the back of the gym for nigh-on forty years but now it’s taking its rightful place centre-stage. Classes are appearing all over the place and more and more people are bouncing the ball at home too.
‘It was initially used with children with cerebral palsy and for rehab after injury,’ explains Australian physiotherapist Lisa Westlake, author of Get on the Ball (Apple). ‘Now everyone can use it. It gives strength training, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility. It also enhances balance, joint mobility, posture, body awareness and the all-important core stability.’ So, basically, it’s Pilates with knobs on? Trisha Brown, a fitness instructor who teaches fitball in Somerset, UK, reckons it is actually more precise and focused than Pilates, as the ball ensures you can’t cheat. ‘Fitball is sneaky,’ she says. ‘Every exercise on the ball requires balance, and all your core muscles are working along with every other muscle in your body.’
No kidding. I’ve done yoga and Pilates and paid my dues in the gym, so I figured fitball would be a pretty soft option. Yet after an hour of lunges and squats, of push-ups and crunches, not to mention star-jumps and ski jumps, every muscle was pleading for mercy. I was also pretty well helpless with laughter.
‘Psychologically it’s brilliant,’ says Brown. ‘How can you not laugh when the ball you’re squeezing between your legs shoots out across the room? Or when you’re trying to balance on the ball and end up in a heap?’
Aside from the fun factor, the beauty of the ball is that absolutely anyone can use it. Children love it; pregnant women hug it (it’s a superb pre- and post-natal workout). It’s invaluable for older people and those who need low (or no) impact exercise plus, curiously, the ball seems to appeal equally to both men and women.
Providing you have enough space (so you don’t concuss yourself on the coffee table) you can use a fitball anywhere. Admittedly a bright blue or silver ball might jar in most interior design schemes but there’s even a solution for that. Furriballs are tailor-made fake fur covers – from baby pink to sleek black (via in-your-face cowprint and Bet Lynch leopard) – that turn the fitball into a talking point and make it pretty hard to resist. My son comes home from school and lolls on it, doing a few desultory push-ups while he watches The Simpsons. My husband quietly does a few crunches when he thinks nobody is looking.
‘Just having the ball in the living room will remind someone to do their exercises,’ says Westlake. ‘And it’s really easy to do a few wall squats or ball ab curls while watching the news.’
Above all, you will notice results – and pretty quickly. ‘I teach all kinds of classes but I love fitball most,’ says Brown. ‘It’s where I see the most improvement in strength, balance and flexibility. Fitball gives people confidence and it’s friendly. People encourage each other and it has an amazing bonding effect. They go home and do it with their partners or families: it’s addictive.’
So, if your fitness resolutions are flailing, dump the gym and get on the ball.
My verdict? I love this. I’ve done all manner of fitness classes in my time but this one is just the best fun – and it really targets muscles all over the body.
Contact your local sports centre or gym for classes in your area.
Fitballs available from good sports shops.
Furry covers: www.furriballs.com
Five more fitness must-haves
Too good for the cupboard – simple bits of kit that really get results
1. Skipping rope – develops cardiovascular fitness and stamina.
2. Resistance bands – squash into a pocket for a portable muscle workout. Comes in four strengths – for wimps through to wannabe Commandos.
3. Rebounder – bounce while you watch the news for a zero impact cardio workout. from most sports shops
4. Bosu® balance trainer – clever hybrid trainer (half ball/half platform) that improves flexibility, balance, strength and works the core.
5. Pedometer – the truly exercise-averse can simply it strap on and try to lurch the 10,000 daily steps recommended by the government.
First appeared in The Telegraph