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August 2012

Keli Roberts’ Ballast Ball Workout

 

By Keli Roberts

Are you looking for a fresh approach to core and functional training? The BOSU® Ballast Ball® offers trainers and instructors the opportunity to create unique and challenging exercises that will keep clients of all fitness levels coming back for more.

Popular since the early ‘90s, the stability ball is a mainstay for both trainers and instructors, thanks to its incredible versatility for a wide variety of conditioning objectives. Numerous studies have validated its effectiveness, including one conducted by Stuart McGill, Ph.D., a respected authority on lower-back disorders and performance, which compared standard curl-ups with a curl-up performed on a ball. “A curl-up with the torso over the ball and the feet on the floor,” noted McGill, “virtually doubles the abdominal muscle activation.”

Despite its proven effectiveness, however, some exercises performed on a stability ball may be too challenging for some people, particularly those who are coming back from an injury or have any type of balance issues. 

This was the problem David Weck, inventor of the BOSU® Balance Trainer, faced when working with a client who was recovering from a brain tumor. Rather than avoid the stability ball, Weck added 50 pounds of ballast (which means to add weight or stability to something) to a ball to create a somewhat unstable—yet manageable—surface on which to train. Weck’s client repeatedly performed the sit-to-stand exercise, where he could learn to balance in the seated position and transition to balancing in the standing position. As his client progressed, Weck gradually decreased the amount of ballast in the ball, thereby increasing the stability challenge.

And thus, the BOSU Ballast Ball was created. 

With just 2.5 pounds of movable ballast (a granular-like substance) and measuring 65 cm, the Ballast Ball provides a surprising degree of challenge. In group fitness and circuit-training classes, the Ballast Ball offers an advantage over a regular stability ball because it doesn’t roll away and, because it is more stable, it is less likely to slip. This feature opens the door to a whole new series of exercises that involve standing and sitting, as well as lifting, shifting and shaking.

The mobile ballast also creates a unique challenge during lifting exercises. For example, when performing a Russian Twist, the core musculature has to decelerate at the end range, and the ballast, which is moving slightly slower than the rest of the ball, slams into the inside side of the ball, causing the core to decelerate this unstable effect. The result? Considerably more work because the torso has to eccentrically decelerate twice during a single movement. 

The sound the ball makes when it is lifted, shifted or shaken can be used as a motivating goal. For example, during the lateral pass, trying to keep the ball from making any sound forces the exerciser to eccentrically decelerate the ball with an integrated effort of the whole body. Conversely, when performing a prone hip extension to kneeling ball circles, the exerciser may feel motivated to work harder to move the ballast in full circles around the inside of the ball. 

And yet even during the most challenging exercises, the Ballast Ball is much more likely to stay in place rather than roll away from the exerciser. “This quality—the ball staying in place—is particularly good for older adults, anyone new to exercise or when you’re using the Ballast Ball as a bench or chair," explains Douglas Brooks M.S., an exercise physiologist and BOSU Programming and Master Trainer Team Director. “For an average person, this type of movement is almost impossible to do on an un-weighted ball.”

Lawrence Biscontini, M.A., Mindful Movement Specialist and 2002 recipient of the ACE Instructor of the Year Award, utilizes the Ballast Ball to orient first-timers to the benefits of stability-ball training by taking advantage of the stabilizing properties of the ballast. And to challenge avid exercisers, he uses the inside load as a mobilizer. 

“As a core-training device, it’s hard to beat a stability ball, but when ballast is added it becomes a real game-changer,” asserts Biscontini. “The exercise selection just got a whole lot better since it can be used both as a medicine ball and a stability ball. This, along with the fact that it doesn’t roll away, creates one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment.” 

Now that you know why the Ballast Ball offers such great training options and versatility, here are eight exercise progressions to get you started:

Eight Ballast Ball Exercise Progressions

1. Straddle Plank Push-up

This push-up progression is a great way to challenge the upper body and core with an integrated sequence of movements. To regress, ‘walk’ the feet up and down from the ball. The first progression is to jump the feet up and ‘walk’ them down to the floor and the second progression is to jump up and jump down.

Muscles Worked
Pectoralis major: Prime mover
Triceps brachii: Synergist
Anterior deltoid: Synergist
Rectus abdominis: Stabilizer
External obliques: Stabilizer
Internal obliques: Stabilizer
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Adductor complex: Prime mover/stabilizer
Quadriceps: Stabilizer

Training Tips

  • Master each stage of movement before progressing as each level prepares for the next. 
  • Brace the abdominals to stabilize the core.
  • Retract and depress the shoulder girdle.
  • Maintain a neutral spinal position, including the neck.

2. Sit-to-stand Supine Plank

This movement sequence can be modified to suit all populations, from the elderly to the elite athlete. Always chose the appropriate progression for each client.

Muscles Worked
Gluteus maximus: Prime mover
Gluteus medius: Stabilizer
Adductor complex: Stabilizer
Quadriceps: Prime mover
Hamstring complex: Prime mover
Rectus abdominis: Prime mover/stabilizer
Internal obliques: Stabilizer
External obliques: Stabilizer
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer

Training Tips

  • Place the ball, let it settle and then sit.
  • When performing the squat-to-sit movement, look at ball between the legs before sitting down on it.
  • Sit on the second concentric circle, not on top.
  • Brace the core tightly throughout the entire exercise.

3. T-Balance Dead Lift

Although the Ballast Ball weighs just 5 pounds, holding it creates a reasonably long lever due to its width. This dead lift not only trains the hamstrings, but also challenges balance. The core is also active as a stabilizer, which makes this a great all-around exercise.

Muscles Worked
Spinal erectors: Prime mover/stabilizer
Rectus abdominis: Stabilizer
External obliques: Stabilizer 
Internal obliques: Stabilizer
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Gluteus maximus: Prime mover
Hamstring complex: Prime mover

Training Tips

  • Regress by keeping the elbows bent and shortening the lever, and by keeping the toe of the passive leg down for balance.
  • Progress by keeping the elbows extended and lengthening the lever, and by lifting the unsupported leg in line with the torso.
  • Brace the core, hinge at the hips and maintain a neutral spine.
  • When performing the T-balance, avoid hiking the hip and rotating the lumbar spine.

4. Prone Hip Extension With Kneeling Circles

This movement series provides a challenge for all fitness levels, from an absolute beginner to an elite athlete. Not every progression, however, is going to be appropriate for all levels. 

Muscles Worked
Spinal erectors: Prime mover/stabilizer
Rectus abdominis: Stabilizer
External obliques: Prime mover/stabilizer 
Internal obliques: Prime mover/stabilizer
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Gluteus maximus: Prime mover
Hamstring complex: Prime mover
Pectoralis major: Stabilizer
Deltoid complex: Prime mover
Triceps brachii: Prime mover/stabilizer

Training Tips

  • Start with the easiest variation and progress gradually, ensuring the exercise is well tolerated. 
  • Maintain a strong abdominal brace during spinal extension to prevent hyperextension of the lumbar spine.
  • Ball circles should be performed aggressively, moving the ballast quickly in a full circle around the inside of the ball.
  • On the more challenging progressions, bounce the torso off the ball.

5. Jump Squat and Slam

Because the Ballast Ball does not bounce, this slamming drill forces the exerciser to assume a squat position. Adding a half turn not only increases the intensity of the jump squat, but also the general athleticism of the drill. Again, the shifting ballast increases the need for torso stabilization, while the weight of the ball and length of the lever make the exercise particularly demanding.

Muscles Worked
Spinal erectors: Stabilizer
Rectus abdominis: Stabilizer
External obliques: Stabilizer 
Internal obliques: Stabilizer
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Gluteus maximus: Prime mover
Hamstring complex: Prime mover
Quadriceps: Prime mover
Pectoralis major: Stabilizer
Deltoid complex: Prime mover
Triceps brachii: Prime mover/stabilizer
Biceps brachii: Stabilizer

Training Tips

  • Lift the ball overhead and slam the ballast against the inside of the ball to increase the intensity.
  • On the second variation (pivoting turn), lift the heels and pivot on the ball of the foot.
  • On the third variation, lift the ball explosively overhead and slam the ball onto the floor during the landing.
  • Since the ball does not bounce, when slamming it on the floor, squat low to ‘catch’ it. 

6. Supine Hand to Foot Pass

The weight of the Ballast Ball is a real advantage in this movement series, because the load increases the intensity. Due to the length of the lever, the ball’s extra 5 pounds can feel much heavier. This exercise develops good core stability, while the limbs are providing a dynamic, loaded challenge.

Muscles Worked
Rectus abdominis: Prime mover/stabilizer
External obliques: Stabilizer
Internal obliques: Stabilizer
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Iliopsoas: Prime mover
Adductor complex: Prime mover/stabilizer
Quadriceps complex: Stabilizer
Pectoralis major: Stabilizer
Triceps/biceps brachii: Stabilizer

Training Tips

  • Start with a limited range of motion and focus on maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Lower the arms and legs only as far as possible while still maintaining a neutral spine. Limit range of motion as necessary. 
  • Increase range of motion only after the movement can be stabilized through the spine.
  • Build speed of movement as a progression. 

7. Stealth Lateral Toss

This fun drill is unique to the Ballast Ball. The goal is to toss and catch the ball while preventing any sound. This means the catch phase needs to be smooth, with the whole body decelerating the catch.

Muscles Worked
Rectus abdominis: Stabilizer
External obliques: Prime mover
Internal obliques: Prime mover
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Biceps brachii: Prime mover
Pectoralis major: Stabilizer
Gluteus maximus: Prime mover
Quadriceps complex: Prime mover
Hamstring complex: Prime mover 

Training Tips

  • Stand with the feet in a wide stance, side-to-side with one's partner.
  • Use the whole body to toss and catch the ball.
  • When catching, use the legs to help decelerate the ball.
  • The goal is for the ball to make no sound when being caught.

8. Pivot Lunge and Chop

Chops are a highly effective way to train the core and this variation integrates the upper and lower body for a total-body exercise. The weight of the ball challenges the upper body, especially the deltoids and pectoralis, while the core gets twice the challenge with the dynamic ballast shifting as the ball is chopped. The legs are incorporated with the weight transference during the pivoting action.

Muscles Worked
Rectus abdominis: Stabilizer
External obliques: Prime mover
Internal obliques: Prime mover
Transverse abdominis: Stabilizer
Biceps brachii: Prime mover
Pectoralis major: Stabilizer
Gluteus maximus: Prime mover
Quadriceps complex: Prime mover
Hamstring complex: Prime mover

Training Tips

  • Start each chop from a stretched position.
  • When chopping right, pivot the left foot and load the right leg.
  • On the third variation, move explosively and slam the ballast on the inside of the ball.

_____________________________________________________________________

Keli Roberts is an ACE-certified Gold Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor and a Fitness Hall of Fame 2007 inductee. She is the recipient of the 2003 IDEA International Fitness Instructor of the Year award, and the OBOW ECA awards for Best Use of Equipment (2003), Best Female Presenter (2005) and Lifetime Achievement Award (2008). Roberts also is a BOSU Developmental Team Member, Schwinn® Master Trainer and a Gatorade G-Series Fit sponsored athlete.


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