This is an excerpt from Strength Ball Training-3rd Edition by Lorne Goldenberg & Peter Twist.
When starting any new fitness program, begin at a level that will reinforce proper technique and movement patterns. This is especially important with strength ball training, which also challenges stability. Once you have mastered a particular move, then you should continually challenge yourself with the appropriate exercise progressions to ensure progressive levels of success in your program.
To get you started in your first full workout, include exercises from all chapters. Build from the center of the body out, preferentially training the core first and then the periphery (arms and legs). All of the exercises in this book stimulate good core activation, so an equal representation from all chapters works well because it ensures you check off all the prime movers and body parts to train the complete body.
To keep primary core exercise safe, work on abdominal and core stability exercises for several weeks as a foundation before training core rotation. Chest exercises using supine and prone positions are good examples of prime mover strength exercises that also build core stability with a neutral spine. Look for exercises that keep the hips square and aligned with the shoulders to build strength around the spine before progressing to exercises that rotate the torso or shift the hips' center of mass.
The most accurate and individualized way to use strength ball training is to complete the battery of tests in chapter 3. These help you determine which muscle groups need most attention and your strengths and weaknesses. The focus is primarily on core strength and stability because this is the area that is most often injured or weak in more than 80 percent of people. Without a doubt, more intensive assessments are available to you, and you should certainly seek them out if you require them. These assessments can provide a more in-depth view of all joints and movements in your body. For example, someone may show evidence of high strength in prime movers (such as push, pull, legs) but lack stability and core control. Someone else may have high strength but poor mobility, while another may have low strength but excellent mobility. You should still begin by selecting an exercise from each chapter; however, the way in which you do the exercises is tailored to what the tests unveil as weaknesses. Restricted mobility? Use a fuller range of motion. Low strength? Use a slower tempo and wide base of support to achieve more time under tension and build greater strength. Low core control? Use a narrow base of support and select more primary abdominal exercises.
Remember that before even beginning strength ball training, and if you are new to strength training in general, you should develop some base-level strength with stability training, as described later in the section Precautions in this chapter. Once you are ready to begin strength ball training, note that the exercises in each chapter are listed in order from easiest to most difficult. This ranking is determined by the intensity of the physical exertion required as well as the complexity of the coordination needed for successful completion of the exercise. Skipping ahead will only cause your body to compensate and cheat to get an exercise done, setting you up for injury. Take your time and practice a group of exercises before progressing to new exercises of greater difficulty.
Keep in mind that within most exercises are tips on regressing to make an exercise easier and progressing an exercise to make it more challenging. Regressions are often applied on the spot, when you try an exercise and find it too difficult. A quick adjustment can make it more achievable. Progressions are often applied toward planning the next workout after you notice certain exercises have become easier to complete. Each workout should be a challenge to you. If you have achieved your repetition goal, you should consider a slight increase in your medicine ball weight, the addition of two or three repetitions per set, or an adjustment to the body mechanics to make the exercise more challenging. For example, during supine exercises, a longer torso off the ball and small base of support at the feet increase the requirement of muscle activation, strength, and control. Specific methods to increase the difficulty of an exercise are listed for each exercise. General rules for progressing an exercise are detailed in the following sections.
One of the most underused yet most effective ways to step-change progress is to regress something so you can progress something else. For example, increasing the width of the base of support is a regression that permits you to handle greater weight loading in a one-arm dumbbell supine press. The regression permits you to advance the loading and build more strength. In the same exercise, regressing the weight to a lighter load may permit you to adopt a single-leg base of support, progressing the difficulty of the core stability and muscle recruitment in the hamstrings and glutes.
A keen understanding of the rules will help you refine your workout to the precise difficulty level each time - not too easy, not resulting in mechanical breakdown, but challenging enough to produce the best results. Your goal is to be better in each successive workout.
Stability Ball Progressions
There are numerous methods of progressing the level of difficulty when using stability ball exercises. Specific structured progressions are included in the text of each exercise. But knowing several guidelines for simplifying or advancing an exercise will allow you to modify each exercise many times over to define the most appropriate level of challenge for you. If you are uncertain, you should choose regressions to ensure that you complete the exercise safely within your current abilities. However, when you are experienced with an exercise and begin to find it easy, adopt progressions to make sure you are challenged. If an exercise is not challenging, you will not stimulate improvement. With this in mind, the following are points that you can consider when regressing or progressing your exercises.
Change the base of support.
By decreasing the base of support for an exercise, you can increase the challenge of balance, which makes leg, glute, and torso musculature work much harder. You can accomplish this by increasing the inflation of the ball, which will result in a smaller base of ball support. You can also change the base of support by moving from a four-point support to a three- or two-point support. An example of a four-point support is a stability ball push-up in which you have both hands on the ball and both feet on the floor. To increase the level of difficulty in the push-up, you can use a three-point base of support by raising one foot off the floor. You can also decrease your base of support by placing your hands and feet closer together. Although you are still in a four-point base of support, this move results in a decreased overall base of support.
Change the length of the lever.
As you alter the length of your lever arm from short to long, you increase the difficulty of the exercise, as with the abdominal crunch medicine ball throw. Throwing from the chest is easier than using a longer lever and throwing from overhead. Your trunk can also be the lever arm between the floor and where you make contact with the ball. Rollouts (chapter 4) connect the toes or knees on the floor, with the hands on the ball, by stiffening the torso and arms. A short rollout is easier than a longer rollout. Supine bridges (chapter 4) place feet on the floor as a base of support and upper back atop the ball. Legs, glutes, and torso keep the hips up and connect the feet and upper back. A short ball bridge is easier than a longer one. Minor changes in these body positions can make a dramatic difference in level of difficulty by changing the coordination, effort, or force required. Notice even changing an inch or two dramatically increases the muscle tension. Good mechanics and minor changes to body position can magnify the muscle response and amplify your results.
Increase range of motion.
By increasing movements from a smaller to a larger range of motion, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise, as with the push-up with hands on ball. You can progress from partial push-ups to full-range push-ups.
Change the speed of movement.
Changing the tempo of an exercise changes the result. Very slow movements keep the muscle loaded under tension longer and help build strength and stability. Fast dynamic movements tend to build power. The tempo of movement also makes the exercise easier or more difficult. Most experts suggest that moving faster is more difficult. But there is no general rule here. Some exercises done more quickly are much more difficult. Still other exercises done very slowly require much more strength and balance. Know that speed of movement alters the demands. You will need to adjust your tempo on an exercise to learn whether it results in an easier or more difficult execution. The surprise may be that slower is harder.
You can increase the intensity of an exercise by adding some form of loaded resistance, such as a medicine ball, an external free-weight, cable, or elastic tubing, as with the jackknife exercise with a cable attached to the legs (chapter 4). Strength tubing needs to be long enough to accommodate whole-body moves in strength ball training. It also needs to be strong enough to offer enough resistance. It should come with a protective sleeve to make the tubing more durable and, if it does eventually break, to ensure it coils inside the sleeve instead of snapping back and hitting you.
Close the eyes.
By closing your eyes, you increase the proprioceptive demand in the body, flooding other sensors and receptors positioned to give feedback on changes to muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joint position. Removing visual feedback overloads your proprioceptive system, forcing those "minibrains" to work harder and improve. This adds a level of difficulty, but you should take caution. Some exercises, such as kneeling on the ball, will require spotting by a strength coach.
Learn more about Strength Ball Training, Third Edition.