Gym balls are fantastic exercise tools and are increasingly used in the gym, in exercise classes, in pregnancy and labour, and are now even being used in the office as a swap for an uncomfortable chair. While the benefits of temporary use are entirely credible (such as in a gym class), sitting on a gym ball all day at work might not be such a good idea. Let’s take a look at the gym ball, the pros, and cons of using one, and why sitting on a gym ball for long periods may be doing you more harm than good.
What is a gym ball?
A gym ball, otherwise known as a stability ball, Swiss ball, yoga ball or exercise ball is a large inflated ball made from a soft form of PVC. Gym balls come in lots of different colours and sizes. Size is generally selected according to height.
Gym ball as an exercise tool
Gym balls are really popular as an exercise tool. The reason they work so well is that they offer core stability work. Sitting on a gym ball requires the body to respond to the instability of the ball as your body tries to balance itself. You are constantly engaging your core muscles while sitting on a gym ball. Stronger abdominal muscles will protect your lower back and promote better posture. In an instructed exercise class the gym ball is a fantastic tool, as long as you are sitting on the ball correctly. With an instructor guiding you, the gym ball really can have benefits in strengthening your core (the job it is supposed to be doing). Gym balls can be used for strength training, stability exercises and for improving balance.
Gym ball as a chair
One of the main reasons a gym ball isn’t ideal as a chair is that most people don’t have the core strength to sit on the ball properly for long periods of time. To compensate for weak core muscles many people tuck their feet under the bottom of the ball to help balance it. This is an unnatural sitting position and rather than help resolve any postural issues, it is more likely to add to them. Besides, sitting on a gym ball for a long period is actually quite uncomfortable. Also, gym balls lack armrests and back supports, so the upper body doesn’t get properly supported. While that may feel comfortable for a short space of time, such as in an exercise class, it’s not ideal for your posture when sitting on one all day. Prolonged use of a gym ball may actually be harmful. Overuse can contribute to postural problems and cause back or neck pain. Swapping from your chair to a gym ball for short periods is usually fine.
The biggest problem with a gym ball is its lack of adjustability. If you are finding your current office chair uncomfortable and feel it is contributing to poor posture, you may want to think twice about swapping your chair to a gym ball. Ergonomic chairs are a much better alternative, purely because the chair can be adjusted to suit you. Gym balls, while they do come in different sizes, can’t be adjusted.
Support and positioning
Due to its complete lack of adjustability, a gym ball won’t offer the support and positioning required for optimum posture at your desk. Without armrests, the effort of keeping arms up will put a strain on the shoulders and neck. Ergonomic chairs, in contrast, have adjustable armrests to keep your arms parallel with the desk.
For employers, it’s worth noting that gym balls don’t meet HSE (Health and Safety Executive) regulations for use as an office chair, because they don’t have a five-star base, don’t offer height adjustment and don’t have an adjustable back. If your employee falls off a gym ball at work, you could find yourself liable.
Effective use of a gym ball
If you are new to using a stability ball, it is best to start out using the ball in small increments. If your body and muscles aren’t accustomed to sitting on a gym ball for long periods, you will get fatigued. As your muscles build strength and become more familiar with the seating position, it will become easier and you will find you can sit on the ball for longer periods. Long term use, such as sitting on a gym ball at your desk all day isn’t recommended. Here are some tips for using your gym ball effectively:
- Only sit on a gym ball in place of a chair for 20-minute intervals, and alternate with an ergonomic office chair.
- Be sure you buy the right sized ball for your height.
- Focus on your core, particularly around your belly button. Draw in the muscles around the tummy button (without slouching forward).
- Keep your feet flat and planted firmly on the floor.