Swiss ball, stability ball, fitness ball, balance ball, fit ball, large and small exercise ball are all names for the same type of bouncy, colorful balls you see in practically every gym. They vary in size, are inflated with air but are puncture-resistant and are made of pliable soft PVC. They are used in exercise and training as well as rehabilitation and physical therapy. Originally known as the Swiss ball, these elastic balls were created in 1963 by an Italian plastics manufacturer called Aquilino Cosani.
The benefits of exercising with a fitness ball is that a great many more muscles are engaged because of the unstable nature of balancing your body on the ball. Doing a workout on a hard surface does not encourage the muscles to respond as much, especially the deeper core muscles.
The core muscles are predominantly the back and the abdominal muscles, and exercising these greatly assists in supporting the skeleton.
The old adage ‘small is beautiful’ also applies to fit balls because, as well as large ones, they also come in smaller sizes. These smaller ones are becoming more popular and here’s why. A smaller ball fits in the natural curve at the bottom of your back called the lumbar spine. The smaller ball fits all lengths of spinal column, short or long, and when you lean back onto it your abdominal curl is far more effective compared to leaning back over a large ball. Your body is extended further because the smaller balls have smaller diameter.
At around 10% of the size of the larger balls, a leading U.S. fit ball manufacturer claims that the smaller balls are 200% more effective than the large ones.
With regular sit ups or abdominal crunches, a large fit ball needs the body at a certain angle and position to get the most out of the workout and really engage those abs. What tends to happen is that the hip flexors are engaged and your back muscles can become strained too.
Small exercise balls instantly angle you in the optimum position to obtain the best results from your abdominal workout. As well as a greater extension, they also give you a better range of motion so you receive a significant boost when crunching your abs. Compared to ordinary abdominal crunches, small fit balls are up to 408% more effective.
On a practical note, the larger balls are of course trickier to store. The small ones are more convenient to leave inflated and are easier to store in a cupboard when not in use. When deflated they are so much smaller than deflated larger balls and are easier to throw in your holiday luggage too!
So it does seem that the smaller balls are the way to go for getting strong, defined and flatter abs because forward flexion and extension of the back is obtained. It works those deeper muscles as opposed to larger balls where your abdominal curl is not so effective. Investment in a small exercise ball seems to be the way forward for a deeper workout with those hard-to-reach lower abdominal muscles becoming more engaged compared to using the larger balls.