The Exercise Ball
Over the past few weeks I’ve discussed why calorie/activity trackers, foam rollers, resistance tubes and yoga/stretching mats are excellent tools for firefighters. Today’s important health tool is an exercise ball.
The exercise ball is another versatile, inexpensive tool that can be used to work many muscle groups. It is especially helpful for doing exercises that work the core and other muscles that keep the back healthy (hamstrings/glutes and intrinsic spinal muscles), which is really important for firefighters.
By getting creative, you can make your typical run-of-the-mill exercises a bit more challenging. For example, do your bicep curls and overhead press while sitting on the ball which will work your core much more than standing or sitting on a stable surface.
Or my personal favorite: do your chest press with your upper back on the ball. As you push through your heels to keep your hips level with the rest of your body, you’re getting in a glute/hamstring exercise at the same time!
Use the ball to keep your back healthy. Here are three very important exercises to stay injury free; each one focuses on either the core, hamstrings/glutes, or intrinsic spinal muscles.
1) Bounce on the ball with one foot lifted and eyes closed (2 minutes each leg). This exercise doesn’t take a lot of strength but it does wonders for working the very tiny muscles in your spine that line the vertebral column and are responsible for fine motor movements. By doing an exercise like this, you’re keeping these muscles in tip-top shape so they’re firing when you need them. This will ultimately reduce your risk of experiencing back pain and/or a back injury.
2) Do a bridge on the ball while lying on your back. This is a great way to work the hamstrings and glutes without straining the back. Start by just putting your heels on the ball with your legs out straight and holding your torso up so it’s flat. Use your arms to keep steady. Once that’s easy, begin to roll the ball in toward your glutes, and back out. You can let your hips drop at first, then progress to bringing your hips up in the air (so your torso remains straight) as you roll the ball in. See the pictures below.
3) Do a plank on the ball. Start with your chest on the ball and then roll out slowly, stopping when you feel challenged but aren’t excessively shaking. The further you roll out, the harder it will be. Engage your abs and keep your body as flat as a board (see the picture below). Try to hold as long as you can. Better yet, roll out on the ball, bring one elbow to the floor at a time, back up, then roll back and repeat.
Find the complete series here!