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Have a Ball! Using an Exercise Ball for Pregnancy Fitness

Pregnancy is much more than a mere physical condition; it encompasses a woman’s mind and spirit, too. Balancing the highs and lows that accompany these drastic and miraculous changes can be challenging, especially when you’re dealing with hormonal waves that affect your every mood.

During pregnancy, exercise is a simple strategy for stress relief that will allow you to regain a sense of self-control. When combined with the known benefits exercise has for conditioning and strengthening the body, you come away with an effective mind-body solution.

Low Impact, High Return

Used in hospital birthing centers for years, the exercise ball provides optimal benefits for the pregnant woman. In addition to strengthening the legs, back, and core muscles—which can condition the abdominal area involved in childbirth—an exercise ball can aid in relaxation, comfort, and physical relief.

One of the biggest issues with carrying extra weight during pregnancy is the tendency to alter your normal posture which can put excess strain on rarely used muscles. A fitness ball is good for exercising the deep, supportive muscles in the lower back and surrounding spine so you’ll have better posture and be less prone to backache and sciatica.

The exercise ball can also be used for massage and general relaxation. Because the ball is flexible, it gives when you sit on it, making it more comfortable than a chair.

“I loved my ball; it was so comfortable even just sitting on it and watching television,” says mom of two Kim Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio. “It was almost the only comfortable place where I could sit, yet I was sitting properly with good posture. It was much better than slouching in a couch or chair.”

A ball can also offer just the right support for practicing birth positions including supported squats and kneeling on all fours. And it’s equally helpful for practicing the pelvic tilt, a key exercise for relaxing and opening up the pelvis.

Smith found the ball helpful during labor, too. “I sat on the ball and leaned over on the bed. It was very good at progressing my labor.”

Choosing the Right Exercise Ball

Doing fitness ball activities effectively requires careful selection of a quality ball with the correct size. When selecting a ball, look for the following:

  • Professional-quality, burst-resistant material that easily inflates. Some balls with deflate slowly if torn or punctured, giving you time to get off the ball safely.
  • An easy-to-use inflatable pump and extra stoppers.
  • The correct size ball for your body: If you’re shorter than five feet three inches, you’ll need a 55 cm ball; if you’re taller than five feet three inches, look for a 65 cm ball.

Many fitness balls are sold with exercise videos. Be sure to look for a good pregnancy fitness routine to guide you through safe postures and exercises.

Sample Exercises

Strengthening your core muscles (abs, back, and pelvic floor) is important for sustaining a healthy pregnancy and successful labor. Besides helping you push during childbirth, these muscles also maintain good posture, which can alleviate backaches and sciatica commonly associated with the later stages of pregnancy.

Here are some examples of strengthening exercises from the fitness experts at Ball Dynamics International, creators of FitBALL, to help you throughout all phases of your pregnancy:

Wall Squat

Target areas: thighs and buttocks

  1. Place your exercise ball between the wall and the small of your back. Make sure you can just see the tips of your toes when you look down.
  2. Slowly sit down into a squat. As you squat, remember that you should be able to wiggle your toes because all your weight should be in your heels.
  3. Slowly stand up again. (Repeat eight to 10 times.)

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Target area: upper back, shoulders

  1. Sit on your exercise ball and lean forward so that your forearms rest on your legs.
  2. As you sit up, bring your hands in front of you to chest level and turn your fists (or hand weights) to the side.
  3. Slowly extend the arms out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Bring your fists (or hand weights) back in front of you at chest level.
  5. As you lean forward again, turn your fists (or hand weights) and rest your forearms on your thighs.
    (Repeat eight to 10 times.)

Pregnant Push Up

Target area: chest

  1. Stand in front of a wall and hold your exercise ball out arms’ length away from you at chest level. Press the ball against the wall.
  2. Keeping your body straight and your feet planted firmly on the ground, slowly bend your elbows and press your chest into the ball.
  3. Slowly press away from the ball by straightening your elbows. (Repeat eight to 10 times.)

Slow Kegel Exercises

  1. Sit on your exercise ball and lean forward slightly so that your forearms rest on your legs.
  2. Relax your whole body except for your pelvic floor.
  3. Breathe in and contract for a count of three to 10 seconds.
  4. Breathe out and relax.
  5. Repeat five to eight times. (Increase the number of repetitions when you are ready.)

Quick Kegel Exercises

  1. Sit on your exercise ball and lean forward slightly so that your forearms rest on your legs.
  2. Relax your whole body except for your pelvic floor.
  3. Quickly contract the pelvic floor muscle 20 times.
  4. Relax for five seconds.
  5. Repeat for two to four sets. (Increase the number of sets when you are ready.)
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