Health & Fitness

Pick a ball and amp up your workout

Melissa Spoonts demonstrates a med-ball toe touch.
Melissa Spoonts demonstrates a med-ball toe touch. TNS

The same universal go-to that kids play with works just as well as a go-to for exercising adults:

A ball.

From a golf ball to those big stability balls you see rolling around a gym floor, any size or type can be a workout asset.

“You can use a ball with any exercise and get strength and cardio together,” said personal trainer Melissa Spoonts, barely able to contain her enthusiasm. “Throw an 8-pound med ball in your hand while you’re doing a crunch and you’ll torch it. You can do squats, you can lunge with a ball.

“That’s the lure,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Although Karl Knopf’s book, Therapy Ball Workbook (Ulysses Press, $14.95), has therapy in its title, he echoes Spoonts’ adjective when describing the benefits of anyone using balls to work out.

“It’s a fun tool that augments an existing program,” he said from his home in Gilroy, Calif. “Use bigger ones for conditioning and stabilization, smaller for hard-to-reach massage places.”

“With some of these, you feel like you’re a kid again,” Spoonts said. “There’s something about taking this ball and throwing it against the wall or slamming it down on the ground. It’s such a powerful release.”

She believes so firmly in them that she keeps a selection in her green Kia to take to clients’ homes.

“I have tiny ones that weigh 4 pounds and 20-pound squishy ones made of leather,” she says. “You pick up that medicine ball and chuck it against the wall for a minute and you are dying.”

Here are some specific ways to use balls designed for exercise or those you snatch from your kid’s toy chest.

Medicine balls

The advantage: “They enhance and engage more of your body in whatever exercise you’re doing,” Spoonts said. “Another thing I like is that you have to pay attention. You’re engaging so much more of your body, and you’re engaged. You don’t just sit on a machine.”

Exercise No. 1: Med-ball lunge. Hold an 8- to 10-pound medicine ball in front of you. As you put one foot forward, bring the ball over your head and reach to the side. “You’re holding it away from your body, which does something for your core and arms,” Spoonts said.

Do three to four sets of 16 lunges.

Exercise No. 2: Med-ball toe-touch. Lie on your back with legs extended, holding a 6- to 8-pound med ball close to your chest. As you raise your legs, extend your arms, lifting your torso as you reach your medicine ball toward your feet. Lie back down.

Do three to four sets of 20 crunches

Stability balls

The advantage: Despite their name, their relative instability helps strengthen the core, whether used for just sitting at a desk or for crunches, Spoonts said.

Exercise No. 1: Plank. Hold on to the ball with elbows straight but not locked and your torso at an angle. Or rest your forearms on the ball with your legs extended.

Do three times, holding each for 20 seconds.

Exercise No. 2: Push-up. “This is a very, very difficult exercise,” Spoonts says. Engage your core, then put your hands on top of the ball. Bend your elbows and lower, then straighten. Or put your feet on the ball and your hands on the floor while you bend your elbows and touch your nose to the floor.

Do 10 to 12; repeat three times.

Knopf does offer one warning: “Make sure you’re doing this in an area where it’s safe,” he said. “The biggest chance of getting hurt is falling off the exercise ball and hitting your head on the TV.”

Tennis balls

The advantage: “It’s soft and pliable and easy to find,” Knopf said.

Exercise No. 1: Foot massage. Stand up straight, placing the ball under the ball of your foot. Breathe deeply as you roll it slowly around your entire foot, including the sides, Knopf said.

Repeat with the other foot. If you have trouble with balance, sit in a chair or use a wall for support.

Exercise No. 2: Hamstring massage. Place one or two balls in a sock. Sit straight in a chair or on the floor as you roll the balls under your thigh, controlling pressure as you shift your weight.