Although fitness balls are now available everywhere, many people still don't know how to incorporate them into an exercise routine.
To help, Liz Applegate, a fitness expert and author of "Bounce Your Body Beautiful," visited The Saturday Early Show to give a primer for incorporating the bouncing balls into a workout routine.
Applegate believes fitness balls are great tools to help women get in shape.
The bouncing balls were originally used as part of rehabilitation exercises for the shoulder and other injuries. Only recently have they become mainstream.
Applegate says she first began using the balls herself following a shoulder surgery. Prior to the surgery, she had followed a "hardcore" daily routine of lifting, running, cycling, swimming, chin-ups and push-ups. Applegate says she seriously doubted her physical therapist's claims that simply using a fitness ball would put her in the best shape of her life. She says by the end of her shoulder rehab program, she was fitter and more svelte than she had ever been before.
Applegate says it's important to remember that fitness balls are for strength training only. They will tone muscles beautifully. But, she says, it's also important to include a cardio activity such as walking or swimming in an exercise routine to keep the heart healthy.
She says a fitness ball provides numerous results because balancing on the giant ball during arm curls also engages your abs, legs, back and gluteus to stay upright. No other exercise equipment works so many muscles at once.
Applegate says fitness balls can be deflated and packed in a suitcase. So, you never will have an excuse to skip a workout — even on vacation or a work-related trip. You can do the exercises in front of a television at home or in a neighborhood park.
The lack of heavy weights to maneuver allows young children and older adults to use fitness balls.
Applegate says building muscle also helps with metabolism and weight control, coordination and bone strength.
Fitness balls are sold almost everywhere. They come in a variety of sizes. Applegate says the right fitness ball allows you to sit down on the ball with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Expect to spend $20 to $50 for the exercise equipment.
Applegate also uses handheld weighted balls (heavy balls). They add resistance when doing upper body exercises.
She says simply grabbing handheld weighted balls increases your grip strength. Also, curling and pressing a heavy ball uses numerous smaller muscles to help stabilize your hands, thus increasing the efficiency of your workout. The round shape of the heavy balls fits perfectly into a woman's smaller hands and feels more natural than dumbbells, she explains.
The heavy balls come in different sizes. Applegate says to choose one that feels good in your hand. If you're just starting a fitness routine, you should choose a lighter ball. But, you may ask, once I'm in better shape, won't I have to spend money on heavier balls? Applegate says no. You should just do more repetitions to tire your muscles. If you already own dumbbells, you can use those instead.
Finally, you may want a mat to stop yourself from sliding around when exercising and make some of the moves more comfortable.
Applegate says to expect to feel awkward on the fitness ball at first. Your body has to learn how to handle the new way of moving with the ball. Applegate suggests a "get acquainted" session with your new fitness tool. Try sitting, try lifting your feet and balancing, try kneeling and have fun. Afterwards, you should be ready for some exercises.
Lots of people perform crunches with fitness balls. Applegate says the closer your feet are to each other on this exercise, the harder it will be to balance. For an extra challenge, you can change your hand/arm position.
Applegate says the amount of your body that rests on the ball determines how difficult the exercise will be. The more support you get from the ball, the less challenging the move.
Applegate says the fitness ball can also be used for shoulder workouts. It's a great time of year for the exercise, she says, because everyone is wearing sleeveless tops and dresses. The exercise also improves your posture.
Applegate instructs to sit on your fitness ball with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a heavy ball (or soup can) in each hand, with your hands at your sides. Simultaneously lift your right arm in front of your torso as you lift you left arm laterally out to your side, forming a right angle between your arms. Stop once your arms reach shoulder level.
Next, lower your arms, and then raise your left arm in front of your body and your right arm laterally to the side. Lower and continue alternating for 10 to 15 repetitions.
The fitness ball exercise that works the thighs is Applegate's favorite. She says you can feel the exercise working right away. While toning your thighs you also tone your abs, gluteus and lower- back.
On Applegate's Web site, she says to lie with your left side on your mat. Place your fitness ball on top of your right thigh, using your right hand to hold the ball in place. Bend your left arm and prop up your head with your left hand.
Lift your right leg, leading with your right heel and continuing to use your right hand to hold the ball in place. Lower and repeat 10 to 15 times. Switch sides.