The Beginner’s Guide to Fitness Balls

By Brittany Risher |

Boost balance, coordination, and much more with this small but powerful fitness tool.

At first glance, a fitness ball may seem like a kid’s toy. But don’t be fooled: You can use this light, portable, and inexpensive (usually $12 or less) fitness tool in endless ways to reap a ton of benefits, including improving hand-eye coordination, balance, and rhythm, says fitness expert David Jack.

His favorite thing about a fitness ball, though, is how it works your grip strength. As we age, doing everyday tasks such as opening a jar, twisting a gas cap, or writing a thank you note can become difficult if we don’t work our hands. This is more than an inconvenience—it can be a bad sign. The strength of your grip, relative to your body size, is a powerful predictor of your future health. Using a fitness ball will help keep your fingers and hands active and healthy.

“If there’s anything you want to have in your fitness toolbox, it’s a ball,” Jack says.

Ready to give it a try? Here are five exercises Jack recommends to start reaping the benefits. As always, safety is key. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise #1: Figure 8s

Stand in a split stance with one foot in front and one foot behind your torso, and hold a fitness ball in one hand. Extend that arm out to the side, and draw figure 8s with the ball. Aim to move as smoothly as possible, following the ball with your eyes while keeping your head still, which will challenge your hand-eye coordination and balance. Do five reps. Keeping the ball in the same hand, reach across your body, and make figure 8s on the opposite side for five reps.

Switch your stance so the other foot is in front, hold the ball in the other hand, and repeat.

Exercise #2: Wall Throws

Stand facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. With one hand or both hands, throw the ball against the wall at chest height and catch it. Next, throw the ball against the wall at eye height and catch it. Finally, throw the ball up in the air and catch it above your head or at chest height, whichever is more comfortable for you. That’s one rep.

Continue doing this for 20 seconds, switching hands each rep if you’re throwing and catching with one hand.

Exercise #3: Side Wall Throws

Do the same exercise as above, this time standing with the wall on your left side. Continue for 20 seconds. Repeat with your right side facing the wall for 20 seconds. This will challenge your balance even more and add some rotational work.

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Exercise #4: Seated Muscle Activation

Sit tall in a chair. With your left hand, hold the ball on top of your left thigh. Push down with your hand as you push up with your leg, using an effort that’s a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Hold for two seconds, then release. Do six reps.

Next, still with your left hand, hold the ball against the outside of your left thigh, about midway on your thigh (do not place it on your knee). Push in with your hand as you push out with your leg. Squeeze for two seconds, then release. Do six reps.

Repeat with your other hand and leg, holding the ball in your right hand on top of your right thigh then on the outside of your right thigh.

Exercise #5: Hand Bounces

With your palms up (or down if you want more of a challenge), bounce the ball off your hands. You can stand in place or walk forward, backward, or sideways. You can bounce the ball off of one hand or from hand to hand. Mix it up. Count each bounce, trying to work up to 50 bounces total.

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