Whether you’re a novice exerciser or a fitness addict, you can improve your posture, balance and body with the following portable workout aids, says Bristol fitness guru and former international hurdler Les Antoine.
What is the Fit Ball? Also called a Swiss Ball or Gym Ball, the Fit Ball is a giant inflatable ball, often used in Pilates classes, strength classes, and even birth preparation classes. There are various sizes. You need a 55cm ball if you’re 4’8” to 5’3”, a 65cm call if you’re 5’3” to 6’ and a 75cm ball if you’re over 6’.
Why should you use it? Just sitting on a fit ball makes you more aware of your posture as you need to use deep abdominal muscles to stabilise yourself. You can use a Fit Ball to make your current exercises more challenging, engage your ‘core’ muscles (the main postural muscles of the trunk and spine) and improve your posture and balance.
Sample Fitball exercise: The Fitball plank
Make sure you have adequate space around you in case you lose your balance.
Get in the position for a normal plank, but rest your knees on the ball. The ball will try to roll from side to side, so your challenge is to keep it still by engaging your core stabilising muscles.
Keep your arms straight, breathe deeply and pull your belly button towards your spine. Hold for one minute, relax for 30 seconds and repeat. Build up to 4 or 5 sets of one minute over the weeks.
To advance the exercise, roll yourself further over the ball so your shins are resting atop the ball. As the months go by, you can do this with just your feet on the ball. Still not challenging enough for you? Raise one arm slightly off the floor.
What is it? A foam roller is a tightly bonded cylindrical pad usually six inches in diameter and around 12 to 24 inches long. Foam rollers have been used by physiotherapists and in Pilates for some time, but the benefits are now being realised by sports people of all abilities.
Why should you use it?: If used regularly, a foam roller can help release muscle knots and relieve aching and soreness, especially in the legs, hips and back. They can help ease an aching back after a hard day at your desk or at the wheel and release tension in legs that are tight from running or cycling.
Sample foam roller exercise: The quad roll
Lie over the foam roller with one of your quads (front of your thighs) on the foam roller. The other leg should be beside the roller resting on the knee.
Manoeuvre yourself up and down, so the roller moves all the way from your knee to half way up your thigh. Then reposition yourself so you can do the same with the upper part of the thigh. Repeat this ten times on either leg, moving slowly up and down the full length of your thigh.
What are they?: Resistance bands, also known as Dynabands or Pilates bands are thick rubber elasticated tubes that allow you to perform functional exercises against a variable resistance. Resistance bands come with varying tension – these are usually colour-coded. Some will have a handle for easy grip. They are often used in physiotherapy clinics and Pilates classes.
Why they’re great: They are especially safe as you can only work with the amount of resistance that you can exert yourself. Their portability makes them a great workout aid if you’re away from home. They’re good for all-round conditioning and toning and can strengthen and repair weak muscles after an injury
Sample dynaband exercise: Shoulder shaper
This exercise is for strengthening the upper torso giving your shoulders a shapely and toned look. Stand on the middle of the resistance band (with one or two feet), holding onto the ends of the band. Ensure your knees are slightly bent, abdominal muscles are engaged and you are standing tall. Start with your arms by your side or slightly in front of you, keeping elbows slightly bent. Lift your arms to the sides up to shoulder level, keeping the palms facing the floor and the wrists fixed solid. Return to the starting position and take your arm up in front of you to shoulder level. All the movements should be powerful and performed at a steady pace. Don’t lean back as they will put strain on your back.
All of the above pieces of fitness equipment come with their own instructions. All are available from www.physiosupplies.com and other online retailers.