Stability balls have been a staple of the fitness world for a decade or more. No gym in its right mind would be without a stack of large colorful balls scattered around the workout floor or group-exercise studio. Popular for abdominal crunches, pushups and numerous other stretching and strengthening exercises, stability balls are made in many sizes by several companies, all stemming from the original concept of 40 years ago promoted by a company in Switzerland (which is why many still call them “Swiss balls”).
Over the years, we’ve seen several attempts at changing the basic ball: oblong shapes, funky feet, handles, ribbings and patterns, and extra burly models. Now the inventors of the popular half-ball, the BOSU, are distributing a new twist on the full ball that has a lot more to offer than a shape or color. The Ballast Ball is pretty basic really: a stability ball with 2.5 pounds of a grainy sand-like material inside. Sounds simple enough, yet it costs about 20 percent and even up to 50 percent more than other high-end balls sold at specialty stores. Having used many stability balls over the years – and chased them around the floor when they rolled away from us – we liked the idea of a ball that stayed put, so SNEWS® had to give it a try.
Once inflated, the ball is like most stability balls. You can do all the familiar exercises while sitting, lying and leaning on the balls. But, the more you use it, the more the advantages of the sand ballast begin to become apparent. For example, when you stand up, the Ballast Ball stays put instead of rolling away. This actually is a nice feature when doing some resistance exercises and circuits or using it in place of a bench with a home gym. Or, heck, just keeping it in place in a room.
The added weight also allows the Ballast Ball to act somewhat like a medicine ball. When performing swinging and rotational movements, it is indeed challenging to stabilize the dynamic load and forces a user to tighten his or her abdominal and core muscles. The filling can increase the intensity of an exercise when you shift it around in a circular or wave-like motion, or you actually jerk the ball to make the filling fly to one side then return, which forces you to really engage your core muscles or get thrown off-balance. Heck, even the couple of extra pounds can make simple lifting movements more challenging.
For most people, the included DVD is really to be used as an introduction to basic concepts, but it can also serve as a workout for beginners. Douglas and Candace Brooks are a great team and demonstrate how to use the ball without being overly chirpy. Sure, they are enthusiastic and smiling, but who wants a grumpy person showing you what to do? They never talk over your head with vague terminology and, whenever they use any term that isn’t basic, they are quick to say what it is. For example, they mention “hinging forward” at the hips, and then add, “what this means….” And when they use muscle names, they explain the location e.g. hamstring (“back of the upper leg”). No, intermediate to advanced users won’t want to use the DVD for its workout, but they will be able to take away concepts and exercises they can incorporate into their own routines.
After using the Ballast Ball for a few weeks, we were convinced that it is a significant improvement over the standard stability ball. In fact, one of our testers has deflated his old stability balls since they’ll never get used again. And another tester wants it as her new desk chair. Heck, a few Ballast Balls around the office can serve as extra seating – with a fun bounce.
Being curious if there were a cheaper alternative, we poured 3 liters of water into one of our old balls. In comparison, the water ball moved around on the floor less than it did when dry, but still much more than the Ballast Ball. The slosh of the water didn’t feel the same as the sand-like material, with the latter tending to stay together as a mass. Our suggestion: Don’t bother with the water experiment, and trying to get sand through the small hole isn’t worth the trouble.
Overall, we have to say that the Ballast Ball is a good addition to a fitness studio because it won’t roll away and it will increase workout options. However, we do wish that it came in more than one size since taller or shorter people may need a larger or smaller ball. And we’re certain that some people would prefer more ballast if it were readily available from retailers since that could also increase the challenge for an advanced user.
One negative was the pump and its nozzle. Several users battled with it since the hole is oversized (we are guessing to get the material in easily when produced), and the nearly pushed the nozzle into the ball, which would have lost it forever. The company needs to provide an adapter of some sort that will be large enough to plug the hole for easier filling. Of course, one tester fixed that dilemma himself with a couple of wraps of electrical tape.
Now, if the company could just manage to eke the price down a hair, we could easily rate the Ballast Ball even higher.
SNEWS® Rating: 4 hands (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $60
For more information:www.bosu.com