Let’s face it, a balance ball is not an ergonomic chair. Most lack backrests (or have backrests that are woefully minimal.) Plus, the seat can’t be adjusted for a good fit with your other work tools, and generally, there are no arm rests to speak of.
It’s only logical then, that even in the office, the purpose of an exercise ball is just that – a tool for core workouts, sitting yoga, back exercises and the like.
But it’s not an office chair.
Should You Use a Balance Ball in the Office At All?
In this post, I’m going to talk about how to get the most out of using your balance ball in the office, but first, let’s get a couple of things straight.
- If you’re not struggling with any kind of joint or muscle injury, a balance ball, exercise ball or fit ball (as far as names go, take your pick) may prove itself as a time-saving way to work your core during the day.
- But if you do have a condition or joint pain, or you are nursing an injury, it’s important to coordinate with your qualified, licensed health care provider (i.e., M.D., physical therapist or chiropractor) to get the right exercises, and so that you can progress properly towards full and correct physical functioning. This will likely be in lieu of using a balance ball as an office chair. At least for a long while. Why?
Dynamic Stability is What Makes a Balance Ball Special
Because the surface of a balance ball is curved, sitting on it challenges your dynamic stability. Dynamic stability is about your capacity to stay put on the ball in a well-aligned position when movement is injected into the exercise “equation.”
This injection can be easy or difficult, depending on your current strength level.
At first, basic movement skills needed for a pain free body – breathing for pain relief, finding your core for the first time, lifting your legs from the right place (aka, your hip joints) – are not easily cultivated when you’re sitting on a balance ball.
Skills such as these tend to be tackled early on in physical therapy and back treatments – well before dynamic stability is introduced.
This is one big reason why using the balance ball as an office chair is not necessarily safe if you deal with pain, injury or other medical condition.
Good Desk Posture through Dynamic Stability
You may find that your biggest challenge when sitting on a balance ball is controlling the thing.
This is good!
It’s a prime example of balance ball as challenge to dynamic stability.
The circular nature of the ball may tempt you into movement, but your job, in this case, is use your muscles to keep your trunk upright and stationary, and thereby fast-tracking your core strength and improved posture.
It’s obvious, then, that if you don’t have significant pain or an injury, sitting on a balance ball – even in an office – has potential. The key is knowing how to employ the ball safely and in a way that leads to better posture and freedom from pain
5 Evidence Based Tips for Using a Balance Ball in the Office
- Use the fit ball in predetermined time slots, rather than all day long. Truthfully, just a few minutes of skillful ball use once or twice per day may be all you need for lower core muscle strength benefits. And we all (should) know by now that strong lower abdominals are critical for good posture support and a pain free back.
- Treat your time on the ball as a full on exercise session, and not as an appendage to what you’re already tasked with doing. In other words, don’t engage in movement on the ball while also focusing on your work. As with any type of core strengthening, and especially dynamic core strengthening, paying attention to how your body moves is a must.
- Stop if you have pain. A painful exercise session is usually a counterproductive one. If you notice pain, pins & needles, burning or electrical sensations and/or numbness down an arm or leg, see your doctor. These are signs of nerve root damage, which is often caused by herniated disc and/or other serious spinal conditions.
- Initiate back motion at the pelvis. The spine gets much of its support and its movement foundation from the pelvis. And with the pelvis as home to the all-powerful core muscles, starting there (by tilting it) is perhaps the safest (for your back) as well as the most effective way to develop core strength.
- Stabilize the ball and get better quality ab work by keeping your feet flat and relaxed on the floor, toes pointed forward. There’s more to excellent ab work than that, but good foot position is critical. Positioning your feet properly (as described may also help you reduce the risk of joint injury or chronic conditions in the foot, ankle, knee or hip.
Jackson, et. al., Should we be more on the ball? The efficacy of accommodation training on lumbar spine posture, muscle activity, and perceived discomfort. Human Factors. December 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24745199
McGill, et.al. Sitting on a chair or an exercise ball: various perspectives to guide decision making, Clinical Biomechanics. May 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16410033