Most people will benefit from both free weight and instability training (on unstable surfaces) to promote spinal stability. It’s important to remember to decrease resistance loads on exercises performed on unstable surfaces.
During rehabilitation, unstable surfaces can be effective at improving muscle reaction time and co-contractions that protect joints. In addition, resistance training on unstable may provide localized muscle endurance training, beneficial for the high proportion of Type I “aerobic, slow-twitch” muscle fibers found in core muscles. Core endurance training exercises generally can be performed at higher repetitions (greater than 15 per set), while athletes requiring more strength and power perform less than 6 repetitions per set. Unstable surface training can provide musculoskeletal health benefits such as decreased injury risk and increased spinal stabilization as opposed to using free weights alone.
In summary, unstable exercise devices such as Thera-Band Exercise Balls and Stability Trainers should be included as part of a well-rounded conditioning program for athletes and non-athletes, but not for increasing primary strength and power. In addition, resistance exercises performed on an unstable surface should be performed at a reduced intensity level because of the reduction in force output.
Thera-Band® exercise balls are used by therapists and trainers around the world for therapy and fitness training. Despite its widespread use, the exercise ball has lacked in research to support its clinical application. Some studies have shown that abdominal exercises performed on exercise balls produce more muscle activation than the same exercise performed on a stable surface (Vera Garcia et al. 2000). In addition to traditional abdominal crunches, the exercise ball offers a variety of exercises aimed at activating the core muscles. With the variety of exercises being performed on exercise balls, more research is needed to prove or disprove the efficacy of specific exercises.
Physical therapy researchers quantified the electromyographic (EMG) activity of the abdominals, latissimus dorsi, lower back, and quadriceps muscles during eight “core” exercises on the exercise ball in 18 healthy subjects. They reported their findings in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy.
They found that the upper and lower rectus abdominus muscle were most activated during the roll-out (63% and 53% of maximum, respectively), and pike exercises (47% and 55%), while the internal and external obliques were most active during the pike (84% and 56% respectively) and skier exercises (73% and 47%). Not surprisingly, the lumbar paravertebral muscles, latissimus dorsi, and rectus femoris only produced low- to-moderate activity (less than 40% maximal activation) in all exercises.
The authors concluded that the roll-out and pike exercises on a Thera-Band exercise ball were the most effective exercises in activating the abdominals while minimizing low back and rectus femoris activation. In addition, these exercises produced more activation of the core muscles than a traditional crunch or sit-up.
REFERENCE: Escamilla R et al. Core muscle activation during swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 May;40(5):265-76.
If you have a bad back it is critical to do these simple things….
Change Posture Frequently
This varies the location of the stress on your spine, instead of focusing all of it on the same area. The key is to maintain a neutral, natural arch in your low back. Try standing up every 20 minutes; try putting your feet up or leaning your chair back.
Aim For a Dozen ‘Arch-ups’ (Cobra in yoga) or Standing Backward bends every day
Most lower-back problems come form prolonged flexion or leaning over like sitting in a slumped posture. Avoid prolonged flexion by standing up and arching backwards 8 times, 3 times daily.
Squeeze Your Butt Muscles
The gluteal muscles are often weak, especially if you have tight hamstrings and weak abdominals. By squeezing the glutes about 20% during walking you’ll automatically help stabilize your spine, which lowers your risk of back injuries.
Use a Stability Ball For a Chair
Use it instead of a desk chair for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. Sitting on the ball keeps you in motion, and it’ll also help strengthen your core muscles.
Frequently Adjust Your Car Seat
Every 20-30 minutes use the buttons on your carseat to change your position. If you recline the seat so far back that you have to crane your neck to see in front of you, you’re putting a dangerous strain on the lower neck. You should be able to see a full view of the road with your head against the headrest
Make Use of a Pillow
The best position to sleep is on your back. Place a pillow under your knees and your cervical curve to help relieve back stress. The second best sleep position is on your side. If you’re a side sleeper, draw your legs up toward your chest and place a pillow between your knees. The least desirable sleep position is sleeping on your stomach. If you do this, stuff a small pillow under your abdomen to keep your lower back from sagging.