// Kids on balls

by Lisa Westlake

Kids need to be active. The most valuable element for a successful kids’ fitness program is fun. Observing a group of kids in a room with a few fitballs will convince anyone that they are a fabulous tool for enhancing enthusiastic, energetic activity in any child. These big, bouncy balls are readily available to most instructors, and just one of the many ways we can inject fun and fresh enthusiasm into your kids’ exercise program.

Important considerations

The size of the ball does matter. The majority of primary school children will need a 55cm ball when lying over or sitting on it. Sixty five centimetre balls may suit some taller children, but generally this size is best used for running, passing and bouncing type activities.

Always make safety a priority; children love to be energetic and adventurous on the ball, so class control, guidelines and supervision that ensure safe activity is vital.

The most successful kids’ fitball classes tend to involve activities such as:

  • Cardiovascular activity, specifically shortburst, stop/start drills
  • Body awareness and control, including posture and movement awareness
  • Balance
  • Stability
  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Bone development stimulated by activity
  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Confidence and healthy self esteem
  • Cooperation and communication
  • A happy healthy attitude to activity and exercise.

Other considerations when working with children include:

  • Ensure activities are age appropriate. Use terminology and activities to suit the age of the child or group.
  • Growth plates and bone development mean that this is not a time for heavily resisted activity or extreme load. Instead focus on developing form, body awareness and general fitness.
  • Muscle/bone imbalances during growth spurts lead to times of relative loss of coordination when children can feel awkward and self conscious. Encourage, be positive and modify activities accordingly.
  • Physical abilities vary at all ages, so modify and provide activity options for individuals, rather than age groups.
  • Remember, children are not simply ‘little adults’ when it comes to exercise, so understand that their training requirements will differ accordingly.
  • Comprehension and terminology should vary when your clients are children. Avoid embarrassment by using landmarks and demonstrations such as ‘towards the mirrors’ or ‘turn this way’, rather than cues such as ‘left’, ‘right’ or ‘clockwise’.
  •  Reward with praise and fun for all, and avoid excessive focus on competition.
  • Be aware of self image, comparisons and confidence variations.

Fitball exercises for kids

So now you’ve got the kids, and you’ve got the balls, here are a few fun activities:

1. Walk the plank

Purpose: enhances postural awareness and control, spinal and shoulder stability, upper body strength to lengthen and strengthen from top to toe.

Application: supervised one-on-one activity or circuit station

Activity:

1. Start kneeling on the floor, hugging the ball (photo 1).

Cue: ‘Make yourself as small and as round as you can, around the ball’.

2. Roll out to the plank position (photo 2).

Cue
: ‘Walk hands forward to roll slowly and carefully out over the ball keeping your back straight and strong’.

Other helpful cues:
• ‘Draw your belly button in’ or ‘don’t let your back bend like a banana’ to help encourage spinal stabilisation.
• ‘Imagine you have a small baby animal (favourite of their choice) on your back’ to encourage control.

Pointers:
• Provide alternative for smaller children if the ball is too large, such as four point kneel, alternate arm and leg extension.
• Only walk out to where the child retains good control and alignment.


2. Seated throw and catch

Purpose: enhances core control, balance, coordination, communication and cooperation, using balls, balance and big smiles.

Application: can be performed in pairs, as a circuit station, or in larger circles.

Activity:
1. Sit tall on the ball, a few metres away from your partner, with your feet hip width apart.
2. Throw a smaller ball to each other while keeping your body and ball balanced and stable (photo 3).

Variations:
• Try doing the same thing, with one foot off the ground (photo 4).
• Younger children may use a balloon and older children may use a light medicine ball.

Helpful cues:
• ‘Keep your body tall’.
• ‘Don’t let your ball wobble’.

Pointers:
• Ensure good posture.
• Keep feet out in front so calves are not touching the ball.

3. Round the twist

Purpose: enhances stability, balance, mobility, cooperation, coordination and communication by winding up and unwinding.

Application: circuit station or class activity, in pairs.

Activity:
1. Sit tall, back to back, with your fitballs touching.
2. Your feet should be out in front and hip width apart.
3. Turn towards each other to pass the ball, which then comes around to be passed back, on the other side (photo 5).
4. Continue to pass the ball five times in one direction, then unwind by passing it the other way.

Variations: for extra wobble control, try this with your eyes closed, or one foot off the ground.

4. Seated bounce

Purpose: enhances cardiovascular fitness, balance, awareness, stability and control - just like a space hopper but ‘look no hands!’

Application: class or a circuit station

Activity:
1. Sit tall on the ball with your feet out in front, but close together.
2. Keeping your bottom in contact with the ball, bounce up and down.
3. When you’ve found a rhythm, try star jumps (photo 6) or leg kicks (photo 7), running on the spot, or jump both feet to one side, then the other.

Pointers:
• Monitor closely for awareness and control.
• Ball must be sized such that when seated, still on the ball the hips are slightly higher than, or level with, the knees.
• Keep feet out in front of the ball

5. Rag doll roll

Purpose: enhances mobility, balance, flexibility and relaxation through some roly-poly, flopsy fun.

Application: circuit or class (perfect fitball relaxation/finale).

Activity:
1. Drape over the ball with toes and fingers resting lightly on the ground (photo 8).

Cues:
• ‘Flop over the ball like a rag doll’.
• ‘Tickle the floor with your fingers and toes.

Pointers:
• Roll slowly and slightly forward and backwards from your fingers to your toes.
• Try rolling side to side, or roll around in a slow circle ‘as though you are drawing a circle with your belly button’.

6. Long and strong

Purpose: enhances posterior strength, balance and postural awareness to balance your body.

Application: class or circuit station.

Activity:
1. Starting draped over the ball in the rag doll position, slowly raise your chest and legs to become as straight and strong as you can on the ball (photo 9).

2. Try to hold the position, keeping your legs and back straight as you take less weight through your hands.

Variations: for extra fun see if you can balance on the ball while you ‘tickle the floor’ or ‘pretend to play the piano.’

Pointer:
• Ball must be correctly sized.

7. Bottoms up

Purpose: enhances strength, balance, and stability using a wobbly way to lie on the floor.

Application: class or circuit.

Activity:
1. Lie on the floor with the back of your heels on the top of the ball and your arms by your side.
2. Slowly lift your bottom (photo 10).
3. Don’t let the ball, or your body, wobble. Lower your bottom again carefully.
4. For extra wobble control, try doing the same thing with your arms off the floor (photo 11).

Pointer:
• Watch out for, and avoid, neck and shoulder tension.

Photography by Melanie Hendrikse (missmelanie78@hotmail.com)

Lisa Westlake, BAppSc (physio)
Lisa has worked in the health and fitness industry for over twenty years. Australian Fitness Network named her Fitness Instructor of the Year in 2000, and Presenter of the Year in 2003. Through her business, Physical Best, Lisa combines physiotherapy and fitness to create classes and programs for a variety of ages, levels and abilities, and is well known for her work in developing the Fitball program in Australia.

NETWORK MAGAZINE • AUTUMN 2006 • PP35-38