// Pilates on the ball

by Lisa Westlake

Pilates and fitball complement each other perfectly, the mobility of the ball enhancing flowing freedom of movement, awareness and stabilisation. Applying the principles of Pilates encourages refined training on the ball for improved posture, strength and control. Pilates on the ball options are unlimited, with a range of exercises that hone a blend of mobility, strength, core control, postural awareness and flexibility.

Quality not quantity

It is vital to monitor clients for movement control and confidence and to look out for signs of compensation or loss of form. Provide options to suit, and encourage clients to work at appropriate levels.

Reach and lean (standing strength and balance)

A basic squat and stand action evolves into a challenge to quads, core and balance.

Starting position
• Stand holding the ball in front of thighs, feet hip-width apart. Elongate spine and settle shoulders down into ‘soft V’

• ‘Sit and stand’. Inhale, stand tall and reach the ball forwards and upwards above head (photo 1).
• Exhale; sit into a narrow base squat position, pushing the ball forwards (photo 2).

Action (first stage)
• Continue with a flowing squat to stand action as you reach the ball up and then forward.
• Add single hip and knee flexion to the inhale and stand phase, alternating knee lift to 90 degrees with each stand (photo 3).
• Repeat 5 times on each leg

Technique tip
• Focus on balance, control and postural awareness
• Avoid locking the supporting knee

Action (second stage)
• Extend one leg behind on the exhale (squat) phase (photo 4).
• Simultaneously lean and reach forward with the ball in front
• Repeat 5 times on each leg.

Technique tip
• Focus on balance and control and maintaining a long straight spine.

Action (third stage)
• Combine both moves on one leg 5 times, then repeat on second side.

• Option to slide the foot back behind without lifting if control is compromised by raising leg behind.

Rolling back (spinal mobility and core control)

This flowing movement mobilises the spine by rolling back into spinal flexion, using inner and outer abdominals simultaneously. Adding the single leg raise provides extra challenge for balance and core control.

Starting position
• Seated tall on the ball, with feet infront and hip-width apart (calves should not be touching the ball).
• Arms resting by sides, elongate the spine and relax shoulders back and down.

• Inhale, float arms up sideways to shoulder height.
• Inhale, rolling back to upright sitting, reaching upwards and out as though swimming to the surface (ceiling). At the same time bend your right knee (photo 7).
• Exhale, float arms back by your side and replace foot on the floor.
• Repeat raising the left leg.
• Repeat 5 times on each side.

Technique tip
• Focus on articulating the spine vertebrae by vertebrae to be sure to flow through spinal flexion as you roll downwards and back.

• If you have a weak back or control is compromised, roll back just a little or not at all.
• Exhale, roll the ball slightly forward as you round your back to recline backwards, bringing your hands forward and then into your chest.
• Inhale, rolling back to upright sitting, reaching upwards and out as though swimming to the surface (ceiling).
• Exhale, float arms back by your side and settle your shoulders back and down.

• Inhale, float arms up sideways to shoulder height, simultaneously extending the right knee (photo 5).
• Exhale, roll down and recline into a round back position bringing your hands forward and into your chest (photo 6).

Mermaid (lateral flexion, stretch and strength)

Flowing mobility and torso strength with added stability challenge.

Starting position
• Kneeling with the ball beside you, firmly up against your right hip.
• Bring your left foot forward into the ‘propose’ position.
• Stretch over the ball sideways, keeping your right hip on the ball.
• Extend your left arm up over your head, in line with your body.

• Keep your right knee on the floor and hip against the ball.
• Inhale to prepare.
• Exhale and slowly bend your top arm, bending your elbow towards your hip as you roll up sideways, raising one rib at a time off the ball.
• Inhale, lowering back down, focusing on stretching your body lengthwise back over the ball (photo 8).
• Perform 5 times then repeat on second side.

• From the same start position, roll your body up the ball and walk your foot in a little to raise your right knee off the floor (photo 9).
• Exhale, perform controlled lateral flexion up off the ball as per the prep, but with the knee off the floor (photo 10).
• Inhale, roll back down slowly, elongating your body sideways, returning to the ball one rib at a time.

Technique tip
• Focus on slow controlled movement, keeping your neck in line with your spine.

Forearm hover with leg raise (shoulder and abdominal strength and control)

A strong progression from the kneeling roll-away on the ball, or the regular floor variations.

Starting position
• Kneeling on the floor with your forearms resting on the ball and toes tucked under.
• Core engaged and shoulders settled back and down.

• Take the supporting hand off the ball, adding the complete mermaid move, reaching it upwards as you roll upright, and folding it across your body as you roll back down over the ball (photos 11 & 12).

• Inhale to prepare.
• Exhale, pushing downward through your forearms, raising
your knees off the floor to create straight alignment from head to heels.
• Focus on keeping the shoulders down and core engaged to support neutral spinal alignment.
• Hold as you inhale and exhale, then inhale and lower back to the floor slowly.
• Repeat 5 times.

• Inhale to prepare.
• Exhale, settle your shoulder blades and push downwards through your forearms.
• Raise your knees off the floor to create straight alignment from head to heels.
• Inhale, raise your right leg off the floor, keeping it straight (photo 13).
• Focus on maintaining spinal and pelvic alignment (keep your naval pointing towards the floor).
• Exhale, bend the knee in underneath you (photo 14).
• Inhale to slowly extend the leg back behind you.
• Exhale, lower your foot to the floor and repeat on the left leg.
• Repeat 3 times on each leg.
• Relax both knees back to the floor and stretch.

Technique tip
• Maintain neutral alignment of the spine and pelvis; avoid flexing the hips.
• Check you do not rotate your pelvis, arch your lower back or shrug your shoulders.

• The hover, with or without the leg raise, can be performed on the floor, without the ball.

Rolling back extension (spinal mobility and strength)

A flowing movement rolling on the ball to mobilise and strengthen the spine, from flexion through to extension.

Starting position
• Kneeling on the floor with hands on the ball (photo 15).
• The ball must be right up against your thighs, pelvis and abdomen so you are really wrapped over the ball.
• Toes tucked under.

• Inhale, draw your shoulder blades gently towards your tail bone as your raise your chest up off the ball and extend one arm upwards and forwards (photo16).
• Exhale as you lower back over the ball.
• Repeat 5 times with each arm.

• From the draped position over the ball, inhale and push forward to straighten and raise your knees off the floor (photo 17).
• At the same time, reach forward and out with your arms (photo 18).
• Exhale to slowly roll back.
• Repeat 5 times, slowly rolling up and down focusing on smooth flowing movement and control.

Technique tip
• Maintain flowing control and check for neck alignment.
• Do not strain your back or extend beyond comfort.

Heaven and earth (breathe , relax and release)

Starting position
• Seated tall on the ball, feet in front and hip-width apart.
• Palms together in front of chest (photo 19).

• Inhale, push one hand upward and the other down by your side.
• Rotating your body, look down the lower arm (photo 20).
• Exhale, return to the ‘prayer’ position.
• Repeat on the second side.
• Repeat 5 times on each side.


Lisa Westlake, BAppSc (physio)

Lisa has worked in the health and fitness industry for over 20 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. Visit www.physicalbest.com for more details.

NETWORK • AUTUMN 2008 • PP63-70