Exercise Ball Safety: Purchase, Maintenance and Use
Exercise balls, also called therapy, balance, fitness, stability, gym, etc. balls, have become very popular in the fitness world. If used properly these balls can provide a great workout and can aid development of core muscle strength and stability, but improper maintenance or use can make these balls extremely dangerous. The Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission estimates that nearly 900 people since 2004 have been injured while using exercise balls. Redwoods’ history over the same period includes 15 incidents; in nine of which the balls “exploded”, “popped”, or “burst”, some resulting in very serious injuries.
The balls were originally used for therapy, muscle toning, and stretching. Many fitness experts agree that exercises using an exercise ball are more effective for toning and stability than exercises using a machine or mat. The ball’s innate instability forces increased use of back and abdominal muscles thus developing greater strength and stability. The balls are also widely used for yoga, Pilates, vigorous full-body workouts, and warm-ups, and have even been used for weight training.
One of the benefits of these devices is their versatility, but it is also their chief flaw – they can be used for light-use therapy exercise that is little more than maintaining one’s balance on a round object or employed in heavy-duty weight-training supporting a couple hundred pounds of free weights plus a bulky body-builder. Varying degrees of ball strength is another challenge – listed dynamic burst limits range from under 200 pounds to 3,300 pounds; many of the inexpensive versions don’t even give strength ratings – it would be wise to assume that those are low.
Choosing the right exercise balls for your facility may be difficult. There are many brands and many vendors with significant differences in quality and cost. Purchase only from qualified vendors, whether brick and mortar stores or online. This is an arena where penny-wise is almost certainly pound-foolish – don’t cheap-out – it will probably cost you in the end. Each ball is designed for a specific purpose and thus there are significantly different burst strengths – buy for the intended use, not for price. They also come in multiple sizes; because people should use balls appropriate to their height, varied sizes of balls will be needed for your programs.
Some general pointers for safe exercise ball use:
- Only purchase balls advertised as burst-proof (or similar phraseology) with a published dynamic (or burst-proof) rating
- balls generally have two ratings – dynamic and static; however, the static rating is basically meaningless because the balls are only used dynamically
- if only a single rating is given and it is not identified, assume that it is static and divide the listed rating by at least three – a ball’s dynamic rating ranges from 1/5 to ½ of its static rating, depending on the manufacturer
- Typical burst-proof ratings are 200, 300, 500, and 1000 or more pounds
- Be aware that even a burst-proof ball can fail, possibly violently, if they are
- used beyond their rated capacity
- used beyond their suggested lifespan, which typically is one year
- used when damaged
Purchase balls appropriate for their intended or potential use
- exercise-only balls should have a dynamic rating of at least 300 pounds, possibly more, to provide an adequate safety margin for all potential users
- extreme-exercise balls should have a dynamic rating of at least 500 pounds because of the additional stress generated by many exercise routines
- weight-training balls should have dynamic ratings in excess of 1,100 pounds – the higher the better – typical cost of such a ball is consistently in the $150 range
- Purchase balls with adequate texture – slick surfaces combined with sweat (a desired result of exercise) vastly increase the opportunity for people to fall from their ball and get injured
- Permanently mark the acquisition date of each ball and diligently retire them based on manufacturers guidelines (the Sanford Sharpie will not cause ball degradation – others may be safe as well)
- Implement a weekly inspection and cleaning program – thoroughly clean all balls and remove any that show signs of damage or fatigue
- Implement a protocol that matches the balls with the appropriate use and facility area
- you cannot tell a ball’s strength by its color even if all are from a single manufacturer
- develop a fail-safe means of ensuring that balls are not used improperly – clearly mark the balls for weight, possibly for area and use
- once the balls are marked, ensure that each ball’s usage matches its strength rating and that each is stored in its proper area
- Do not allow balls to be used in proximity to treadmills or other motion equipment – round things roll and these balls have caused some bizarre accidents
- Store the balls where they are not subject to damage or accidental release
- Provide user orientation; include discussions of
- locations for use (i.e. on a soft surface like a mat, away from foot traffic and user’s body size versus ball diameter (see adjacent table)
- ball’s dynamic rating versus the type of use intended
- appropriate exercises for the individual and for the respective exercise ball
- appropriate motion equipment, etc.
- Preferably, do not allow exercise balls to be used for weight training because
- the lack of a stable surface beneath the person increases the chance of muscle strain or other injury
- the lack of spotter and stand for barbells also increases the chance of serious injury
- if you choose to allow exercise balls to be used with weight training, at least
- require users to receive specific training
- limit maximum dumbbell and barbell weights
- require spotters for all barbell use
- restrict use to areas where user error or equipment failure will not injure others
- ensure that only appropriately rated balls are used for such activities
Exercise balls are a very popular exercise tool. However, improper use can injure your people. Protect them by only buying quality, always marking capacity and acquisition date, consistently training users, and faithfully monitoring use and condition.
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