Written By: Al Neumann, MS, BS, CSCS
Research has shown that seniors who focus on core strength and muscle building are capable of building muscles similar to younger people. However, a lot of seniors do not partake in the strength training necessary to build and maintain muscles. A great and lightweight way to build muscles and improve balance is by using a stability ball. Here are two things you need to get started: find a stability ball that allows you to sit with your hips and knees at 90° angles. If you struggle with balance, place the back of the ball against the wall and widen your base.
Below are some great exercises for use of the stability ball.
1) Leg Lifts: Leg lifts are an excellent exercise to strengthen your quadriceps. These are the muscles in the front of your thigh. Sit on the stability ball and put your feet firmly on the floor. If additional support is needed, you may place your hands on either side of the ball for better balance. Then lift one foot from the floor to extend the knee straight out in front of you. Think of this motion as hinging at the knee. Hold your leg straight for five seconds, exhale and return your foot to the floor. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do one set of 10 on each leg. If you have limited range of motion, only lift your leg as high as you can get it without pain.
2) Marching: This exercise is excellent for increasing a senior’s flexibility, hip flexor strength and cardiac capacity when done at a steady pace. To perform this exercise, place your feet flat on the floor, tighten your stomach and remain in good posture. Lift one knee toward your chest, allowing your foot to raise a few inches off the floor, pause and return your foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg. It is very important to move slowly and to maintain your balance throughout the entire movement. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions per leg.
3) Hip Circles: As we age, the muscles that surround our hips become tight. This is a concern for seniors, as it can affect their mobility. The Hip Circles exercise focuses on the hip flexors. With correct posture, the core muscles are also utilized. To do this exercise, sit in the stability ball with your hips and knees at a 90° angle with your feet firmly on the floor. Then you move the ball in a clockwise motion to make one circular rotation with your hips. Keeping your feet on the floor is very important because it will give you a better stretch. Repeat this clockwise circle 5 to 8 times and then perform in a counterclockwise circle 5 to 8 times.
If you are looking to improve your muscle tone, balance and strength, these are great exercises. Remember safety first! Pace yourself and do not push yourself beyond what you can comfortably do.