Exercise balls, also known as Swiss balls, have been around since the 1960’s and were first introduced as purely an piece of equipment for supplementing a strengthening program. The ball provides an unstable surface that makes muscles work harder. For example, performing an inclined bench press on the ball will challenge not only the shoulders and core more, but also increase leg activity to maintain balance on the ball. Performing the same activity on a bench will be easier, but will also allow you to increase the weight lifted which may be beneficial depending on your conditioning goal.
Within the past couple decades, exercise balls have been becoming more popular in the work force. Some believe that sitting on an exercise ball at work increases your core musculature. The constant movement of the ball may increase our muscular activity. Others argue that the ball actually promotes poorer posture.
So what is the truth about sitting on an exercise ball at work?
You burn more calories per hour, but don’t get too excited. According to a 2008 study, you burn a whopping 4 more calories per hour on the ball.
Your trunk moves more. When your trunk moves more, you are less likely to get that “stiffness” sensation.
Your attention to work may increase. A study in 2011 looked at four elementary school classrooms that had characteristics of ADHD. They found a significant increase in attention spans when the kids sat on the balls. Remember, though, that this population study is not the same age as you.
According to the United States Public Army Command, sitting on exercise balls decrease proper ergonomic posture. For example, there are no arm rests, that may make maintaining proper head and thoracic positioning harder.
Exercise balls actually do not generally increase muscular activation according to a few studies. So as far as your core strength goes, I wouldn’t say exercise balls significantly benefit it.
They take up space, roll around, and you can fall off of them. Hey, these are legitimate arguments!
The research is indecisive, but appears to be somewhat against the use of exercise balls at work because of some major concepts including decreased ergonomic stability and a lack of evidence for improved core strength. Don’t throw away your ball just yet, though. Changing your posture at work either by sitting on a chair to exercise ball or standing from a seated position is beneficial. When you maintain one posture or position for an extended period of time, pain develops. Sitting on an exercise ball for a short period of time a few times/day may help.
If you have more questions on exercise balls, ergonomics, or posture, feel free to reach out to us!