When children exercise, they develop healthy bones and muscles, experience less stress and maintain a healthy body weight. Body weight fitness exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, jumping rope and crunches help keep kids strong and toned. Using a therapy ball (also known as physio ball, fit ball and Swiss ball), can challenge and improve children's balance, coordination and muscles in many new ways while adding fun to their daily exercise routine.
Origins of the Therapy Ball
Invented in Italy in 1963, the large balls now in use at every gym in America were created as a toy. The "Gymnastik" was the brainchild of engineer Aquilino Cosani. It was subsequently used as a pediatric rehabilitation tool by an English physical therapist, and brought to the U.S. in the early 1990s. Now an integral part of fitness clubs, physical therapy centers and athletic training facilities, the physio ball is used for stretching, core strengthening and even as a chair.
Fitness for Children
Physio balls are inexpensive and available at department stores, sporting good stores and online. The 55 cm size ball is appropriate for children from 4 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 5 iches in height. Using the therapy ball will encourage gains in strength, improved balance and coordination, a stronger back, better athletic performance and better posture in youths.
Lie with your stomach on the physio ball, stabilized with shins on ball and hands on floor. While looking down at the floor, move hands side to side so that you "walk" in a circle. Repeat with the other arm leading and go in opposite direction. This develops upper body and core strength.
Dynamic Throw and Catch Drill
Have two children stand facing each other about 4 feet apart on a court or space of at least 15 yards. Give one child the ball. Cue them to begin a sideways shuffle, tossing the ball from one to the other as they are in motion. At the end of the distance instruct them to repeat drill in other direction. This exercise develops eye-hand coordination and agility.
Lie with your stomach on the ball, legs extended straight behind you. Press your pelvis into the ball, raising your body to a 45-degree angle to the floor, balancing on toes. Stretch your arms out in front of you on either side of your head as if you're flying like Superman. Maintain the position for a count of 15 to 30 seconds. This is an excellent postural exercise for the computer/video game generation.
Overhead Reach to Squat
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, holding the ball overhead with arms outstretched. Keeping your chest and head up, squat your body down like sitting in a chair, lowering your arms in front so that the ball touches the floor. As you start standing, raise the ball up, returning to the start position. This works the glutes, thighs, shoulders, upper back and core.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on floor. Holding the ball in both hands on the floor overhead, bring your bent legs up toward your waist, bringing your arms and the ball toward your waist at the same time. Place the ball between your ankles and slowly lower both feet and arms to floor. Keep your spine, hips and head on floor at all times. Repeat the sequence. This builds abdominal (core) strength and stability.