The exercise ball (also known as a swiss ball, or pezzi ball) has come into popular use in the past decade or so. In the past it was purely used in more specialised physical therapy, but nowadays it is seen in gyms, yoga classes, and even as office chairs. It is thought to improve posture, but read this before you go throw out your office chair…
The maintenance of good posture is supported by many muscles, including the intrinsic muscles of the back and the abdominal muscles. Like all muscles, these postural muscles can be trained and strengthened if they are used, or if they can waste away with disuse.
Poor posture favours the use of other muscles and can cause wasting of these postural muscles. Extreme wasting can tighten shorten the muscle length, compacting the vertebra in your spinal column. Furthermore, if these important postural muscles are weakened, other muscles need to be used to maintain posture. Not all muscles are meant to maintain posture, and straining these muscles can cause back pain, muscle fatigue, neck pain, and headache.
Performing exercises on a body ball requires enhancement of spine and whole-body stability to reduce the threat of falling off. This study shows that bridging exercises on an exercise ball increases the activity of the rectus abdominis (your six pack ab muscles!) and your external oblique muscles.
So yes, using an exercise ball is great tool to strengthen muscles for good posture. I personally don’t use the exercise ball very often, but Blogilates has a great workout video if you are looking for any ideas.
There has been a new trend to replace your office chair with an exercise ball to supposedly improve posture.
This sounds great in theory. However, there are a number of studies that have found there is no significant improvement to posture or spine stability and greater discomfort (here, here, and here). Note that all those studies had participants sitting for <1 hour, which isn’t representative of a day in the office.
I couldn’t find any studies that look at the long-term effects of sitting on an exercise ball instead of an office chair, but I argue against using them in the office. Why? We sit at our tables for hours and hours at a time, concentrating on work or study- not out postures. We get fatigued and because we aren’t focussing on our postures, we tend to slouch.
Keep the exercise ball for the gym so you can give your movements and posture full concentration. At the desk get a nice comfy chair with back support so you can concentrate on your work while your back is supported.