Balance ball chairs, also called stability ball chairs or yoga ball chairs, are growing in popularity as a way of promoting "active sitting."
With studies showing how prolonged sitting can be bad for your health, some health science professionals support the idea that ball chairs can help improve the posture and core strength of people who spend hours behind their work desks. That's because the instability of the ball forces the user to sit up straight instead of slouching. Users constantly make minor adjustments to stay balanced, allowing them to "actively" engage their core and lower back without working out.
Besides their use as office furniture, ball chairs are recommended for pregnant women who have a hard time sitting on regular chairs. Doulas, or non-medical professionals trained to provide physical, emotional, and educational support, and some obstetrician-gynecologists say that they can find relief from pain or discomfort in the back and hips. Meanwhile, the balls themselves can be used to prepare mothers-to-be for labor and delivery.
How Balance Balls Came to Be
Italian plastics and manufacturer Aquilino Cosani is attributed as the creator of the large, puncture-free balls. He called them Pezzi Gymnastik Balls and started selling them in Europe for gymnastics use in 1963. Cosani then established the company Gymnic in the 1980s.
An English physiotherapist Mary Quinton who worked in Bern, Switzerland, began using the balls for the treatment of babies with cerebral palsy in the late 1960s. The balls were later adopted by Swiss physical therapy school director Dr. Susan Klein-Vogelbach for orthopedic rehab and neuro-developmental treatment among adults.
The balls became known as "Swiss balls" when American physical therapists like Joanne Posner-Mayer began promoting their use in the 1980s after seeing their widespread application in Swiss clinics.
Recommended Ball Sizes
Your balance ball must match your height, with the recommended sizes for the following ranges:
- 55-centimeter balls for users between 4.8 to 5.5 feet tall
- 65-centimeter balls for users between 5.6 to 6 feet tall
- 75-centimeter balls for users between 6 to 6.5 feet tall
Are Balance or Exercise Balls the Same as Birthing Balls?
Exercise balls and birthing balls are very similar. However, birthing balls are specially made to ensure the safety of expecting mothers and are made with stronger and thicker vinyl or plastic. Compared to what is used for normal exercise balls, this is so birthing balls won't burst or get easily punctured or deflated.
Birthing balls also have a non-slip finish to improve their grip on the floor and are larger. The diameter of exercise balls start from 45 centimeters while most birthing balls usually start at 65 centimeters.
Our Top Picks
Gaiam Classic Balance Ball Chair
Best Overall Balance Ball Chair
This ball chair is 52 centimeters across, latex-free, and available in 10 colors. It can support users who weigh up to 300 pounds and are 5 to 5.11 feet tall.
The base of the chair is 20 inches wide with a height of 2.5 feet, including the back support bar. It has four easy-glide caster wheels, two of which you can lock if you want to use it as a desk chair.
Chiropractor Dr. Randy Weinzoff helped with its design. It also comes with a desktop workout guide you can use for low-impact stretching exercises.
For the ball to fit just right into the base, let it stand for 24 hours then deflate 50% before reinflating to its final size. An air pump comes with your purchase.
The ball chair comes with a secure metal ball holder, which you can pull up in front. Gaiam also has a 30-day warranty for its balance ball chairs.
Gaiam Ultimate Balance Ball Chair
Best Premium Balance Ball Chair
Like Gaiam's classic version, its ultimate chair also measures 52 centimeters. It's also designed for users who are 5 to 5.11 feet tall and weigh up to 300 pounds.
Although the height and base measurements of both chairs are the same, their difference comes in the design of the chair. While the classic model has a solid T-shaped backrest and solid base, the ultimate version has a sleek patented frame design. It also has five wheels instead of four.
Isokinetics Inc. Balance Exercise Ball Chair
Best Runner-up Balance Ball Chair
This 52-centimeter balance ball chair can support up to 200 pounds. It is recommended for users who are 5 to 5.11 feet tall.
Its chair is equipped with four wheels, two of which can be locked for stability. The product also comes with a small starter pump, ball measuring tape, and a basic exercise guide.
Isokinetics Inc has a 30-day money-back guarantee for its ball chairs.
Gaiam Balance Ball Chair Stool
Best Balance Ball Chair Stool
This ball chair stool from Gaiam is shaped like half domes and is available in two models. The standard model can be adjusted from 18 to 23 inches while the high rise stool can be adjusted from 23 to 33 inches.
The stool has a diameter of 45 centimeters and can support up to 300 pounds. It's made of PVC, polypropylene, and nylon. It has a 360-degree swivel base with five lightweight easy-glide caster wheels.
The stool comes is available in two colors and comes with an easy-inflation pump.
Mantra Sports Exercise Ball Chair
Best Cheap Balance Ball Chair
Mantra Sports' ball chair is composed of the fitness ball measuring 65 centimeters or 75 centimeters and a stability ring at the base.
This anti-slip and anti-burst ball is made of heavy-duty PVC and can support up to 750 pounds.
It comes with two resistance bands, which are latex straps with triple-stitched cushioned handles attached to metal clips found in the stability ring. Stretching up to 70 centimeters, the straps offer up to 20 pounds of resistance.
The ball chair comes with a foot pump, ball tape measurer, and a poster containing exercises for core, upper body, abdominals, back, and lower body. It's also available in six colors.
Benefits of Using a Balance Ball Chair
1. It helps align your spine and reduce lower back pain.
Due to the regular adjustments you have to make while seated on the ball's rounded surface, you are more conscious about your posture and sit straighter.
This reduces pressure on your lower back, which usually happens when you slouch or hunch over, especially while working at a desk or watching TV.
On a balance ball chair, you have to keep your head up high and open your chest so your core is actively engaged.
Alternating between your regular chair and balance ball chair as well as regular exercise on the ball will help reduce lower back pain.
2. It strengthens your balance.
A balance ball chair forces your legs to "wake up" and the rest of your body to straighten to avoid falling off your seat. You can widen the gap between your legs or feet to increase your stability or move your feet closer if you want to challenge your balance and core.
Balance training gives you the stability you need for the most basic actions such as getting out of a chair, walking, and leaning over to wear your shoes.
3. It strengthens your core.
Staying upright on a balance ball works your core muscles—your abdominals, back muscles, and gluteus muscles (buttocks area). A strong core improves the coordination of your arms, legs, and spine. It also helps alleviate back problems.
4. It improves circulation.
Since you have to frequently change positions, sitting on a balance ball chair helps your blood flow more easily to various parts of your body throughout the day. This makes you feel more energetic compared to staying in one position on a desk chair.
Benefits of Balance Ball Chairs for Expecting Moms
Due to their unique shape and feel, balance ball chairs become more comfortable to use among pregnant women as they don't put as much pressure on their sitting bones and pelvic floor. Instead, they're able to gently exercise their pelvic muscles and increase mobility while bouncing gently or rocking on the ball. Doing so can decrease back pains, which 45% of US pregnant women experience.
Balancing on the ball chair requires concentration. Mothers can use moments on a balance ball or balance ball chair to really be mindful of their bodies, meditate, and celebrate the life growing inside their bodies.
Doulas also say that sitting on a balance ball helps open up pregnant women's hips so their babies can descend into the pelvis.
The balance ball can also be used by expecting mothers for breathing exercises in the third trimester in preparation for labor. These exercises require them to engage their core and diaphragm while holding on to the ball.
Ball Exercises for Pregnant Women
Changes in hormone production and a woman's center of gravity due to the additional weight contribute to back pains during pregnancy. Sitting and exercising on a balance ball can help lessen the physical strain.
If you’re pregnant and want to give the balance ball a try, here are some exercises to get you started:
Sit upright on a ball and rock your hips slowly from side to side. Move the ball with your hips in a circular motion clockwise 10 times. Repeat the same number of times counter-clockwise.
Another variation of this is to do figure 8 movements with your hips instead of circles for five to 10 minutes.
While sitting upright on the ball, let your arms hang loosely by your side. Lightly squeeze your shoulder blades together for five to 10 seconds before releasing. Do 10 repetitions.
Leg and arm lift
Sit up straight on the ball with your feet about hip-width apart. Ensure that they are a comfortable distance from the ball. While keeping your balance, straighten your right leg and lift it up to hip level. Then raise your arms up until shoulder level. Go back to the starting position and do the same exercise with your left leg. Lift legs alternately for every repetition.
You can also just lift your foot from the floor instead of raising your whole leg to hip level if you have difficulty extending your leg.
Kneel on the floor with your knees open. Position the ball in between your knees about an arm's length away. With arms extended, hold on to the ball and gently lean forward. Then retreat. Repeat for 10 to 15 times.
Another variation of this exercise is to put the ball on top of a bed. You can stand and lean on the ball from this position.
Stand with your feet pointed outward and shoulder-length apart. Lower yourself and squat. Place the ball in front of you and hold it with your hands. Allow the ball to help keep your balance. Tuck in your abdominal muscles and maintain a good posture.
If you're an expecting mom and plan to use a birthing ball for exercise, remember the following tips for your personal safety and to make your ball useful even beyond pregnancy:
- Consult your doctor before deciding to buy and use a birthing ball.
- Choose a ball that's appropriate to your size.
- Ensure that the ball has a little give because if it's too firm, you won't be able to gently rock it back and forth while sitting on it.
- Use your ball on a carpeted surface or immovable mat instead of a hard floor.
- When you start out, make sure your spouse, partner, or friend is present to assist you.
- Put chairs or other sturdy supports on the sides of the balls so you can hold on to something while in a seated position.
- Hold the ball with both of your hands to keep it steady before sitting down on it.
- Examine your ball regularly for leaks. Keep it away from pointed objects, flammable materials, and other exercise equipment.
- Do not store your ball in overly warm or cool places. The temperature can cause the air inside your ball to contract or expand.
- Keep in mind that some balls are made of latex; read the product label before buying if you are sensitive to the material.