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Although we think of the stability ball as a modern exercise form, its origins actually date back to 1963. That year, an Italian toy manufacturer decided to make toys using vinyl, as opposed to rubber. Due to their increased longevity, they rapidly gained popularity. Eventually, the balls were used throughout Europe in rehabilitative settings as therapy for orthopedic clients and stroke victims. In 1966, Dr. Elspeth Kong experimented with using the balls to develop a ski program for disabled children.
Joanne Posner Mayer, an American physical therapist who was enthusiastic about this idea, went to Switzerland to study with Dr. Kong in Switzerland. Upon her return to the states, she wrote the definitive book about stability ball training. In 1990, she founded Ball Dynamics International in Colorado. Lindsay Zappola, a physical therapist/Pilates instructor, began to work for her. Lindsay incorporated the balls in her work with the US Ski Team. Ball Dynamics, Resist-a-Ball and the Paul Chek Institute were the three organizations that influenced the use of the balls in a fitness setting.
Excitement about the balls increased when an article published in the June 2000 issue of Physical Therapy cited an experiment done at the University of Waterloo that used electrodes to test the effectiveness of various abdominal exercises. The findings of this experiment impressed the fitness industry. When the curl ups were performed on uneven surfaces such as the ball or wobble board, the muscular contractions of both the obliques and the rectus abdominus nearly doubled. The curl ups performed on the ball with the feet on the floor quadrupled external oblique activity. This feedback convinced the authors of the study that unstable surfaces create the need for more stabilization of the spine, which is a function of the obliques.
Below are the standard recommendations for ball sizing:
BALL DIAMETER USER HEIGHT