METHODS: Bilateral muscle activation was recorded from 7 sites (rectus abdominis, external/internal obliques, latissimus dorsi, thoracic/lumbar erector spinae, and multifidus) on 8 subjects. Three-dimensional lumbar spine postures and upper body kinematics were recorded while the participants performed the exercises. An electromyography-driven model was used to calculate spinal loading.
RESULTS: Cocontraction of trunk flexor and extensor muscles was reduced by up to 30% for the extension exercises when performed on the ball. Peak muscle activation remained unchanged or decreased, and spinal loading (compression and anterior-posterior shear) decreased when the extension exercises were performed on the ball. The lumbar spine postures attained during the exercises did not differ between surfaces.
CONCLUSIONS: The assumption that the use of an exercise ball will always create a greater challenge for the musculoskeletal system was not supported by the findings of this study. Likewise, in a healthy, young population, there does not appear to be any training advantage to performing extensor exercises on a ball versus a mat. However, in a rehabilitation scenario, these exercises performed on a ball could reduce low back loading and hence reduce the potential for reinjury.
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