Health & Fitness

How balls shaped their bodies


Penthouse Gym trainer Peter Mumba with fitness enthusiasts Martha Ikiara (left) and Lucy Maitai (centre) during a training session on June 8, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Every Tuesday at 1 pm at Penthouse Gym Nairobi, fitness enthusiasts huff and puff their way to a healthier and better body.

However, instead of shaping up using weights, they have added a weapon to their arsenal of fat-busting workout tools— a stability ball, also known as a Swiss, gym, exercise or yoga ball. They use it for aerobics, toning and stretches.

“The stability ball is one of the most underrated gym equipment yet it can do wonders to one’s body,” Peter Mumba says at the gym’s studio located at View Park Towers.

“It can challenge each major muscle group especially the ones that are easily forgotten during a bodyweight workouts, such as the biceps and triceps.”

Knowing the effectiveness of the ball, Mr Mumba decided to incorporate it in his clients’ workouts.

“When I first introduced the ball two years ago, my clients were wary about what it could achieve. The first one month, they got to experience the power, pleasure and pain of the ball,” he recalls.

One of those people was Martha Ikiara, 52. Her fitness journey began in 2008 after the sudden death of a colleague suffering from a lifestyle disease.

Used to working out using weights and other gym equipment, she wondered how Mr Mumba’s ball would help her keep fit. She now only misses the ball training session when she is out of town.

“I had seen the ball before but never used it. To me, it was just a big ball full of air,” Ms Ikiara says.

“I was very sceptical. But in the first month, I couldn’t finish a 30-minute ball workout session. The ball was so hard to balance and that made the exercises extremely challenging.”


Fitness trainers at Penthouse Gym exercise using a Swiss ball. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Back pain

The ball’s instability is what makes it a good exercise equipment.

“The instability adds complexity to the exercise which produces better results. As you try to stabilise the ball, you get to exercise different muscles especially abdominal ones,” Mr Mumba says.

Because most people’s lifestyles lead them to sit for long hours, Swiss ball exercises align the spine so that it’s neither hunched nor stressed.

The ball exercises also strengthen the core and improve balance. Furthermore, they improve body awareness, such that we are more likely to notice stress resulting from pushing our bodies too far.

Some of the workouts done using the ball include push-ups, toe touches, triceps dips, elbow to knee crunches, squats among others. “The ball is also useful in toning of the arms and legs and cardio workouts,” he says.

A typical workout session begins with floor and steps aerobics using the ball. Such exercises prepare the body muscles and engage the heart.

This is followed by a toning routine targeting muscles in the arms, legs and abs. Lightweights are used. Exercises done during this session include the shoulder press and triceps dips.

“Sitting on the ball is an exercise in itself. Now imagine adding other body movements,” he says.

When sitting on the ball, ensure your feet are flat on the floor with weight evenly distributed on both feet. Knees should be on the same level as the pelvis or lower.

This will help one create and maintain a 90 degree angle at the hips and knees. The last 30 minutes of the one-hour class are spent on strength training and exercising the abdominal muscles.

“Using the ball has added a twist to the workouts. Sometimes exercising can feel routine but not these,” Ms Ikiara says.

“They are also tough. The ball is light but the extent it causes me to exert myself has made me build endurance not only in class but also in life.

Another client who has been captivated by the stability ball is 58-years-old Lucy Maitai. Working out in the gym moving to music amongst friends makes her feel good and puts her in a correct frame of mind to deal with life’s challenges.

An accountant by profession, she had not encountered the ball before joining the class. But after overcoming the fear of being unsure of ball’s ability to handle her weight and if she would be able to balance on it, the class is one she looks forward to.

“Ball exercises are fun and I enjoy them. It’s a great change from the monotony that comes with other gym equipment,” Ms Maitai says.

“One doesn’t feel like they’re exercising at all but once the class is done, your muscles will be sore.”

Since she has started doing the ball exercises, she has noted an increase in body flexibility. In addition to this, her arms and legs are stronger.

“I can throw a kick,” she says. Incorporating the class together with other workouts has helped her maintain a healthy weight.

Mr Mumba says that the ball can be used by both beginners and experts, young and old, as well as pregnant women.

All one needs to do is adjust the intensity levels of the exercise. The exercises are also good for rehabilitating back injuries.

“Ball workouts strengthen your spine, help reduce stiffness, pain, and functionality of the back.”

But before jumping into using the Swiss ball, choose one that is the right size for your height and weight. He also cautions of incorrect posture which can lead to injuries.

“If you’re new to it, it’s best to work with a fitness instructor,” he says.