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Balls Are for Children

David Landau


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It is quite easy to be fooled and misled by the latest movements in the World of Fitness and Personal Training or in any field for that matter. Physical Fitness today is largely a TREND driven industry, and the chances of finding the Truth are next to slim and none (slim left town). Examples of this in the fitness craze are very prevalent. Someone once said, "A thousand things advance; nine hundred and ninety-nine retreat," another one said, "Believe nothing of what you read and very little of what you see." I have been involved as a practitioner in the Exercise field for a period of over 30 years, seeking the truth of the matter. I have seen more than my fair share of examples of Fraud in an Industry that should know better! As a Historian, and long tome practitioner, I have a research/archives library that dates back over 200 years, with several references to 2000 years before that. Having read a great deal of these books and journals, I can tell you first hand that much of the situation in the Physical Fitness World has gone on an undesirable downward turn for the worse.

This trend filled problem exists largely due to the vast influence of vested commercial interests that in no way shape or form have anything to do with fact. Adding more confusion to this situation is the retarded commercialization of exercise in the form of television “infomercials,” These “misinfomercials” have had its fair share in contributing to this industry’s downfall. “It is television’s primary damage that it provides people with the same fantasy, ready made, and on one platter.” The elevated status of these commercialized exercise fables illustrates this effect. It’s very similar to the used car salesman, jumping around and foaming at the mouth. He wants you to buy a “cream puff” as he claims, but more often than not it turns out to be a lemon. The outcome is more or less is the same in fitness, just another form of clever fraudulent advertising. – a wolf in sheep’s clothing so to speak. So instead of a communication which leads to the true story, there is an overabundance of fiction with no help to stop the insanity anytime soon.

History is a requirement in the study and understanding of any field. Without investigating the history of the Exercise and Fitness industry, hundreds of thousands of practitioners lead literally millions of individuals who exercise to employ useless or near worthless modalities. Many of these are approaches in exercise that have been demonstrated for several decades previous, including some forms that have been used minimally for the last 200 years. This is a situation that lends itself to be retrogressive and the consumer therefore elects to accept any of these pleasantries at face value. So instead of the potential benefits that can be available with proper scientific exercise, there are too many confusing choices. Most of these are recreational alternatives that simply involve mere traditional activities or movement. These generic activities and movements have absolutely no demonstrated value.

It is very easy to attach multiple meanings to exercise, and it therefore allows for most physical exertion and gross activity to be included as such. Exercise is not simply getting up and moving as is always implied. As a matter of semantics, the true objective of exercise is progressive muscular strengthening. The exercise systems associated with this purpose are known as graduated or as previously stated, progressive strength training. This involves the controlled lifting of weights such as barbells or the utilization of high tech selectorized strength training machines in an advancing manner to provide a meaningful localized training effect for your muscles. But unfortunately as the field of physical fitness culture evolves, we see that current trend again turns people far away from what exercise truly involves.

Trend and hoopla entails many to follow what is being done popularly (commercially) and allows for way too much unfortunate frenzy to follow. This is very disappointing, because there is a valid understanding of what is required to produce far superior results for the exercising consumer. But outside of this fact, there is that great tendency again to follow “what is in.” This is a clear case of the blind leading the stupid; monkey see, monkey do. The fact is that the majority will seek out any mystical illusion that insinuates of some type of higher “specialized” knowledge. Ironically someone once said, “This specialization makes each man the more directly dependant upon the supplementary activities of all others.” Someone else said something to the effect that, “when has it ever been indicated that the majority was right about anything?” Following popular fitness culture is a bad mistake if you are looking for the standards that lead to the physical improvement that you deserve. The fashion industry is predicated by trend which is fine, but the exercise industry, I think not! Fashion, like exercise can look back into its historical development and find what is deemed as “new” is really old hat so to speak. So in a thorough examining of history, we find that the “new” is not so new after all.

One of the many trendy myths prompted by today’s fitness crusaders is the fad of the Swiss or Stability Ball. This “up to the minute” approach has been one of the most cleverly provocative and ridiculous productions on the scene today. Cleverly understood is the fact that a dash of fun, challenge, and adventure the ball brings back the freedom of childhood games. But children beware; this is just for adults only! If you are only the casual exerciser, it is likely that you have seen the array of these large balls adorning most gyms, spas, personal training studios, and even physical therapy clinics. They are blown up to the size similar to a beach ball, but only lacking the rubber handle of a child's hopper ball. Fad driven fitness fanatics have found a way to integrate this madness into the mainstream of exercise. If this isn’t alone so outrageous, there are also balls that are exclusively made to be sold specifically for children that are bought by health clubs and used again indiscriminately for adult exercise. Imagine the following scenario that happens when babies mature to become children and develop the ability to finally walk. They soon discover the world around them and how to interact and play with their toys. Their eyes then focus these large pretty balls and have to fight and cry just to get them away from the grown ups. As we can see the colorful array of decorative balls therefore provides its own alluring spectacle from early on; faithfully portraying the “exercise is fun premise.”

The attraction grows dazzling as many women are attracted to the new balls as if they were a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Athletes are drawn in by the fascinating skill, challenge, and enduring feats of dexterity. This is an exercise in futility that in no way shape or form has anything to do with the improvement of their advanced and specific athletic skills. The elderly are also preyed upon and promised that ever so popular fountain of youth in the way of useless balance skills. This new lip service promises them the balance of a ripe twenty year old. So is this the new innovative exercise program for the ages? I am afraid not, one would have a better chance at success by consulting a gypsy fortune teller. A long look back in our history tells tales of many stories that come to be repeated over and over again.

Exercise origins generally find their way back to ancient Greece. From ancient lore, the Greeks are often tied to fantasy Gods, Heroes, and Monsters. Like Greek Mythology, ball exercise is no exception and proves the rule. Ball playing was a favorite exercise amongst the Greeks. They covered all the bases possible and with their imagination created four kinds of balls. Dear to their exercise like their Gods, the Greek balls had different sizes and uses as well as names. The little ball Pila Parva, the great ball Pila Magana, the hollow ball Pila Inani, and the suspended ball Corycus were all used in sports and exercise. The unified belief was that exercise would indeed impress the Gods. It was expressed in regard of their own improvement in beautiful physical prowess. Times hardly ever change.

Recent historical origins suggest that the medicine ball was reintroduced in the United States by Robert J Roberts in 1876. He had one made based on a suggestion from a storyteller that told him of an Arabian King being cured by a ball comprised of herbs and such. Roberts was an innovator of many fitness apparatus including Pulley Weights and the Exercise Mats. He made up a large medicine ball that weighed in excess of 8 pounds. The medicine ball was a staple primarily in the YMCAs and became in such demand that its use proliferated all over the world within a dozen years. Its original objective was to provide another form of resistance exercise, dumbbells had been the rage, but were alone considered a bit boring. As in the dumbbell exercise, these early balls were made to be varied in weight but were considered a much more exciting and invigorating recreational exercise. Their exercise designation was primarily for the development of the chest and the limbering of the back, arms, and legs. The unique design of this weighted sphere appeared to be that of a large sewn up baseball and may have been the precursor to ball games such as Basketball and Volley ball. Undeniably, this form of exercise later became combined with sports and amusement. This has been very evident since the early days of games, sports, and recreation here in the United States, as well as worldwide. So the transition went from exercise to sports, and onto games. Signs of the Ball Exercise were then seen in best selling manuscript called Popular Amusements, a Women's based Recreational and Social Book published in 1902. The ball’s popularity grew into many forms and was then understood as a major implement for sports and recreation. It was also offered in popular gymnastic apparatus catalogues and sold in weights from 4 – 12 pounds. Referred to as Medicine Ball Calisthenics, it was suggested that women use a 4 pound ball and men use the 6 pounder. In America, the medicine ball became so far reaching that in the late 1920s, that it was popularized into a game at the White House referred to as Hoover Ball, promptly named after then President Herbert Hoover. The game played like tennis without rackets, only with an overstuffed medicine ball that was caught and thrown over the net. He suggested it as an exercise for of course weight control for his portly cabinet. The fad was indeed becoming that fashionable.

Throughout the early to mid 20th Century, balance and equilibrium was seen to be one of the most popular of the six factors of physical fitness. So it was the transition from ball playing to ball training and it became more or less a skilled exercise. In the 1930s the world saw the broad use of medicine balls and they were then seen as a developmental physical fitness program for young students in schools in Germany. This was so popular; it became an exhibition of ball gymnastics in Germany called Gymnastikschule. The word spread and it then developed into a global system of physical fitness. As a result, ball gymnastics (an off shoot of the medicine ball) became rather popular in the mid to later 1940s in books and fashion magazines in the United States. Many books and articles were published on balance and equilibrium that required the use of balance beams, tubes, and balls. Much of the written information is comparable to the claims that appear in today’s popular journals. It was especially noted that women were the focus this of firming, toning, grace, and beauty. They could indeed balance on light medicine balls to achieve that, just as is advocated today. Years soon after, in the later 1950s, whilst understanding the excitement of the ball in games of action, the great fitness guru Jack LaLanne discovered a new promotional twist to the ball. He invented the Massage-O-Ball, which touted the new exercise ball with massage like action. In the size of a small Medicine Ball, this ball had 40 molded massage heads on its surface. With it Jack promised everything along the lines of health, happiness, and beauty. Jack was sincere in his intensions to a degree, but like popular vogue, it lost its glamour not too long afterwards.

However, this “modern concept" of the Swiss Ball was resurrected in the early 1960s by an Italian Toy manufacturer. He saw the allure and potential popularity of ball exercise and ran with it. These balls unlike the medicine balls were made of vinyl and called Gymnic Balls. These same balls were then soon integrated somehow into physical therapy in Switzerland (therefore the name Swiss), and then down the road it found its way into adult physical education classes. Deemed as a Swiss secret, American Physical Therapists set out to “discover” this new miracle. This may have been a case of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Imagine something construed as simply being a popular toy, only to find its way to orthopedic physical therapy and then into mainstream physical fitness. The whole transition took another 30 years to take hold and like other exercise myths, it found its calling. Someone once said that “many inventions had their birth as toys.” Certainly that is very evident and appropriate in the birth of this calamity.

The ball in its use in games and sports for developmental skills in children is very fitting. But for adults essentially all we have with the Stability or Swiss ball is a formal developmental skill portrayed as exercise and again this was realized in your youth. There are certain adaptations such as the balance that you accrue while you are on the ball, but these skills are gone once you “get off the ball,” as there is no transfer whatsoever. Promises of a certain magical carry over effect to normal “real world” activities are nothing more than pure fantasy and provide a negative lip service at best. You simply become better and more skillful at “exercising” on a ball! It’s thats simple!.

The FBI says, “To understand the motivation, just follow the money.” Realizing that opportunity, there has been a flood of video demonstrations, books, and multiple apparatus portraying this tomfoolery. These “leading” fitness crusaders explain how you can strengthen your “core,” develop incredible balance, and burn calories beyond belief without the worry of developing excessive bulked up muscle. Certainly there is one thing for sure, they are well aware of telling you what you want to hear, but they never quite deliver what is promised. Still they contentiously avow that these balls are the cutting edge of fitness and are the latest advancements in Exercise. As previously documented and demonstrated, they are anything but! Seen in these video demonstrations are trainers that are simply poor man’s circus performers that are simulating amateurish balancing feats. Their exercise demonstrations are no more than a three ring circus. Foolish stunt props such as wobble boards, half globes, and plastic tubes are also used along with a long list of worthless or near useless equipment. The people promoting them are guilty of idiotic fraud or almost incredible stupidity. These individuals are no more than clever mystics and like them, most disappear and then suddenly reinvent another preposterous fantasy. Still, any exercise benefit that you think you might derive would be wishful thinking at best. You would have better opportunity at an exercise séance. Intelligent people have better things to do with their time, leave the toys and balls for the children.

Like a conductor in an orchestra, in order for you, the exerciser to conduct valid exercise practices, it is important to turn your back on the crowd. Giving credence and plausibility to any of this type of stability ball "training" would be a grave disservice, to say the least. There are no “core secrets.” They have been long ago discarded and buried as fitness lore from the past. Very simply stated, skill training is one thing, superior strength and conditioning is another. If you are interested in the later, there has been a recent valid running history that legitimately supports an intelligent progressive and calculated training system called progressive strength training. Progressive physical training has been always the most productive way. Progressive strength training is still the name of the game, and the way things are “shaping up” in the field of exercise the consumer is left to swim upstream against an impossible current. If you have an urge to participate in this Ball Mania, turn back and go straight home and rest until the thought goes away!

© 2010 David Landau