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Exercisers have a ball in Keystone Health Club

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Workouts are simply a ball at Keystone Health Club and Cafe in East Pittsburgh – a Bender Ball, that is.

Many of the participants at Keystone are using Bender Balls, a 8-inch round ball that's much-larger traditional stability balls — inflatable balls used to work muscles in the abdomen, increasing strength, balance, posture and flexibility.

The smaller balls are garnering fans, fitness experts say.

“This seems to be able to isolate muscle groups and changes body alignment. It makes (a workout) safer and it makes it harder,” said Gail Evans-Potter, owner of Keystone Health Club.

Connie Tinsley, the club's group exercise coordinator, agrees. She has used yoga balls, which are solid balls made of rubber and about 4 to 5 inches in diameter, but finds the Bender Ball even more useful.

“What I'm finding with the Bender Ball is because it's pliable, it has more give and is a little larger (than yoga balls), so it's better for a lot of yoga positions,” Tinsley said. Keystone uses the Bender Ball in mixed-level yoga, body sculpting and core classes.

The Bender Ball takes its name from Leslee Bender, a master trainer who developed the ball. According to the Bender Ball website, the ball puts the user “in the perfect position for results.” The ball helps the user target their upper abdominals, sides and lower abs.

When placed under the back, the Bender Ball enables the user to get extension backward and flexion forward, “which works your muscles more effectively,” the site states.

Students at Keystone Health Club who use the ball are “learning how to strengthen their core, and yet (the ball) gives more support and better alignment. It's more effective” than doing the movements without the ball, Tinsley said.

“A regular crunch doesn't do anything,” said Marjorie Staub of Chalfant, who takes a variety of fitness classes at Keystone, including body sculpting and yoga. “I like the Bender Ball for (crunches). You can do a more effective crunch when you have the ball to support your back.”

Staub also finds the Bender Ball more effective in yoga class than a smaller yoga ball for some poses, especially the bridge position with leg raise because “you get more support,” Staub said.

Classes are $6 per class for nonmembers who can also buy a punch card for 10 classes for $50. All classes, except a Crossfit class, are free with yearly memberships, which run $36 a month with a $39 entrance fee.

A different sort of ball that Keystone sponsors is a ballroom dance social from 7 to 10 p.m. the first Friday of each month in the cafe. Nicole Ferguson leads dance instructions. Participants pay $5 if they are Keystone members and $10 if they aren't. All may bring their own drinks and snacks.

Keystone Health Club also hosts a more serious class, grief support through yoga. The classes are designed to help those experiencing grief after the loss of a loved one heal through the gentle movements and mindfulness of chair-support yoga. These classes are held the second and fourth Fridays of the month and are free.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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