No matter how many times your fitness tracker notifies you to take a minute to stand up every now and then, if you work in a desk-bound job, there’s a very good chance that by the end of the day you feel the effects of it—whether in the form of poor posture or simply feeling restless. Although having a high-quality desk chair can help with all of these things, not everyone is willing or able to invest in such a purchase.
That’s why much more affordable chair cushions, like the incredibly popular Gaiam Balance Disc Wobble Cushion Stability Core Trainer ($22), which has over 7,000 5-star reviews, are on the rise. Not only can they be used to support posture and pad the bum, but they can actually boost balance and core stability, too—at least that’s what hundreds of reviewers say.
To find out if the cushion (and cushions like it) are really worth the hype, we chatted with a physical therapist and exercise physiologist about everything there is to know about core cushions and their benefits. Keep reading to find out what they had to say.
How can sitting on an inflated cushion help improve core strength?
According to Lara Heimann, MS, Physical Therapist and creator of the LYT Yoga Method®, sitting on a non-flat surface—as is the case with half-dome chair cushions—requires the core to contract to provide the pelvis with internal support to keep the body balanced and upright.
Additionally, since many core cushions are customizable in terms of inflation, you can tailor them to your exact needs. “You can change the amount of cushion to increase the demand on the postural muscles, giving your core a continual low-load workout while sitting,” Heimann explains.
That said, she points out the Gaiam cushion stands out from the other options, thanks to its "Goldilocks" dome. “The cushion is just the right amount of curve that the demand is subtle, stimulating the more unconscious activation, which is the core’s primary responsibility—to turn on in an anticipatory response to balance your joints,” she says.
Still, to really reap the rewards, you have to be mindful of how you’re sitting. “This cushion will help if you are centering your weight so that the spine lifts upward out of the bowl of the pelvis,” Heimann says.
Things to keep in mind
As beneficial as this core cushion may be, it’s not a substitute for traditional ab exercises, says Senior Director of Health Science and Research for Orangetheory Fitness, Dr. Rachelle Reed. “This cushion should be a supplement but not a replacement for core strengthening exercises,” she adds. “You need to challenge core stability with a variety of movements and in various positions to maintain healthy core strength.”
Her suggestion? Use the Gaiam cushion, or a similar product or exercise ball, intermittently throughout your work day to provide a more comfortable base of support. Then, when it’s time to work out, target your core from all angles.
“Exercises that are good for your abs will recruit a combination of muscles including your transverse abdominis, diaphragm, hip flexors, gluteus maximus, spinal erectors, rectus abdominis, and internal/external obliques,” she says. “A solid ab routine will include exercises that target a combination of the different core muscles, including complex movement patterns (exercises that target multiple large muscle groups).”
Needless to say, sitting on a core cushion isn’t exactly complex, but it can be comforting and at the very least. And, it keeps your core subconsciously engaged throughout the day. Plus, this particular one adds a pop of color to your space since it’s sold in a variety of hues. Just sayin'.
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