If you’ve spent any time at a gym recently, you may well have seen somebody working out with a Tai Chi ball. Alternatively, if you’ve been doing some organized Tai Chi your instructor may have encouraged you to work out with a Tai Chi ball. But why? What’s the purpose of this device and how do you use it properly?
What is a Tai Chi ball and why do you use it? A Tai Chi Ball is a ball, usually made out of steel and typically weighing between 15 lb to 25 lb, used to carry out a set of exercises designed to help improve core strength and develop better balance. A tai chi ball is meant to help with your overall tai chi practice.
So, let’s take a look at the Tai Chi ball in depth, where it comes from, what it is, how to use it, and the benefits of using a Tai Chi ball in your workout and in your Tai Chi practice.
What Are The Origins Of The Tai Chi Ball?
There is some debate as to the origins of the Tai Chi ball. Some claim that it “only recently emerged” but has been known by secret Tai Chi societies for centuries, the same secret was also, apparently, being kept by secret QiGong societies (as the Tai Chi Ball is often called a QiGong Ball too).
The only problem with this theory is that it doesn’t bear any resemblance to reality. Tai Chi has never been a particularly secretive martial art. If it had been, it’s unlikely that it would have 5 different styles and dozens of sub-styles to choose from or that it would ever have become popular at all.
QiGong is also not a secretive discipline and it has been practiced for thousands of years. It seems unlikely that they’ve been hiding a set of exercises from us.
So, the truth is probably more prosaic. The Tai Chi Ball is a relatively recent invention which has been adopted by Tai Chi students and teachers in China and then the rest of the world. Given that it is a fairly low-cost device which can be easily made and produced – it seems that the era of Chinese manufacturing is more likely to explain its recent popularity than some ancient secrets.
What Is A Tai Chi Ball?
A Tai Chi ball is typically made out of steel and weighs between 15 and 25 lbs. There are other materials and other weights but broadly speaking, the first type is the accepted definition in modern gym parlance.
These steel balls are usually about the same size as a medicine ball but have a less solid feel to them, oddly they can be compared to a bowling ball in the way they feel in the hand.
It’s worth noting that you may find it challenging to buy these stainless-steel Tai Chi Balls because they’re quite rare and require a certain amount of machining to get right.
In fact, in some gyms they substitute Tai Chi balls for medicine balls because they’re easier to find and they often have them already laying about the place. They do have similar dimensions to the steel balls but they can be a little hard on your hands and are more likely to get caught on your clothes while you work out.
What Is A Tai Chi Ball Form?
The forms are simply a series of 9-18 reps of particular motions. A given form will move the ball in either horizontal or vertical circles around the body (or possibly combine the two).
A movement that stays near the body is designed to work out the big muscles groups, whereas when the ball is pushed farther away from the body it will improve general arm strength and give your balance and posture a bit of a boost.
How To Use A Tai Chi Ball
There are many different Tai Chi Ball exercises and there is a video at the end of this section that leads to a thorough work out. However, the two most common exercises are the overhead Tai Chi ball and the empty moon to full moon transitions.
The Overhead Tai Chi Ball
This is essentially a weightlifting exercise. You want to hold the Tai Chi ball above your head. Your feet placement should be comfortable for you if want to stand but it’s fine to sit down too.
Then breathe in and move the ball all the way down your neck to the top of your shoulders. Then as you exhale try to raise the ball as high as you can above your head but do it gradually not in a quick thrust.
You probably want to start with a light ball (maybe 3-5 lbs.) for this exercise and then work up to a heavier ball over time. Start with just 10 repetitions in one set and aim to complete 5 sets in the longer term but you shouldn’t rush this and 1 set is fine for your first practice.
Empty Moon To Full Moon Transitions
This is very similar to the previous technique. However, when you get to the shoulder blade, you should fully exhale before moving up to the nape of the neck on the inhale, before getting to the highest point on another exhale.
Inhaling is the “empty moon” and exhaling the “full moon”. This exercise should stretch your arms a bit more and improve resistance training in the muscles.
If you want to learn other Tai Chi ball exercises this workout is a great place to begin:
What Are The Benefits Of Tai Chi Ball Workouts For Your Health?
The Tai Chi ball is relatively recent emergence into the wider world and that means that there’s no useful research into these benefits. If you run across a list of benefits of tai chi balls, treat these claims with some skepticism.
What we do know is that all forms of exercise are beneficial to both mental and physical health. There do no appear to be any major risks of undertaking Tai Chi ball forms and thus, you are unlikely to be harmed by their use and you should get the same benefits as from any other form of exercise.
So, without further ado – let’s examine the claimed benefits for Tai Chi ball workouts:
As with many groups of people there seems to be some confusion between QiGong and Tai Chi. Many of the claims for strengthening muscles while using a Tai Chi Ball involve focusing your qi. The trouble is, this isn’t something you do in Tai Chi.
Though qi and chi are pronounced in the same way, they have very different meanings. The qi from QiGong is “life energy” and it stems from a concept introduced in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This form of “qi” is not used in Tai Chi.
QiGong practitioners claim that they can see this life energy and they can focus it into different parts of their body to bring about specific benefits. Do note that there is no scientific evidence to support this idea and it has never been detected in any experiment designed to find it.
Related article: Can You See Chi Energy? The Scientific Vs The Spiritual
However, there’s certainly no reason that exercising with a 25 lbs. ball wouldn’t strengthen your muscles through the old fashioned but less mystical method of actual exertion and exercise. The more reps that you do, the harder your muscles work, the more your muscles build up – this is extremely scientific if a little more prosaic.
So, it seems reasonable to assume that stronger muscles will be a benefit of using a Tai Chi ball even if no experimental data has directly proven this.
Assuming that you do the exercises that you’re asked to do with a Tai Chi ball accurately, as with almost all Tai Chi related practices – it should help you improve your posture. This is because your body needs to form very specific shapes to get the most form a specific exercise.
So, while this isn’t scientifically proven to be true yet – it “feels right”. That’s about the best endorsement you can get without an expensive series of lab tests.
What Are the Benefits Of Tai Chi Ball Workouts For Your Tai Chi?
One thing you might be wondering is whether or not the Tai Chi Ball workout has any real applications to your Tai Chi practice. It has general benefits as already discussed of helping you build muscle strength and improve your posture but there is also an argument that it builds explosive energy or “Fajin” as it is known in China.
Higher Levels Of Fajin
In some Tai Chi Ball movements, you will grip the ball tight against your belly and then as you do so, you will inhale and pull the breath to your lower back to provide balance.
This is the sort of breathing that allows you to “explode” with movement – something that not all Tai Chi styles support – but for those that do, it can be very useful. Chen-style practitioners and Wu-style practitioners may find this of the most practical value.
Where Can You Buy Tai Chi Balls And How Much Do They Cost?
A stainless steel Tai Chi ball is not a huge investment cost for a gym, but they are a bit pricey for most people’s home workouts. You’re looking at paying around $200 for one plus import duties if you want an authentically “made in China” Tai Chi Ball.
If you try and have one made closer to home – it will cost even more. If you don’t make these on a regular basis, you won’t have the molding laying around for it, so a local supplier will charge for the ball and the molding!
That means for most of us, we’re going to invest in a Tai Chi ball that is more like a medicine ball or even a bowling ball. These are much cheaper and for the earliest part of your Tai Chi Ball routines, they’re more than heavy enough to give you a good workout. You can spend more money when they become too light to handle effectively any more.
Can You Use Any Substitutes For Tai Chi Balls?
Yes, not only can you (as outlined above) use a bowling ball or a medicine ball but you can use any ball of any size or material really. You want something that carries a bit of weight to get an effective workout but if you’re recovering from an injury or have delicate joints – you might even start with something as light as just 1 lbs. before working your way up to heavier balls over time.
If this is your first time to work out with a Tai Chi ball, try to keep your spending to no more than $30, there’s no point spending a fortune until you know if you like the workout or not.
What is a Tai Chi ball and why do you use it? A Tai Chi ball is a ball of certain materials (this can vary depending on who makes it) of a certain density and weight that can be used in a range of exercise in the gym or as part of Tai Chi practice that are designed to facilitate core strength and balance.
The use of Tai Chi balls is safe and fun and they can be a very practical addition to even the smallest of home gyms. Give them a try, you have nothing to lose and plenty to gain!