** Swiss ball training is beneficial to everyone is some way or another. The list of exercises and ways that the ball can be used is very long. This post covered a pin drop of the information. It is very important to seek professional help when first starting to use a Swiss ball, especially when weights are involved. It is very easy to be injured if one is not ready to mix the two. Finding professionals that are truly skilled in using the Swiss ball correctly is not an easy task, although it is becoming more and more attainable as time moves forward. The most important thing to remember when using Swiss balls are that the ball is in good condition and the surface area around is clear and empty of anything that could harm the ball, or the user of the ball if they are to fall off by chance. **
Pictured above is one of the best quality balls on the market – The Durable Pro, sold by Fitter First
Swiss ball training, also known as stability ball training, is a true game changer in the gym. Out of the gym as well it is very beneficial to use the ball. The balls have become much more popular over the years, as does everything in the fitness world at some point. With the ball becoming more popular, of course that means the more the ball is misused and performed with incorrect and possibly costly to the body form, in a harmful way. Every single workout of mine there is either an exercise or a stretch or both that I use the Swiss ball for. It was strange at first to use a ball so much, after experimenting and broadening my knowledge on the ball I have come to love it. Something as simple as sitting on a Swiss ball for shoulder press instead of sitting on a bench for shoulder press makes a world of difference (oh, and it’s not possible to cheat the exercise by leaning back while on a ball, which means the weight will have to be dropped and form will have to be improved – true story). Using a Swiss ball will greatly enhance stability and more strength. And will also improve posture, all depending how it is used.
Things to pay attention to (Safety Precautions) before using a Swiss ball.
Exercise surface – Is the floor clean of anything that can harm the ball?
Is the ball clean? – Free of anything that can pop it
Does the ball have pressure? It should be firmly inflated, especially if used for exercise.
Check the ball pin, is it pressed in all the way?
Size of the ball – Do the sit test from this post
Some Swiss Ball History
The Swiss ball has been used for a number of decades now, the balls were being used for neurodevelopment treatment in Switzerland and other countries in the late 50’s and early 60’s. A physical therapist by the name Dr. Klein-Vogelbach in Basel Switzerland was a director of the physical therapy school is Switerzerland and utilized exercises from the Swiss ball (known as a Pezzi ball) into her functional kinetic classes. She developed many exercises over the years to aid Physical Therapy patients. The “swiss ball” name is believed to have come from an American PT who learned exercises in Switzerland from Klein-Vogelbach. It has stuck since, although many people use the term stability ball. Since being introduced to the USA in the 80’s they have become quit popular tools in both physical therapy and personal training, and they should be. Paul Chek, and others in the 90’s brought it up another level and added strength training (with weights) to the use of swiss balls, and the mix is very powerful. It’s also very dangerous if not carefully done.
Here is a patient being rehabbed back before the 80’s with the use of a Swiss ball..
Benefits of Swiss Ball Training
There are numerous benefits to using a swiss ball for performance, rehabilitation and ergonomics. There are numerous ways to use the ball in all of those areas so only a few will be mentioned. Here is a little list of some benefits…
- Posture alignment
- Nervous system activation
- Stabilization building
- Muscle activation of dormant muscle
- Stretching tool
- Weight lifting tool
- Progressive exercises
- Brain/Body synching (Awareness)
- Motor skill (coordination, movement, correction)
- Changes in EMG pattern (Electromyography, evaluating and recording electrical activity produced by muscle)
One very tiny, but very big benefit from a Swiss ball is the following example…
This picture is taken out of Therapeutic Exercise for Spinal Segmental Stabilization in Low Back Pain by Carolyn Richardson
Above we have a patient that has lumbopelvic problems (lumbar spine and pelvis). Many problems could be in the lumbopelvic region, but lets pretend this issue is low back pain at the L5/S1 level (5th lumbar vertebrate and top of the sacrum, most commonly injured part of the spine). To make this as easy to describe without being technical, the low back pain is a result of faulty posture, a weak inner core and under active nervous system, and the lack of postural control. By only sitting on the ball instead of a chair this changes the entire activity of sitting. It forces the body to be aware of the posture, the nervous system to activate in order to stay balanced on the ball, and the inner core to also activate in order to keep posture and stay on the ball. The exercise can be progressed by lifting one leg and holding it in the air as pictured, just that small difference is a big difference in benefit, and in difficulty. This example would be used for someone who experiences low back pain of any kind.
If getting a ball and replacing the harmful effects that come from sitting in chairs sounds like a good idea to you or even just to use a ball in a gym, here are a few tips to keep in mind in regards to the size of the ball, it is not a one size fits all game…
- Leg length…the longer the legs the bigger the ball will be needed (take the hardness of the ball into mind as well, if it really shrinks when sat on then a bigger one may be needed, or a better quality ball)
- There should be a slightly above 90 degree angle at the knee and the thighs should be slightly above parallel to the ball when sitting, this keeps the position of the lower back in neutral (not to over extend or flex)
- The head looks directly forward, so if looking at a screen or reading a book it is placed at the appropriate level.
A Few Cool and Effective Ball Moves
Swiss Ball Chest Press
This can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell. The point of this exercise being done on a ball is to activate the stabilizers of the body while doing a chest press. So instead of just laying on a bench and only seeing benefit from the weight push, the exercise on the ball brings in a full body and nervous system load as well. Its very simple, if you’re not stabilizing your body on the ball, then you are falling off of the ball. **Caution** It is very important to use a strong ball when doing this exercise with weights. The balls are capable of popping, and the weaker the ball is the better chance that may happen, especially if the load is heavy. Making sure the floor space around is clear and the ball has no leaks is crucial. This is a risky exercise, but great if performed! Here’s how to do it…
Video used from Strong N Stable Swiss Ball Training DVD
Swiss Ball Crunch
A Crunch done on a Swiss ball is an entirely different exercise than a crunch from the floor. If the crunch is done correctly with the correct range of motion then there is no need to do sets of 50-100 crunches. A simple set of 10 or less will bring benefit and be felt. The reason it is so much more effective to crunch on the Swiss ball is because the body is able to extend back over the ball which stretches the abdominal wall and then crunch, giving the exercise much better range of motion (this is with not coming up the whole way as well at the top of the crunch). Here is what this exercise looks like…
Video used from Swiss Ball Training Correspondence Course
One of My Favorite Tricks…
Using Swiss balls as a part of daily life and/or as a part of a fitness or rehabilitation program will bring results. As long as they are used correctly and the safety precautions are taken then there are an unlimited amount of uses for the ball. These balls can be used by basically anyone, as long as under the right instruction and safety precautions followed. From as subtle as a simple rehab movement to as extreme as an elite athlete being able to jump from one ball to another, the limits are really endless as to how they can be used, and everyone is on their own level. Beate Carriere in her book The Swiss Ball: Theory, Basic Exercises and Clinical Application says that “The Swiss ball may be an ideal tool in helping to restore these lost functions of movement and equilibrium”. The quality of most peoples movement and equilibrium (balance) is going down in most people daily (including many people who work out), so the use of the Swiss ball can do wonders.
Remember to check all of the safety precautions from the list at the start of the post before using a Swiss ball1.
Awareness and vitality,
- The Swiss Ball: Theory, Basic Exercises and Clinical Application by Beate Carriere (https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783540611448)
- Therapeutic Exercise for Spinal Segmental Stabilization in Low Back Pain by Carolyn Richardson ((https://www.worldcat.org/title/therapeutic-exercise-for-spinal-segmental-stabilization-in-low-back-pain-scientific-basis-and-clinical-approach/oclc/40589464)
- 10 Tips for Healthy Ergonomics by The Chek Institute (https://chekandpps.infusionsoft.com/app/storeFront/showProductDetail?productId=260)
- Strong N Stable Swiss Ball Training DVD by Chek Institute (https://chekandpps.infusionsoft.com/app/storeFront/showProductDetail?productId=514)
- Swiss Ball Training Correspondence Course by Chek Institute (https://chekandpps.infusionsoft.com/app/storeFront/showProductDetail?productId=448)
- Duraball Pro Exercise Ball ((https://fitter1.com/products/duraball-pro-exercise-ball?variant=13320959295553)