Fo Real Fitness: Swiss Ball

By Danielle Douglass and Neal Iwamoto

In an earlier post, we highlighted the BOSU ball. Now it’s time to look at the Swiss ball. The Swiss ball is actually not Swiss at all. It was invented in Italy in the early 1960s by a plastics manufacturer named Aquilino Cosani. It was originally a toy, called the Pezzi Ball. Physical therapists in Europe initially used the ball as a tool for treating patients with neuromuscular disorders like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal inquires.

The term “Swiss ball” was given by American physical therapists when they started witnessing techniques that were beneficial in Switzerland. The ball has since been coined with a variety of names, including stability ball, yoga ball, and balance ball. Swiss balls are beneficial to fitness routines because they improve core stability, help with posture, increase the number of muscles engaged, and support the lower back.

Fo Real Fitness caught up with personal trainer and strength conditioning coach Tim Rabetoy to show us some effective Swiss ball exercises for any fitness level and routine. Here are the three moves he taught us and our reviews of each.

Exercise 1: Basic crunch

Level: Beginner

Muscle target: Upper andmiddle abdominals

How-to: Sit on the middle of the Swiss ball then walk your feet out until the ball is in the middle to lower portion of your back. Put your hands behind your head to support your neck, then come up straight towards the ceiling, crunching your abdominals, before coming back down in a controlled manner. Breathe out on the way up, breathe in on the way down.

     

Dani says: I liked the Swiss ball because it makes you focus on your form. When you do crunches on flat ground, often times you’re disengaging the core when you come back to the ground. Using the Swiss ball for crunches make it impossible to “cheat” as your core is engaged the entire time.

Neal says: When I think Swiss ball, this is what I think of first. It's almost a required exercise. It's simple and efficient. Done properly, the abs are isolated and there's absolutely no wasted movement.

Exercise 2: Hamstring Curl

Level: Intermediate

Muscle target: hamstrings, glutes, lower trunk

How-to: Lie on your back and put your feet on the center of the ball with your legs extended. Keep your head and your hands on the ground, lift yourself up as high as you can, and bring your belly button up to the ceiling. Point your toes towards you and keep them there so you’re pulling with your heels. Pull the ball in as far as you can, then slowly push the ball back, while keeping the belly as high as you can through the duration.

   

Dani says: I really like this one because it forces you to engage your core and glutes as you hold the bridge position. I can definitely feel this one working my hamstrings with each repetition. This is a great exercise to add to the days you work legs and core.

Neal says: The biggest challenge for me is keeping my feet in the proper position and from sliding off the ball.  This is an unusual exercise for legs, but I could definitely feel it in my hamstrings. I'll keep this one in the toolbox.

Exercise 3: Atomic crunch

Level: Advanced

Muscle target: Lower abdominals

How-to: To get yourself in the starting position, put one knee on the ball, put your hands on the floor, then bring the other leg on the ball. Roll out so that your legs are straight. Hold on to the ball with your toes. Pull the ball in as far as you can, then roll back out straight.

    

Dani says: I’m a klutz, so this one was difficult for me. I tired numerous times to hold my posture and was able to pull a couple of them off. I don’t think I’ll add this one to my routine though because I spent more time focusing on my balance and not falling to the side of the ball!

Neal says: The key to doing this is slow controlled movement and making sure you don’t crunch your knees too far in. It definitely feels less awkward if you do crunches on a Roman chair or on TRX straps, but I guess feeling awkward is what a Swiss ball is about. The less awkward it becomes, the more progress you’re making.