Core Training Fads Come And Go
But The Swiss Ball Is Still A Winner
By David Grisaffi,
Author, Firm And Flatten Your Abs
What’s most popular in the world of fitness training seems to change almost as fast today as the tides at your local beach. New experts, new devices, new claims – today’s marketplace is all about “what’s new.” I often write newsletters about these new ab training and workout devices when they’re first released into the marketplace, usually debunking them, but this time I feel it’s necessary to do the reverse.
As new products crowd their way into the marketplace, some devices that are truly versatile, legitimate, and cost effective get pushed by the wayside, forgotten, or worse – relegated to the category of “fitness fad.” Such is the case with the swiss ball (also known as a “stability ball”, “gym ball” or “exercise ball”)
Why Are Some Trainers Now Condemning The Swiss Ball?
Swiss balls have been around a long time in rehabilitation and physical therapy settings and when they crossed over into the mainstream fitness world, they were probably hyped a bit too much. It’s not that they didn’t deserve the praise and attention, its that many fitness “experts” placed the swiss ball up on a pedestal as being the end-all be-all of abdominal, core and fitness training, rather than explaining that the swiss ball was simply one tool – just like dumbbells, barbells, cables or any other training equipment.
As a result, complete training programs were built around the swiss ball (while neglecting other forms of training), and people misused and overused the ball. Some trainers used the ball for “exercises” that were really little more than circus acts. I’ve seen it all – everything from standing on top of the ball and squatting to bench pressing on the ball with 400 pounds (each one as potentially dangerous as the other).
Probably due to all this blatant swiss ball misuse, some trainers have recently spoken up and publicly dismissed the ball as nothing but a gimmick. This has caused an outpouring of emails into my office as consumers and fitness enthusiasts became more confused than ever - and it’s no wonder: Trainer A says, “The ball is the best thing since sliced bread” and trainer B says “the ball is and always was a gimmick.” The truth is somewhere in the middle and I’d like to help put things back into proper perspective.
Swiss balls ARE the real deal.
Swiss balls are powerful, portable, inexpensive and versatile. I use them every day in my own workouts and in workouts for my clients. The versatility of the swiss ball is simply unmatched as illustrated by the fact that I can use a swiss ball to help a 65 year old sedentary woman overcome muscle weakness and improve balance or use the same ball to help a professional boxer build stamina and add power to his punches. I can also show you how to use the swiss ball to develop the six pack abs look as well as to train literally every muscle in your entire body.
New Research Reveals That The Swiss Ball Can Make
Abdominal Exercise Up To 104% More Effective
To give you a research-proven example of just how effective a swiss ball can be, let’s focus on one of the most basic and well-known of all abdominal exercises: The Crunch
As most people know, the crunch is a modified (partial) sit up that involves raising the head, neck and shoulder blades up off the floor. Many personal trainers believe that the crunch is highly overrated and overused. I won’t argue, as I agree there’s a lot of truth to that. However, the crunch can be greatly improved with one simple change: Do your crunches on a swiss ball.
Electromyography (EMG) studies have demonstrated that the swiss ball crunch (unstable surface) effectively recruits more muscle fibers than the floor crunch (stable surface). This leads to greater strength, stability and muscle development in your core region.
In 2000, a study by Vera-Garcia and colleagues showed a significant increase in muscle activity in the core area while performing a crunch on the swiss ball, as compared to a floor crunch. The swiss ball improved the level of muscular activity as well as the co-recruitment of spinal stabilizers. The researchers said:
“Performing the curl over the gym ball with the feet on the floor doubled activity in the rectus abdominis muscle, and activity in the external oblique muscle increased approximately fourfold.”
Although research results have been mixed in the past, the studies showing no increase in abdominal muscle activity using a swiss ball may have been due to the exercise technique used on the ball, including velocity and body placement on the ball. Earlier this year, Dr. Eric Sternlicht and colleagues at UCLA designed a study to test this hypothesis and they measured for differences in muscle activity while using different positions on the ball.
The EMG analysis confirmed their hypothesis and demonstrated that body position on the swiss ball could decrease or increase the amount of muscular activation. When the ball was positioned with the upper back high on the ball (just below scapulae), the muscular activity was less than a floor crunch. But by strategically positioning the ball so it was firmly placed at the lower lumbar region, there was a 66%, 93% and 104% increase in upper abdominal, lower abdominal and external oblique activity, respectively.
More Proof That Form Is Everything And Little Things Make A Big Difference
For years I have preached about proper form on all abdominal and core exercises and I have taught my clients “little tweaks” and “tricks” in technique that look minor, but which can lead to huge improvements in results. This new research is proof. It also reveals how the ball is a versatile tool for exercise progression: The high on back position is easier, while the ball lower on the back is more difficult, accommodating for different strength and fitness levels. Further progression can be added by using resistance (dumbbell or weight plate held on chest or at arms length from chest).
Swiss balls are only one of many training tools, but in my opinion, when used properly, they are one of the best of the bunch. I created an entire core training system that uses the ball for many of the exercises, I put all my clients on swiss balls and I highly recommend that you use the ball as well. Just remember, the swiss ball is only a tool – it’s not the “end all be all” of core training and it can’t work miracles. It will also not burn fat off your stomach – you need a caloric deficit to achieve body fat reduction.
Use the ball as one part of a balanced training program that includes other tools such as free weights, cables and your own body weight. Forget the potentially dangerous ”circus act” swiss ball stunts, use good exercise form, purchase only quality, high-strength exercise balls, use them in a clear area, clean them often, check them for leaks and I promise you will have a fantastic versatile training aid that will last you for years and never go out of style. Fitness fads will always come and go, but the swiss ball is still a winner.
Coach David Grisaffi,
1. Vera-Garcia F, Grenier S, McGill S., Abdominal Muscle Response During Curl-Ups On Both Stable and Labile Surfaces, Physical Therapy, 80:6, 2000
2. Sternlicht E. Et al, Electromyograhpic comparison of a stability ball crunch with a traditional crunch, Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 21(2), 506-509, 2007
The crunch can be an effective exercise, especially when performed on the Swiss Ball. However, it’s extremely important to incorporate variety into your abs and core routines and not to depend on any one exercise alone. Your body adapts to every exercise in time, so you must put constant variety into your programs. To learn how to perform dozens of other unique core and abdominal exercises using a swiss ball (some of which I guarantee you have probably never even seen before), then visit my website home page to learn more about the Flatten Your Abs training course: www.FlattenYourAbs.net/index.html
About the Author:
David Grisaffi majored in physical education and holds multiple certifications including 3 from the prestigious CHEK Institute: Level II high Performance Exercise Kinesiologist, Golf Biomechanic, and health and lifestyle counselor. He's also certified by the ISSA as a personal trainer and specialist in performance nutrition. David has been a high school wrestling and baseball coach and is currently an independent trainer and strength coach. He has been sought after by some of the top athletes in professional sports including world champion boxer Greg Haugen and professional golfer Michael Putnam. David’s ebook, Firm And Flatten Your Abs is an online best seller which teaches you how develop “six pack abs" while improving strength, function and athletic power at the same time. Find out more on the home page at: www.FlattenYourAbs.net