Why You Need A Swiss Ball In Your Workout

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Why You Need A Swiss Ball In Your Workout

Words by Mr Ryan Willms

2 January 2020

The Swiss ball is a tool I only began working with in the past year, but quickly began to understand what an incredible and underused thing it is. It has not always been a staple in the gym – originally, it was used in clinics for neurological rehabilitation – but over the past couple of decades, it has emerged as a great piece of equipment for conditioning and strength training. It not only fires up our nervous system, it also activates our balance centres, bringing the entire body online and building a strong postural foundation for further training.

The Swiss ball has endless potential, whether you’re a beginner or an elite athlete. It is suitable for everything from rehab to performance training. And it is particularly good at training the twitch fibres – the parts of the muscle that react quickly to sudden changes in the environment – in the abdominals and glutes, which begin to atrophy as we age. The ball’s elastic surface reacts quickly to any shift in your centre of gravity, which forces your body to be completely present in each subtle movement as it continually corrects itself to stay upright. Doing so activates the body’s proprioceptive (position and movement) mechanisms, including joints, core, eyes and the inner ear. If it sounds complex, it is, but it’s also about harnessing your body’s natural reactions. When you do the following exercises, just breathe and let all your faculties do what they do best.

Swiss balls come in various sizes, so you need find one that fits you. When you sit on it, your thighs should be parallel to the ground, creating a 90-degree angle. You should also check the ball for any marks or deep dents and ensure that its burst-resistant (it will say it on the ball), so that it can handle your body weight safely.

Survival reflex

The survival reflex exercise – quite simply, kneeling on the Swiss ball for one minute or longer – is an incredible way to reset your system and start your workout. It’s all about correcting imbalances in our bodies, which we tend to create through injuries or sitting at our desks and in cars too much. As you kneel, your body will naturally work to keep itself from falling. The reflex is the same whether the drop is 12in or 12ft. This survival instinct overrides the improper workarounds and imbalances we’ve created and helps to recruit the muscles correctly, providing a clean canvas from which to start your workout and carry on into the rest of your exercises.

Swiss ball squats

Squatting on the Swiss ball is the next step on from the survival reflex. Adding in movement will shift your centre of gravity and really ignite your glutes, hamstrings and core. This exercise is a great warm-up and should definitely come early on in your workout. It’s a complex movement for your nervous system and it helps if you plan your session with the most neurologically complex exercises first. Squats are great for your wellbeing, regardless of your level of fitness, your goals or your ability, but by doing them on a Swiss ball, you’re forced to use better form and stay balanced in every aspect of your body, including your breath. Breathe out as you go down and breathe in as you stand up. With ski season in full swing, this is a great exercise for core, hip and knee stability to prepare you for hitting the slopes. As you get more comfortable on the ball, you can begin to add weights.

Push jack

The push jack, as with all Swiss ball movements, integrates the full body, but this exercise brings more activation to the upper body, integrating the shoulder, core and hip flexor. Start in a push-up position with your feet on the Swiss ball and hands underneath the shoulders, while the head stays in line with the spine. Then activate your abdominal walls by drawing the belly button in towards the spine while maintaining a neutral spine position, with the same amount of spinal curvature as you would have standing upright with good posture. At the top of the push-up motion, with your abdomen activated and pulled in, slowly draw your legs up underneath your body while keeping your back straight and your hips in the same place. Once you can do two to three sets of eight to 10 reps, you can try doing it with one leg on the ball. This will be challenging and form is always more important than reps, so make sure you’re not rounding your back and you’re able to breathe as you move through.

Swiss ball lunge

With the Swiss ball, there’s no more leg day. There’s leg, core and nervous system day. Practising the lunge on the Swiss ball especially targets your thighs and glutes, but this one is also taxing on the whole body. As you travel down and up with your breath, your body will be pulled left and right, so while you’re building strength, your legs and core will be engaged to keep you stable from the waist up and your knee works to keep your lower leg in form. I’ve found this movement especially good for rehabbing any knee injuries. When you are able to do upwards of 16 reps per leg, you can start to add weight in one or both hands to increase your strength on top of the stability. Keep your posture upright, back straight. You can place a bean bag on your head to make sure you’re staying in proper form. Work one leg and then the other and do eight to 12 reps per leg. Rest for 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

Film by Mr Justin Chung