Swiss Ball Use and Swiss
How much is too much?
The swiss ball has become a coveted tool
amongst the sports conditioning and rehab crowd. It is used in countless
ways. Everything from a flat dumbbell press to various proprioception
protocols can be performed using this simple, oversized rubber ball.
It's hard to completely slam on a training device that versatile,
but when does it become too much of a good thing? Nearly everything
has a point of diminishing returns and the swiss ball is no exception.
When I see trainers spending the entire hour with a swiss ball surgically
fused to their client's ass, it's definitely time to take a second
look at the swiss ball's intended purpose.
The swiss ball is actually not new at all,
though you'd think so based on the sensationalism it's received
in recent times. It's origins are clinically based and was used
initially in treating and rehabilitating various injuries. Somewhere
along the line strength coaches began to recognize it's value as
useful training tool. A plethora of exercises were developed around
this "new" training device and before we knew what hit
us, it was about as popular as Christine Aguilera in a crowd of
hormonally-charged high school boys.
The Intended Purpose
It's primary strength is its ability to
create a less stable environment for the trainee, thereby increasing
recruitment of peripheral stabilizer muscles in most exercises.
This is an excellent way to work through a plateau in movements
where stabilization is the limiting factor. However, due to the
limitations of loads being used in these movements to accommodate
stabilizing muscles, the primary movers eventually begin to suffer.
For example, let's say you are using 100lb
dumbbells on flat dumbbell presses and failing at eight reps due
to the stabilizers giving out before the chest. A swiss ball could
be very helpful in this scenario. By reducing the load slightly,
and overloading the stabilizers to a greater extent, they will eventually
adapt and no longer be the limiting factor when you go back to traditional
However, if this is the way you are training
all the time, I promise you are cheating your primary movers out
of reaching their full potential. This is simply because you cannot
handle the same potential loads on a swiss ball as you can on a
flat bench. I say "potential" loads because in actuality,
many swiss-heads may be able to use comparable loads on a swiss
ball vs. a flat bench simply because they have mastered swiss ball
balance but have not developed their primary movers enough to move
any more weight on a flat bench. Train these same people for 2-3
weeks with emphasis on the primary movers and wham! All of the sudden,their
strength is in a whole new league.
Keeping it Real
So how do we decipher when it is appropriate
and beneficial to include swiss ball training and when to leave
it alone? I believe the swiss ball will offer a distinct advantage
on certain movements, that we can benefit from nearly all the time.
For instance, abdominal crunches on the floor are only marginally
effective compared to weighted crunches on a swiss ball. It truly
takes the movement to a whole new level.
The easiest way to tell if a swiss ball
will benefit you in a movement is to first test that particular
movement in a more stable environment. If the stabilizer muscles
are the limiting factor in that movement then you could probably
stand to focus on some extra swiss ball work for a few weeks. However,
if your stabilizers are as solid as a brick wall, but you're still
somehow lifting lower poundages than your eight year old, female
counterparts, then chances are you've already been focusing to much
of your energy on swiss ball movements. It's time to get back to
the grindstone and focus on the basics. The swiss ball is an excellent
training tool, but be sure to use, not abuse.