I love doing swiss ball core exercises. For a guy with a bad back, this has become one of my go-to exercise platforms when it comes to core training. I am a big advocate for building and maintaining a strong core for protecting my back. In this post, I am going to walk through exercising with a swiss ball and some of my favorite exercises. Be sure to check out my post about what is core exercise.
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My life, filled with back problems
My back problems started many years ago and I have been dealing with this for most of my adult life. In my late 20’s, I started to have pain in my right leg and at the time I had no idea what was going on. A few trips to the doctor and physical therapy and I could hardly walk. They had me doing exercises that I should not have been doing. That is why now I am super careful.
Throughout my life, my back problems have been pretty persistent. I have been to pain clinics, tried pain medication, shots, even had surgery. It’s been very frustrating over the years.
It wasn’t until my most recent injury in 2015 that I finally went to see a chiropractor who is a fitness junkie. I had always been afraid to see a chiropractor because the doctors always told me to beware. Well, I was dead set on not having surgery again, so I went to see a very highly recommended chiro. After months of treatment, I was finally fully upright, I had been bent over at about a 30-degree angle at my waist, due to stenosis.
One of the things the chiropractor had me do, is core work on a swiss ball. Since then I have really come to love using the ball for core exercises.
Swiss balls are very popular
You can’t walk into a gym without seeing them. There are a lot of different ways to use one, and I will get into that soon. But first, some things to consider.
What size swiss ball should you use
Swiss balls come in different sizes, some have a weight in the bottom of them, but I think that is cheating :). With the right size ball, you will be able to sit on the ball with your legs and hips at a 90-degree angle. There are typically size charts, listed, depending on how tall you are.
Swiss ball safety
A couple of things to keep in mind when you are working out on a swiss ball, we want you to be safe.
- Keep your clothes on – a sweaty body on a rubber ball will have you slipping all over the place, great for some things, not great for working out. So, keep your shirt on when you are using an exercise ball.
- Use lighter weight – if you are working out with free weights you definitely want to stick to a lighter weight than you would normally. You may opt for using a cable machine with an exercise ball as well.
- Use a spotter – if you are using free weights, consider using a spotter. This type of training is more unstable, so you may find yourself in need of assistance until you get it figured out.
Benefits of swiss ball training
- Engage core muscles – First of all, if you have not sat on a swiss ball you should give it a try. Just sitting still, you will notice that you have to engage your core so you don’t fall off. That is one of the great benefits of an exercise ball, it really requires your whole body to maintain posture and balance. When you use the ball correctly, the ball requires you to engage a lot of different muscles, that is one of the great benefits. You don’t necessarily get this benefit with an exercise on a bench. So engaging multiple muscle groups, mostly core, is a huge benefit to a swiss ball.
- Spinal stabilization – Exercising with a swiss ball has been shown to be effective for people with low back pain, to provide stability for the spine
- Stretching with a swiss ball – The ball will also help you stretch. Usually, when you stretch, it’s on the floor and you might be limited to how far you can push it. With a swiss ball, you can wrap yourself all around it if you wish. I love to lay on a ball on my back and get a full backstretch. Not necessarily recommended for everyone. When I had stenosis, I couldn’t stand upright, much less do a stretch backward!
Swiss balls are very versatile
- I have one in my home and I use it frequently and they are prevalent in gyms as well
- The ball is an inexpensive workout tool
- People of different fitness levels can use them
- They can be used with free weights, cable machines, or just plain old body weight
- You can perform a lot of exercises with them
- Really, you could deflate the ball and store it away, but I leave mine inflated
Word of caution
Before you begin these exercises, you should check with your doctor. As I have said in previous posts, if you perform an exercise without proper form, or if you have a back injury, you can hurt yourself. Be safe, check with your doctor. These are exercises I do, but not before my chiropractor gave me the go ahead.
Swiss ball crunch – I love these because they are versatile. You can rock yourself a little bit forward or backward to increase or decrease the intensity. You start out on your back on the swiss ball with your hands supporting your head and neck, elbows out to the side. Then you will raise your head and shoulder off the ball. You want to keep the motion compact, and you won’t come all the way up to sitting. Rinse and repeat, I do 5 sets of 20, but you may not be there yet.
Swiss ball pushup – Of course this is very similar to a standard pushup, but the swiss ball adds an element of instability. This is great for upper body and core and takes a standard pushup to new heights. You will start out face down with your shins on the ball, then you do a pushup, just like normal. Make sure you keep your core tight. You don’t want your hips and lower back to sag, you want to keep them straight and tight. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart. You can go as low as you want if you are just starting you might not be able to go all the way down. Try 12 for starters and go from there. If you can do more, do it, or add more sets.
Swiss ball jackknife – This is a good all-around core exercise. You start out just like the pushup position, facedown, shins on the ball and hands on the shoulder width apart, on the floor. The goal here is to keep your core tight, again, you don’t want your hips to sag. You will roll the ball with the tops of your feet toward your upper body. It’s a bit of an awkward move until you get used to it, but it’s a good one. Go slow and make sure you do this correctly. See how many you can do, you will be the best judge. Don’t do more than 20, then take a break and see how you feel.
Swiss ball forward roll – This is kind of like being on a giant ab roller. You will start on your knees, with the ball in front of you. Your fingers should be interlocked and placed on top of the ball. Then you push and roll forward with the ball. Keep your back straight, and you will end up leaning forward with the ball under your armpit area.
These are some of my favorite swiss ball core exercises. Like I mentioned earlier, I like working out on a swiss ball, because of the added element of instability. You can take a simple exercise like a pushup and make it more challenging with an exercise ball.
Another great thing about exercise balls is that you can do this in the comfort of your own home. None of these exercises require anything but a ball. So they are effective and inexpensive, what a great combination!
If or when you want to do some more advanced workouts, you can incorporate dumbells or cable machines. You can do overhead press with dumbells, use them for flys, or back extensions. There are a lot of possibilities.
Well, that is about it for this post. Thank you for stopping by. If you have any questions or comments, please drop me a line in the comments, or via email. I will get back to you just as soon as I can.