Saturday, March 6, 2010

Creatively Challenging - Swiss Balls!

One of the greatest developments of last century, and a great addition to the list of effective fitness equipments is the Swiss ball – or exercise ball, fitness ball, gym ball etc.
The Swiss ball is basically a large sized ball, made of elastic, almost puncture-resistant soft PVC material, which is then filled with air. The usual diameters range from 50 to 90 cms and occasionally come with colour coding.

It was originally designed for physical therapy, and was widely used by therapists and sports exercise specialists for advanced athletic training through core strengthening etc.
Presently, the Swiss ball is a common sight at most of the gyms and health clubs, and is used for a variety of exercises – e.g. basic exercises like Swiss ball squats, strengthening exercises for abs and other parts and advanced variations of some exercises, like performing a chest press, lying on the ball instead of the stable flat bench that is normally used. Lately, they have also been used during pregnancy to aid the process of delivery.

The criteria for selection of an appropriate ball diameter, is dependant on the height of the individual using it - one’s feet must touch the floor, when seated on the ball, with an almost 90 degree angle maintained at the knee. Too much flexion or extension at the knee, when seated on the ball, could be a hindrance to effective training.

The key feature of the Swiss ball is the unstable surface that it provides, and hence our body, in an effort to balance itself on it, engages many more and often deep muscles, thereby strengthening them and at the same time increasing the challenge. Mostly, the deep muscles of the core, i.e. the ones around the lower back and abdominals are the ones targeted and thus even the act of just sitting on it, engages these deep muscles and helps strengthen them over a period of time.

There are routines designed for group classes, and certifications available, now a days in training with a Swiss ball. Needless to say, using a Swiss ball requires a basic level of conditioning, and is not recommended for beginners and those with currently unfit health status.

The basic idea of using a Swiss ball is to include an unstable surface, which targets the core abdominal and lower back muscles and strengthens them. These core muscles are also a part of postural muscles and contribute greatly to functional fitness. So, while Swiss balls are mainly used for doing the abdominal exercises, lying on the ball, instead of the floor, it can also be used for working out other muscles.
To increase the challenge of your workout and to add fun and variety, try out the following –

Chest exercises – Instead of using the bench for chest press and chest flyes, position yourself on the ball, keeping your feet firmly touching the floor, and the base of your neck supported on the ball, and perform the chest press, flyes and pull-overs in the same way. Feel your abs getting into action as you move through the repetitions.
For the advanced ones amongst us, try doing your push-ups with the ball, with either your hands balancing on the ball, or your feet balancing on the ball, to add to your challenge. Please note, this is strictly for people who have high fitness levels. So, don’t try stunts at home!!

Leg Exercises – Hold your hands up, with the ball in between them, and perform the Squats exercise. You will feel your core muscles working with every repetition. Many other free-weight exercises that work the thighs can also be done using the ball.

Abs exercises – It can be used to perform a variety of abs exercises, starting from the normal crunches, to leg raises with the ball in between your legs, to reverse crunches and much more.

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