The Benefits of the Swiss Stability Ball

About 22 years ago I took a correspondence course from Paul Chek who pioneered using the Swiss ball for rehabilitation and strength training. It was such a match for me because it made so much sense. It also brought out my little girl because I had a new toy to play with in my training studio while helping my clients with a myriad of core exercises. It also helped bring out my creativity in making exercise more fun for everyone. Having fun with exercise and my clients is 3rd on my list with effective exercises and safety being the top 2. I call my loft training studio the Play Pen because exercise to me can be playful. I am actually sitting on a Swiss ball right now as I right this.

When I first moved to California in 1998 I worked out of small personal training studio in San Jose. It was a wonderful  experience. That same year we found our new home in Jackson, California. I then decided to go off on my own and do “in-home” training in the Bay area. I carried my Swiss balls, along with tubing, rollers, free weights and other balance devices everywhere I went. My business grew so quickly and I was amazed at how, no matter the home or space available, a full body workout was easy to achieve. I even went to one business and trained an Aesthetician during her lunch. Each Thursday after training my morning clients, I would head from the Bay Area to the mountains packed with my equipment along with 2 dogs and a cat. I was also building my practice in the Jackson area.

I have never been a big gym fan or completely satisfied using machines that stabilize the body. I am not saying big gyms aren’t very beneficial for the many individuals who love them. It is just not my preference for my workouts. I have used many machines in the past but since my introduction to the Swiss ball and trainings, I realized machines build strength, but do not teach core stability which can lead to joint injuries and pain. With that being said, there are machines in the many gyms that are great to strengthen the core and I suggest that you use these types of equipment. The only machines I have in my exercise studio are the Total Gym and Bowflex. I teach dozens of exercises with them making sure the core muscles are engaged and challenged. Everything else is a TRX, free weights, a variety of balance equipment, step, blocks, tubing, foam rollers, kettle balls, medicine balls, mini tramp, and Bosu.

The many beautiful things about the Swiss ball.

  • Exercise performed on the ball activates all the postural and balance mechanisms in the body. That is why I use it for many of my functional resistance training exercises.
  • Enhances the nervous system and our speed of reflexes.
  • Improves back and spine health and is great to use for postural re-education and back rehabilitation
  • Just sitting on the ball activates the stabilizer muscles and helps you connect with your center of gravity. 
  • It is portable  It can even be deflated and put in a suitcase when traveling. You just have to find a gas station to inflate the ball. Pack some tubing, too and you can get an amazing complete full body workout with just these 2 fun toys.

Because the ball is round it does not have a stable base of support. When we sit on the ball and have 2 feet on the ground we are making a triangle. This is from you, then below the ball are each foot on the floor. If you make your base of support bigger then the ball becomes relatively more stable because you have more base of support. If you make it narrower by bringing both feet close together you become less stable sitting on the ball. If you then lift one foot you have changed everything. The activation of the nervous system and balance centers are increased and this challenges the core.

What really is the core?

The inner unit is composed of the deepest abdominal muscle, transversus abdominis (TVA) , the diaphragm (the large breathing muscle), the pelvic floor muscles, the Multifidus and lumbar portions of the Longissimus and Iliocostalis (spinal muscles). Other muscles, internal oblique and latissimus dorsi also are involved in the inner unit.

These inner core muscles turn on approximately 30 milliseconds before arm movement and 110 milliseconds before leg movement if they are functioning properly. If your inner unit is dysfunctional you can’t effectively stabilize your core or your extremities. Thus you’re much more prone to be injured especially in the low back where there’s a lot a load on the spine. Not just the muscles are affected but the internal organs, too.

According to Paul Chek and in his book “How to Eat, Move and be Healthy,” he states:

“Internal organs borrow their pain-sensitive nerve fibers from the muscle system. This means that when an organ is in pain the brain can’t determine if it’s the muscle or the organ that hurts. The brain only knows which segment of the spine the pain message came from. In return, the brain then tells all the tissues and organs and that nerve channel to behave like they’re in pain. Since pain always weakens muscles the abdominal muscles generally lose tone and don’t respond to exercise like a muscle that doesn’t think it’s in pain.”

He also goes on the say. “Nerves that feed the joints of the spine are branches of the nerves that feed the muscles around the spine. Therefore anything that causes pain in the spine between the area near the bottom of your sternum (breast bone) and the bottom of your spine can stop the muscles from working correctly. It’s also important to realize that this works both ways.  If a muscle is in pain those messages are sent to the related organ(s) resulting in the organ(s) behaving as if it were in pain.”

He goes more in-depth about this topic and many others about choosing a healthy lifestyle and then explains how. I highly recommend this book to anyone that truly wants to makes positive changes. My Body Re-Design program incorporates many of his wonderful teachings along with my Symmetry Certification.

Most exercise balls are very similar, and selecting the right ball for you is simple.  A properly sized ball should allow you to sit on it with your knees and hip at 90 degrees. 

Ball Size                    Ball Height                Your Height

Small                          45cm (18″)                 Up to 4’10” (145cm)

Medium                      55cm (22″)                 ‘8″ to 5’5″ (140 – 165cm)

Large                          65cm (26″)                 5’6″ to 6’0″ (165 – 185cm)

Extra Large                75cm (30″)                 6’0″ to 6’5″ (185 – 195cm)

XX-Large                   85cm (33″)                 Over 6’5″ (195cm)

I hope you have found this blog helpful. To learn more about Posture for Health and my Body Re-Design Program visit my website www.JacqueWalters.com. Also, if you are need a get-away take a look at my Mountain Guest House Retreat. Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, for easy fit tip ideas to incorporated into your life to become a healthier you. They only take minutes a day.

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May your life be blessed and pain free,

Jacque