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You may have heard that many strength and conditioning coaches recommend Swiss-ball training for their athletes. Perhaps you want to start adding such training to your current workout program
but you are not sure what benefits to this type of training may exist. Is Swiss-ball training effective? Let's take a closer look!
The Swiss ball, or stability ball, is a large polyurethane and vinyl ball that has been used for some time by physical therapists to aid patients with the latter s neuro-development. The term "Swiss ball" was actually coined by American therapists who saw the ball being used in physical therapy clinics in Switzerland. I have found the Swiss ball to have many benefits for the strength athlete and I have incorporated its use in many of my clients 'workout programs.
Many serious strength athletes initially don't give Swiss balls a chance. I have been guilty of this hastiness in the past. Initially I had the impression the Swiss ball was just some new fad, such as the Thigh Master, that was yet another miracle gym contraption shown on late-night TV that is supposed to be the answer to everyone's fitness needs. My perception changed when my wife brought home a Swiss ball from a fitness seminar she had attended. This big, fat ball just kept staring at me in my training room each day when I did a workout. I thought that since the ball was just sitting there, I might as well find some use for it in my workouts.
I did some research on Swiss-ball training and was amazed to find numerous papers written on the use of Swiss balls in strength training. I began to add Swiss-ball training to my strength-training workouts and started to see measurable strength gains. Then I got some of my athletes to add the use of Swiss balls in their routines, and the results were phenomenal.
The effectiveness of Swiss-ball training lies in the ball s instability. Since the ball is unstable because of its shape, it allows for multiple-angle training and a greater range of motion (ROM). Training from different angles and with a greater ROM aids in the development of the neutralizer and stabilizer muscles. The neutralizer muscles are those that react to the actions of the primary muscles to provide a smooth, coordinated movement. For example, when you lift your arm to the side, the posterior and anterior deltoid muscles neutralize each other's rotational influence on the upper arm.
The stabilizer muscles are the muscles that surround your joints and protect them from injuries. Machine training is a great example of training in which the stabilizer muscles don't develop. Most machines have a fixed axis. They don't force you to stabilize the weight in more than one axis. Even when doing free-weight exercises, a slight bit of cheating can underutilize stabilizer muscles. Following is an experiment you can perform in the gym to see the importance of stabilizer muscles. Do a one-to-two rep maximum squat on the Smith machine. Then try to do the same exercise freestanding, i.e. without the Smith machine. Make sure you have a few friends spotting you as chances are you won't be able to complete the squat as easily as you did with the Smith machine. The reason is that you don't need to use your stabilizer muscles on the squat with the Smith machine as you would with a freestanding squat. Trained stabilizer muscles produce stable joints that in turn allow one to apply more strength and power to their lifts.
Swiss-ball training also activates the nervous system to a large degree, resulting in functional strength gains. As you tax your nervous system to higher limits with multi-angle movements, you will find other stable movements relatively easier. You will have a greater reserve function available, giving you that extra edge.
Swiss-ball training has numerous advantages and should definitely be considered as a welcome addition to a well-rounded strength and conditioning routine. A number of books are available that describe the different exercises that can be done with Swiss balls. You will find almost any bodypart can be trained with a Swiss ball. The use of the Swiss ball in your routine will definitely improve your power, strength, flexibility, coordination and balance. In addition you will find this type of training will bring a new level of fun and stimulation to your workouts.