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September 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 6)

The Swiss ball circuit

About the author: 

The Swiss ball circuit image

Swiss balls are a familiar sight in many gyms now but, unless someone is doing crunches, it's a lonely piece of equipment

Swiss balls are a familiar sight in many gyms now but, unless someone is doing crunches, it's a lonely piece of equipment. What most gym-goers don't know is that crunches represent just a small fraction of the fantastic exercises that be performed with a Swiss ball. In fact, you can combine five or six Swiss ball exercises into a mini-circuit (see chart, page 17) for a fantastic complete workout that you can do at home.
But first, here are some safety tips for Swiss ball workouts. First, always check your ball and workout area for any debris such as grit, staples, tacks or thorns. Your workout will be a deflating experience if your ball is punctured. Second, take care that the ball does not slide out from beneath you, and use a mat if the floor is slippery. Finally, warm up correctly. The best way is to perform the particular activity you intend to do, but at a reduced intensity-for example, one set of each exercise at around 60 per cent of your usual training intensity, or whatever you consider easy. You will know your body is ready for exercise when you begin to sweat. After your warm-up, rest for about 60 seconds before you begin your workout.

Have a ball
Here are some familiar exercises with a Swiss-ball twist that can be really challenging.

Push-ups (Fig. 1)
A push-up can be made easier or hard-er than a regular floor push-up by using as Swiss ball. To make the exercise easier, lie face down with your hips supported by the ball. Increase the level of difficulty by walking forward on your hands and letting the ball roll towards your feet.
A more advanced version of the exercise is to perform each push-up with only one leg on the ball. When performing a Swiss ball push-up, keep your body in good alignment throughout each rep. There should be no sagging or bending in the middle, and your head should be in line with the rest of the spine-don't let it hang down or lift up, but look straight down at the floor. To start, take a deep breath, pulling the umbilicus in as if you're zipping up a tight pair of jeans. Lower yourself until your nose is just off the ground. Be sure to maintain the spinal align-ment described above. Exhale through pursed lips as you push back to the starting position.

Alternating Superman (Fig. 2)
This is a great exercise for balance training. To begin, lie face down over a Swiss ball, balancing on your toes and fingertips. Pick up one leg and the opposite arm and hold them parallel to the ground. The arm should be positioned at a 45-degree angle to the spine, with the thumb pointing up, as if hitch-hiking. This will improve the activation of the shoulder stabilizers. The butt muscle should also be activated. Hold this position for 3-10 seconds, then lower the arm and leg at the same time as you lift the opposite arm and leg into the same position. Do not let the back hyperextend (arch excessively), and keep the head in alignment with the spine (don't let it drop or lift up).
If this exercise proves to be too easy, you can increase the difficulty by performing the Superman without letting your arms or legs touch the ground for up to 1 minute.

Whole-body ball exercises
These exercises work multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time. This is great functional training.

Forward Ball Roll (Fig. 3)
Begin by kneeling behind the ball while placing your forearms on the ball. Inhale and draw your umbilicus inwards. Roll forward with a simul-taneous motion at the hip and shoulder joints, but only go as far as you can while maintaining perfect spinal alignment. At no time should you feel any pressure in your lower back, nor should your head drop down. Hold for the prescribed number of seconds and then roll backwards, breathing out through pursed lips as you do so. For a more advanced challenge, try shifting your weight to one leg as you roll forward, and change from one leg to the other with each repetition.

Supine Hip Extension +
Knee Flexion (Fig. 4)
To start the exercise, lie on the floor with your calves on the ball, arms out to your sides with your palms facing up. Extend up from the hips until you achieve a straight line of feet-hips- shoulders. Keeping the hips lifted, draw the ball towards you by bending your knees. The hips should remain in line with the shoulders and knees. Slowly straighten the legs, then lower the hips to the staring position. I recommend that before you do this exercise, start first with a warm-up by simply performing the hip extension without the knee flexion.
If you find this exercise overly challenging, you can decrease the difficulty by moving the ball closer to your feet. For an extra challenge, try one leg at a time or fold your arms across your body.

Supine Lateral Ball Roll (Fig. 5)
This exercise may not look difficult, but appearances can be deceiving. To begin, lay with your head, shoulders and upper back supported by the ball. Hold your arms straight out from your shoulders, palms up and parallel to the floor. Keep the hips lifted so that your body forms a table-top position. Taking little steps sideways, roll to one side of the ball, maintaining the flat table-top position with your body and arms parallel to the floor. Do not let your body tip or twist. Hold for a count of 1. Return to centre and repeat to the other side.
If you move far enough to the side, your head will come off the ball. When this happens, make sure that it remains in the same position relative to your body, and place your tongue against the roof of your mouth behind the front teeth to help support your neck.
Your Swiss ball circuit
Now that you know how to do each exercise, here is a short, but challenging, programme for you to follow as a circuit. After completing the first exercise, go immediately to the next one. After completing the circuit of five exercises in the order shown in the chart above, rest for 90 seconds for the first two or three weeks of training. Once you can complete four circuits with good form, you can reduce the rest period to 60 seconds to make it challenging again.
On your first workout set, you should stop the set when you feel as if you could complete an additional two repetitions. If you work harder than that, your form will deteriorate before you complete the workout. You can alter your form to ensure that the load or intensity of the exercise is sufficiently difficult by altering the angle of your lever arm and the position of your body on the ball. On the subsequent circuits, you can stop when you feel as if you could do one more repetition (rep).
In the programme (see chart above), tempo refers to the speed at which you perform the exercise. A moderate tempo (Mod) is a 1-2-up count and 1-2-down count. A slow tempo is a 1-2-3-up count and 1-2-3-down count. Finally, 333 is a 1-2-3-up count with a hold at the top of the movement for a count of 3, then returning to the starting position on a count of 1-2-3-down.
Paul Chek
Adapted from How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek, founder of the C.H.E.K Institute in Encinitas, CA, and an internationally recognized lecturer and educator in the fields of orthopaedic rehabilitation, and corrective and performance exercise. For more information, call 01924 566 091 (UK) or visit his website at www.

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