Go into just about any gym in the United States, and you will more than likely see them; big, beach ball-looking objects, usually scattered around the area set aside for stretching and abdominal training. These invaders into the gym scene have actually been around for many years in therapy settings. Commonly known as "swiss balls" after their place of origin, few pieces of training equipment have seen the almost overnight widespread popularity that these apparatus have. However, there is an alarming new trend that is also making it's way around gyms everywhere, and that is the over-use of swiss ball exercises by a lot of trainers and their clients.
Practice What You Preach!
Before we get much further, let me first say that I own and use a swiss ball for myself, and the training of my clients. In some cases, like when I have to travel to a client's house, the swiss ball will play a major role in training. They are an excellent way to train the core musculature - i.e. your abs and lower back, or your stabilizer muscles - along with adding variety and fun to the workout. But these reasons are no excuse for those of you with gym access to spend the majority of your or your clients' training time balancing on a ball. Like most new gimmicks to hit the fitness scene, exercisers everywhere have gone overboard with swiss balls, actually hindering their own training.
To illustrate my point, let me relay a scenario that I recently saw at a gym in which I train. While doing a squat workout (as Dr. Squat says, everyone MUST squat!) I noticed a young man instructing a young lady on how to do a lunge with one foot placed up on a swiss ball. Never mind the fact that the ball was way too big for her frame, that it was forcing her hips completely out of position, and that she could barely get 4 good inches of motion from the move - what got me was the question I kept asking myself - Why?
Using The Swiss Ball As A Substitute?
I had been watching her out of the corner of my eye since she and her trainer had come to the area of the gym with the power racks. She was not in bad shape, but she definitely was not a candidate for specialized work. Yet, she did not perform one set of deadlifts, squats or even leg press. Instead, all she did was those lunges with her foot up on the ball. For the amount of time and effort that she put in to complete the 5 sets of those lunges, she could have done 5 sets of squats or deadlifts and gotten a much larger return on her investment.
This is a key point that most swiss ball fanatics tend to overlook - yes, the swiss ball exercises are new and exciting, but what do you give up to do them? In this case, the trainer had his client give up squats or more conventional, intense leg training exercises in favor of some cute movement that he had read about in a muscle magazine. No doubt he impressed the client with his "expertise" in this new field of fitness, but he sold her results short doing it.
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The problem as I see it is not the swiss balls, but the information that is being dispensed by the fitness media regarding them. They are looked upon by some as the Holy Grail of training, that one missing piece of the puzzle that will make all the difference in someone's muscle-building and fat-loss endeavors. Unfortunately, this is not the case. They are simply a tool to be used when the time is right. Yet no one seems to mention when exactly that time is. This has lead to a lot of confusion among exercisers as to how to successfully integrate the ball into their own training. In the spirit of clearing up some of the confusion, here are some guidelines to go by when using swiss ball exercises:
Guidelines For Swiss Ball Exercises:
So there you have it, four guidelines to go by when trying to integrate the swiss ball into a scientifically based training program. Remember that Arnold never used a swiss ball in his training, yet developed one of the most admired physiques of all time.
In addition, ISSA co-founder Fred Hatfield never touched a swiss ball on his way to becoming the first man to squat over 1000 pounds in competition. In other words, while the swiss ball is a great tool to put in your bag of tricks, it can never replace good old hard work and moving a mountain of iron. Stick with the basics, and you will garner far better results for your efforts.
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