T Nation

rubber balls


Has any self respecting bodybuilder/weightlifter taken the time to innovate these big rubber balls into their workout(either sit,stand,or lay on them for various movements) and stuck with them? I know they're supposed to build core strength but I'm stuck in the proven way to build muscle and I'd also be embarrassed if one of my friends seen me use one.


Are you a trained seal?


Are you so worried about what others might think? Swiss balls are a great addition to a weightlifter's workout protocol (note I said COMPLEMENT TO, not BULK OF workout). They will increase stability and core strength. It depends on which exercise you're doing in particular but core muscles include the hips, abs, obliques, lower back.

Try standing with your feet on top of a swiss ball, and squat down with a 135 lb barbell. THEN you'll have renewed respect for the Swiss Ball. Here's a hint: It'll take you weeks of practice just to stand on top of the ball with falling flat on your face.
You can try standing on your knees on top of the swiss ball and do a shoulder press. Does it look weird? Possibly. Does it work? You bet your ass it does. It's ways harder than your regular shoulder press, and Ill congratulate you if you can so much as stand on your knees on top of the swiss ball - without doing anything else - for 3 minutes on your first try. I tried it on several weightlifters I came across at my gym, and each of them lasted 15-20 seconds at the most - and they were wobbling all over the place and fighting it like hell. When your balance and core strength develops, you can just stand there without barely moving for as long as you want.
Coach Poliquin and Coach Davies both recommend the swiss ball as a good complement to your workout, and heck they should know something.


"Try standing with your feet on top of a swiss ball, and squat down with a 135 lb barbell."

Diesel - Please tell me you are kidding! There is ABSOLUTELY no reason to do this. The risk/reward ratio is entirely too high.


That's all fine and dandy but I don't recall ever having to pick up anything over my head or having to squat in real life while standing on a surface that was trying to roll out from under me. It seems to me that squatting and deadlifting the good old fashioned way (along with plenty of other compound movements) stress your core in a much more useful fashion without looking like a moron standing on a big rubber ball.


Squatting on the ball has its uses. There is no real point to it if all you're interested in is building big legs.

Regular squats and deads do not stress the core musculature or the nervous system in the same way as a ball squat.

The ball squat is an excellent exercises for surfers or snowboarders or an individual taking part in any sport or activity which involves them standing on an unstable surface.


Big Daddy Diesel,

I agree that the PhysioBall can be an excellent complement to both a physique athlete and performance athlete's training program. However, the exercises that you have illustrated seem to me to be to the extreme and in excess of what would be optimal for improved performance.

Just my thoughts, and I'd be happy to hear why you'd recommend such exercises. Thanks.


Please let the "training the core" and other unstable surface fallacies die a quick death.


""Try standing with your feet on top of a swiss ball, and squat down with a 135 lb barbell."

Diesel - Please tell me you are kidding! There is ABSOLUTELY no reason to do this. The risk/reward ratio is entirely too high." - Steve Bubell.

Swiss Ball, Indo Board Squats, and swiss ball military press are among the exercises recommended by Coach Davies in his latest book.
It is true their carryover power is of special importance to extreme sports athletes. HOWEVER, one must not underestimate the importance of a strong core. IF all you want is to have big legs, regardless of performance, by all means do what everybody else has been doing for ages. IF, however you want to get the best out of yourself performance-wise , especially if you play a sport, then swiss balls and Indo boards have a very special place in your training.
Clearly, you will not abandon regular squats altogether - that would be a terrible move, since you CAN handle MUCH more weight in comparison to a swiss ball squat f.ex.. BUT by doing both stable and unstable surface movements you get both maximal strength and core strength benefits which will carry over tremendously well to any sport.

JPDubya, Coach Davies has trained many an athlete including top NFL players. Mike Mahler is a name of itself. Poliquin, who needs to introduction advocates swiss balls as a complement as well. They've built GREAT athletes, and know the importance of a strong core. Do you really think unstable surface exercises are going away? No - their place in sports training is very real. While it is unfortunate that they've become the new fad with the aerobics instructors at the local gyms, they do have a special role in strength training. You can choose to accept that and reap the benefits of better performance, or you can ignore it and simply become a pretty boy whose performance falls below standards because he was too good for swiss balls and indo boards. Your choice, and I certainly dont care if you're after performance or if you care about nothing other than look good.


Not to keep this swissball argument going.. but I'm curious -- Has Poliquin ever recommended squatting on a ball? I know he uses them with some other movements, but I've never seen anything with someone standing on a ball.

I dont care how many athletes Coach D trains.. that doesn't convince me. You mentioned Mike Mahler -- I'm pretty sure he said he would never put any of his MMA athletes on a ball. His name would go down the shitter if someone took a spill and hurt themselves while training for a fight.

Ian King summed it all up real nice in an article a few months back.


diesel23 those exercises are geared for extreme athletes. Not for bodybuilders or powerlifters, or even football, basketball, soccer ect. athletes.

I do find however if a indvidual fitness fantic may benfit from a swiss ball squat because its challenging for them and they need another form of trainig to keep them in the game as per say. But, a person, w/ limited knoweledge and if their object in working-out is bodybuilding there is no need for swiss ball exercises, Indo-Board, ect training.

Remember, I am advocate of coach Davies' training and philosophy. But, there is a time and place for "balance training"

Athough, an exercise like a swiss ball dumbell press is great for bb but not a swiss ball squat. And even crunches or sit-ups on the swissball is good.


jp_dubya please explain the moving surface fallacies for us all.


I kneeled on a swiss ball easily today. It was kinda fun. I even started to dance as I was kneeling. No joke. I wouldn't ever do any exercises on it, but it was pretty fun to do.


SwissBalls are a excellent addition to regular training.

I have one at home, where I wish MOST people would do their SwissBall work. Anywhoos, I perform such things as reverse hypers and a whole host of various ab work.

Much fun, but as has been said previously, SWISSball work does have it's place.

And I won't take this space to "bash" (sorry, lack of a better word), Coach D. His success rate with the athletes he's worked with speaks volumes. To each his own, folks.


westside barbell, the most hardcore POWERLIFTING gym around, reccomends some (emphasis on "some") swiss ball movements. my favorite quote: "everything works, but nothing works forever..." Bill Starr.


I agree with you diesel, don't limit your training to the old-school techniques, embrace all types of training and don't dismiss their effectiveness until you have tried them!!


Well diesel, Coach Davies appraoch would be very difficult to second guess. I agree with you 100% that they are a COMPLIMENT to a sport specific training program, and that the shame lies with the fad like properties that it has taken on. Where I have a good giggle is the certified evangelists, AKA trainers, that will have someone doing something for the core, yet later will have them pressing dumbells while seated. indo boards look as fun as the benefits they purport to deliver. The core, for the 98% of training enthusiasts, is well trained with properly performed compound exercises. That other 2% would benefit from that training. So I agree with you about it having a benefit, but for who? If I were preparing for a sport, I certainly would try to enlist the help of Coach Davies. I am not, though.



Please don't misunderstand me, I do believe that Swiss balls can have their place in a training/rehabilitation environment (i.e. full ROM crunches). In fact, a research study done by McGill concluded that "performing curl-ups on labile surfaces changes both the level of muscle activity and the way that the muscles coactivate to stabilize the spine and the whole body."

Unfortunately, while the ball can facilitate synergistic muscle recruitment, it's inherent instability restricts its benefits to conditions of low loading. Therefore, while it can enhance core STABILITY (in the early stages) it does not lend itself to core STRENGTH. These two terms are used nearly synonymously among trainers and I feel that a distinction has to be made.

Also, no mention is ever made of the difference between Central ("core") Stability and Peripheral Stability. I would argue that standing on a ball requires more activation of the leg musculature than the "core' muscles. In fact, do what I did. Stand on a ball and completely relax all of your abdominal muscles. What happens? Are you able to remain standing? Of course, since the trick requires a tremendous amount of lower-body stability and next to no "core" stability whatsoever.

Perhaps the most important distinction to be made has to do with the way sensory information is utilized in the training vs. sporting environment (FEEDBACK vs. FEEDFORWARD control). When balancing on a ball the trainee has time to use internal and external stimuli to maintain an upright posture. He is able to send commands to the muscles being used, measure the error, and make the proper adjustments. On the other hand an athlete in the sporting environment usually has to plan his moves in advance and hope for the best since they do not have the time necessary to make further adjustments. This decision-making ability is a component of skill and is best developed through practice in the actual environment.

Here's an unfortunate example of what an overemphasis on ball training can do to a top-level "XTreme" athlete. One of my motocross clients used to work with a trainer that did EVERYTHING with the ball - bench press, squats, overhead presses, curls, you name it. - in an attempt to improve his "sport-specific balance" and "core strength". Due to the instability of the ball, he was initially unable to handle his usually "heavy" weights. True, as time went on he was able to increase his training numbers, but his on-track performance actually GOT WORSE! He fell out of the top ten and was at risk of losing his factory backing.

Since working with me he has returned to more traditional methods. He is now climbing steadily back into contention and has landed a bigger contract for next season.

As this kid has been riding since has was ten years old (he's now in his twenties) I highly doubted that balance was his limiting factor. Even if it were, ball balancing (to quote the late Mel Siff) "deals with relatively slow displacements from positions of balance and does not necessarily equip one to handle the more rapid disturbances under different conditions of loading encountered in the actual sport."

The point is, ball training can be fun for recreational exercisers but when the sport is your livelihood you are better off sticking with traditional means (i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, Olympic lifts) or more-productive nontraditional means (i.e. Westside methods).

To borrow from your rationale, if all you want is to be able to perform circus tricks then, by all means, squat, juggle or do handstands on a Swiss Ball. However, if you want to outperform your opponent on the playing field then lift heavy, lift fast, and let the sport itself develop the balance necessary to succeed.


we did swiss ball squats for dryland hockey training, just with bodyweight though. it definately helped with stability and agility on the ice. everyone took some pretty bad spills in the beginning, but the learing curve is steep. within 3 weeks we were playing catch with medicine balls


diesel Coach Davies' latest book is geared too extreme athletes not for your every day bodybuilder or athlete. Is that the way to train (bodybuilding style) probably not. Should fitness enthusist squat on a swiss ball? Only if they think its fun and challanging should they try it and that is the only way to get them back or stay with the game as per say.

Remember, I am an advocote on Coach Davies' training and philosophy but. Again, I don't think everyone needs to learn how to squat on a swiss ball.

In Health,

Silas C.