Core stability and Swiss Balls

MORAL: Boys, put your balls away. Nothing more to add


  1. “Developing core strength has been emphasized as a valuable component in general and sports conditioning programs in addition to active rehabilitation programs for individuals with low back pain (LBP).”


What is the core? We all see the late night infomercials talking about core strength and see people with washboard abs. Is this core? Not exactly. Picture this: the strike zone in baseball. Not the MLB, because that strike zone is almost non-existent, but little league baseball. The old middle of the thighs to the letters of the jersey, that’s the strike zone. Now, picture all of the bones and muscles that are in this area. Do the same thing for the side of the body and the back of the body. Most everyone neglects the back and sides. We all want that beach body you know. Unfortunately, that beach body is all show and no go.


Core stabilization is more of a communication thing than an Incredible Hulk thing. The muscles of the “core” (strike zone) have to be able to transfer the amount of force that your legs are generating and apply it to something that your arms want to do. All of the body by Jakes or ab rockers won’t get you there. They will do a great job of strengthening your target muscles for that specific exercise, but they won’t do anything for making you a better athlete or better person for that matter.


  1. “Numerous studies have placed individuals on trunk exercise programs that in turn resulted in a greater increase in endurance and decline in reports of LBP episodes”


If you are a couch potato, than doing anything may be better than doing nothing. If this is you, then stop reading because the ab rocker is waiting for the next set. If you aspire to more than just couch potato, then doing unweighted trunk strengthening exercises may not be enough for you.


  1. “It is apparent that training while under unstable conditions does increase the activity of these (trunk) muscles”


Enter the Bosu ball or the Swiss Ball. This one statement has created rooms of balls in gyms and has spawned people marching in place while sitting on a ball in the physical therapy clinic. If you are one of these people and really think that you are being uber effective, then this article may be offensive. PUT YOUR BALLS AWAY!


But I can already hear you say: “increased activity” blah, blah, blah. Look, being busy is not the same as being productive. Increasing activity does not lead to increasing strength, unless you are increasing the load as well. When I say load, I mean weight. The kind of stuff of the legends of Paul Anderson, Franco Columbo, Kaz (he is so legendary that he only needs to go by his nickname). Look these people up. I can say with certainty that they weren’t training on balls.


  1. “Behm et al had subjects perform various trunk-stabilizing exercises with stable and unstable (Swiss ball) conditions. Results indicated that the abdominal stabilizers, LSES (back muscles) and ULES (upper back muscles) exhibited significantly greater activity with the unstable conditions. The 2 most effective exercises for trunk activation were the side bridge and superman”


Again is you are weak than doing anything is better than doing nothing. If you have weak muscles, then lifting a spoon is difficult and your muscles will get activated. “Only the strong survive.” I don’t want to activate, I want to get jacked. Why? Because someone that is strong will be able to get their butt off of the toilet at the age of 80, without the use of handrails. Someone that is jacked will not have difficulty getting off of the floor and being a stereotype like on the commercial. People…it is not about turning on muscles. I can turn on my butt muscles by squeezing my ass cheeks together. Activation does not equal functional and surely doesn’t mean strong.


The Swiss ball is one of the worst things to be introduced into our profession. That’s right…I said it! We as a profession spend way too much time training unstable situations when the patient needs to get stronger. I can hear the PTs arguing now: “What about balance patients? What about patients that need to walk on unstable surfaces?” Great! Do Swiss ball stuff for this purpose, but stop selling the unstable training as a means to get stronger. I am saying “I AGREE WITH YOU”! Ok, now get rid of the Swiss ball for all other purposes. We are doing the patient a disservice. The logic made sense years ago, but the research just isn’t there.


On a side note: I want as many patients as possible to read this blog. This way the patient can be armed with facts to go into the PT with in order to question the activities that are being performed in the clinic. If I can’t give a good reason for why I am doing what I am doing, then fire me! We are in a day and age in which results will be the driver of our profession. This is already starting to happen with “bundled payments for total joints” ( I highly suggest that you educate yourself on this also. I may or may not write about this soon). We need to make sure that as health professionals that we continue to get smarter and better at what we do. Patients need to continue to educate themselves about their health for two reasons 1. IT’S YOUR BODY! 2. You will challenge your health care provider to either get better or get lost.


The two most effective exercises for trunk activation are the side bridge and superman, said no strongman, crossfitter or strongman ever!


  1. “Swiss balls have been incorporated into strength training programs on the belief that a labile surface will provide a greater challenge to the trunk muscles, increase the dynamic balance of the user and possibly help to stabilize the spine in order to prevent injuries”


Coming soon: Humans on Mars. Same kind of statement. The above quote starts by talking about beliefs. Look, are we a faith or are we a science? We can’t have both. If we believe something to be true…it also has to be true. For a long time, the world was flat. We believed it to be true, so it was true. We have come a long way since Galileo. We actually have to test our beliefs to see if it is worth using.


I am a meathead. Swiss balls are fun to play tug-o-war or work on balance (such as advocated by Paul Check), but they are not good for building stability. To be stable is to be the opposite of mobile. We need to make our trunk opposite of mobile. We can do this by resisting a heavy load.


  1. “…one must ensure that their training regimen incorporates training specificity”


Joe Weider. The name brings back memories of the old Weider barbell sets sold at Sears. We had the concrete filled plastic weights. My how far we have come…and yet the same principles still apply. If you want to get better at throwing a punch, don’t work on kicks and if you want to be a better swimmer, don’t practice skydiving. If we want to be strong and stable (i.e. immobile), then we need to practice on being strong and stable.


  1. “The practical application of training the trunk stabilizers from a supine or prone position may not transfer effectively to the predominately erect activities of daily living”


If we pair point 6 and point 7, then there’s only one real reason to practice exercises in a horizontal position…you know what I mean (wink, wink).


Anyway, the new buzz words are functional fitness. The above statement is essentially saying that doing exercises that are not similar to what you would do during your day may not be functional. You hear the old joke about 12 oz curls, yeah I’ve heard it too. If all you do all day is drink grape nehi, then you don’t need to do anymore than that. It’s functional for you.


  1. “Perhaps a combination of relatively high-intensity resistance using free weights (light to moderate instability) can provide greater activation than the very popular instability exercises commonly used today”


DUH! Anyway, the authors are finally talking about a quantity of activation. There is no doubt that lifting a beer bottle will activate your arms and trunk muscles, but I’ll take the guy that is lifting kegs for fun if I was a betting man.


  1. “The 80% 1RM squat exercise exhibited significantly greater LSES EMG activity than all other exercises…exceeding the body weight squat, deadlift, superman, sidebridge exercises by 56, 56.6,65.5 and 53.1% respectively”


When compared to dead lifting, side bridging and superman, the squat is THE KING OF ALL EXERCISES! For lumbar spine muscles. Hear that all you bird-doggers! Hear that all you supermanners! There is nothing better than loading a heavy barbell with 45 pound plates and squatting down and standing up. I miss the sound of the 45 pound plates vibrating next to each other when you walk the bar out. I use bumper plates nowadays. Not as much testosterone as the steel, but a hell of a lot safer for my garage floor if I have to dump the weight.


Put it into perspective, this exercise is 50% better than most popular exercises. Everyone can squat. Everyone has to get off of the toilet. If you don’t, you will end up in a home because no one wants to help you off of the toilet and wipe your behind for free.


  1. “The 80% 1 RM deadlift exercise exhibited significantly greater ULES EMG activity than all other exercises”


There is a reason why powerlifters have such thick backs. They specialize in the 2 exercises that work both the lower and upper lumbar muscles.


  1. “…it may be unnecessary to add calisthenic-type instability exercises to a training program to promote core stability if full-body, dynamic, upright exercises are implemented in the program”


Time to turn off the t.v. Stop buying all of the infomercial crap and just get up off the couch…now sit down…stand up…sit down…stand up…sit down. Now go do the same thing while holding a can of soup. You are now stronger than you were yesterday.


Excerpts taken from:




Categories non-professionals, Physical therapy, PTs, Written BlogsTags

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