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October 25, 2022 7 min read

The Swiss ball—also known as a gym, exercise, stability, or physio ball—is one of the best pieces of equipment for working core muscles to build core strength.

Whether you balance on a Swiss ball, lean against it or hold it, its inherent wobbliness makes it an unstable environment for movement. So, even before you can settle into the starting position your core and other stabilizer muscles are already engaged.

If you wonder whether your quest to get the perfect six-pack can benefit from adding a balance ball to your workout routine, you bet!

In a study at the Department of Kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, researchers found that crunches performed on a stability ball (a.k.a. gym ball, fitness ball, or balance ball) boosted activation, or flexing, of abdominal muscles by 24% to 38% more than crunches done in core exercises without a ball.

  • Individuals participating in the study were fitted with electromyographic equipment that indicated heightened activity in the lower and upper abdominals, as well as in obliques.
Swiss Ball Crunch – Image from Shutterstock

 

Your core is the central part of your body. It includes your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdominals.

Core workouts train the muscles in your core to work in harmony.

The exercise ball crunch is a popular gym exercise targeting the abdominals, and other core muscles.

Unlike ab crunches on a bench or in plank positions on the floor, using a Swiss ball can increase the range of motion and both contract and stretch the abs on every rep.

Because the stability ball crunches are so effective, you can do fewer reps at a lower tempo if you focus on hard contractions to build a strong core.

Muscle groups activated by Swiss Ball Crunches

The Swiss ball crunch increases endurance and muscular strength throughout the core region including the lower back muscles, lower abdominals, and hip flexors.

Performing the exercise on the exercise ball will also increase balance and core stability.

Adding the Swiss ball has two primary benefits. Firstly, it improves the range of motion on the lower part of the crunch or extension, which builds abdominal strength. Secondly, the position of the body during gym ball workouts tends to place less stress on the upper and lower back.

Abdominal Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

Swiss ball crunches target three primary muscle groups, all of them located in your abdominal area.

  1. The  Rectus Abdominis is a superficial pair of muscles that stretch down the center of the torso between the sternum and the pubic bone. They give you that chiseled, six-pack look when they are hypertrophied and help with spinal support and pelvic tilt.

  2. The  Transverse Abdominis is a pair of muscles that make up the deepest layer of core muscles and provide stability to your core while they hold in or stabilize your internal organs. The transverse abdominis fibers, also known as the TVA, run horizontally and it’s the deepest abdominal muscle. TVA is often referred to as the corset or girdle in Pilates and helps pull our stomach up and in.

  3. The  External and Internal Obliques are located on either side of the core. The external oblique is the most superficial muscle on the side of the abdominal region and the internal oblique lies beneath it. These muscle fibers run diagonally and allow rotation of your trunk. The internal oblique also helps with stabilizing the spine.

How to perform Swiss ball crunches with proper form

Starting position

Start by sitting on the exercise ball and then lie back, curving the arch of your lower back over the spherical surface of the ball. Slide slightly up or down the ball to ensure you are in the right position. Your upper back and middle back must make contact with the ball, and your neck must be stationary at all times. Plant both feet firmly planted on the floor and apart for stability.

How to do the crunches

  1. With stationary hips, exhale and slowly and deliberately flex the spine at your waist.
  2. Contract your abs and curl your trunk and shoulders upward until you can feel the contraction in your abdominals.
  3. Hold the position for a second or two before inhaling while slowly returning to the starting position.
  4. Avoid sitting all the way up vertically position, as that would change the exercise into the stability ball sit-up, which focuses more on the hip flexors and less on the core.
  5. If you want to increase the range of motion, extend an additional one or two inches when you lie down to achieve a pre-stretch at the bottom of each repetition.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Important safety note

Don’t rush the Swiss ball crunch reps as you might do on the floor. Remember, you can’t fall off the floor, but it takes very little for an exercise ball to through you off. Perform the crunches slowly and deliberately — it takes some getting used to.

Furthermore, wait until you master the skill of perfectly balancing yourself on the stability ball before trying to use weights while you do exercise ball crunches. As you progress, you can hold a dumbbell or a weight plate at arm’s length above your chest.

However, you have to be very careful when adding weight to this exercise because adding too much too quickly could cause a hernia.

What are the advantages of doing Swiss ball crunches?

Scientists have used electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activity when performing stability ball crunches. After analyzing the EMG reports, they discovered that the activation of the oblique muscles during the stability ball variation of crunches is significantly higher than during regular crunches done on the floor.

Chiseled abs – Image from Shutterstock

The ball’s unstable surface is the reason for this because of the constant wobbling from side to side that causes the contraction of the obliques to stabilize the upper body. That right there could make your midsection impressive enough to turn heads.

If your body fat is low enough, well-developed obliques could frame your abs with “cuts” or lines on either side of your waist.

Another advantage is that you have the option to extend the range of motion during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the repetition, which is not possible on a flat surface like the floor. The ball is curved, allowing you to extend your body to achieve an ab pre-stretch before going into the crunch, enhancing abdominal development.

Many ab exercises are bodyweight exercises while Swiss ball crunches can easily be done with added weight.

Once you’ve mastered balancing on the stability ball, you can add resistance like a dumbbell or weight plate on your chest for optimal muscle and strength development.

Disadvantages of doing Swiss ball Crunches

One of the most obvious disadvantages is the difficulty of remaining stable on the wobbly ball. Doing Swiss ball crunches is not as easy as it appears to be. Beginners might be so focused on staying on the ball that they’re unable to maintain proper form. Not only does this increase injury risks, but the intended abdominal contractions might not be achieved.

Concern for a negative impact on the lumbar spinal discs has been raised because stability ball crunches involve pure spinal flexion movements. However, closer analysis indicated that stability ball exercises are safe for most exercisers.

Nonetheless, people with low back pain or those with previous or existing disc herniation may want to reach out to a physical therapist or personal trainer about precautions with the form and execution of abdominal crunches using a stability ball.

Variations of Stability Ball Crunches

Once you’ve mastered the basic ball crunch exercise, you might want to try some of the following variations that might be more challenging.

1. Reaching Stability Ball Crunch

While crossing your hands over your chest is the easiest, alternative hand placement could make the crunch easier or harder. For example, holding your arms extended above your chest as if you are reaching for something makes balancing on the ball significantly more difficult.

2. Twisting Swiss Ball Crunch (Oblique Crunches) 

Although the basic exercise ball crunch activates your obliques more than a bench or floor crunches, you can do the Twisting Swiss ball crunch to intensify the contractions of the obliques.

The twisting ball crunch requires you to do cross-body elbow-to-knee twists to achieve the rotation movement that works your obliques more than the basic ball crunch.

3. Weighted Ball Crunch (Dumbbell Stability Ball Crunch)

The basic weighted ball crunch requires you to hold a weight plate or a dumbbell on your chest. The advantage is that you can start with a light weight and work up to heavier weights as you progress.

Added Intensity

We’ve mentioned the hands folded across the chest and the arms reaching while doing ball crunches. Another hand placement to make the ball crunch more intense is the hands behind your head position.

However, if you don’t focus on form when using the hands-behind-the-head placement, you could fall into the habit of pulling your head with your hands in the crunch movement. That would increase the risk of neck strain.

Hands crossed position – Image from Shutterstock

Once you have mastered the more difficult hand placements, you can start adding weights to intensify the muscle contractions. Weights to add include a dumbbell, weighted plate, or a medicine ball.

The next step to get more out of the Swiss ball crunches would be to increase the rep ranges. However, when you easily get to 20 or 25 repetitions, consider a more challenging variety like the weighted ball crunch instead of increasing the number of reps you do.

Pro Tip:The longer you hold the crunch position, the harder your abs have to work. So, by merely holding your crunch positions longer you can intensify the contractions of your core muscles.

Does your metabolism need a boost?

Regardless of the way you choose to do your ab workout, you might want to look at a safe way to boost your strength training and your metabolism.

Research shows that caffeine boosts metabolism, promotes muscle endurance, improves strength, and enhances anaerobic performance.  Caffeine can significantly increase muscular endurance and the number of reps you can perform.

Pre-exercise caffeine ingestion may delay exercise-induced fatigue. Therefore, exercisers may be able to train for longer periods with a higher exercise quality.

Amped-AF allows you to train faster, longer, and more intensely than ever before. It comes in flavors to die for, including Black Cherry Sherbet, Miami Lights, Blue Raspberry, Berry Burst, and Blueberry Kiwi.

Bottom line

Flatter, more defined abs are desired by many. However, they’re not that easy to get. It takes hard work, consistency, and loads of perseverance. Furthermore, the right types of exercise, and a laser-like focus on nutrition. Still, that doesn’t put better-looking abs out of reach. It just takes a bit of work, but the results will be well worth it.