Strengthen Your Core With These 11 Swiss Ball Exercises

The exercise ball, also known as the Swiss Ball, was developed in 1963 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer. According to Wikipedia, the term "Swiss Ball" was used when American physical therapists began to use those techniques in North America after witnessing their benefits in Switzerland. And According to Dwight Schrute (my favorite character from The Office), "This ab workout is specifically designed to strengthen your core. It has numerous health benefits, strengthens your back, better performance in sports, more enjoyable sex." I agree with Dwight and the physical therapists. But is there any research to back these claims?

Escamilla and colleagues performed a surface electromyography study to figure out which exercises elicited the most significant muscle activity throughout the core musculature. They tested the following muscles: rectus abdominis (six-pack), external and internal oblique, latissimus dorsi, lumbar paraspinals (lower back), and rectus femoris (quad/ hip flexor). The authors found that some Swiss Ball exercises activated the core musculature more than the abdominal crunch and bent knee sit-up (1). 

To be specific, the roll-out contracted the six pack the most followed by the pike, but the pike activated the obliques to a greater extent than the roll-out. Overall, the roll-out and pike caused significantly more muscle activation compared to the other exercises. These two exercises were found to be the most effective exercises in activating the abdominals, obliques, and lats while minimizing lower back and quad involvement(1). Also, the knee tuck targeted the core better than the crunch, and bent knee sit up (1). But what about a traditional plank? Does the Swiss Ball increase core activity when added to the plank?

A study done by Escamilla and colleagues in Sports Health Journal sought out to answer whether or not a Swiss Ball would improve core activation during plank exercises. In the study, the authors compared subjects performing a standard plank on their toes versus a plank with their toes on a Swiss Ball. The authors found the Swiss Ball increased core activity during the plank versus the traditional plank. But, and to my surprise, the Swiss Ball plank was not the best exercise. The Swiss Ball plank with a single leg lift challenged the core more than the traditional plank, crunch and bent knee sit-up (2). However, it was perceived to be the highest difficulty (2). Therefore, the exercise should only be attempted by intermediate to advanced levels.

Based on the research above and my client's feedback, I highly recommend incorporating the exercises below into your current or future exercise program. They are listed in order of difficulty with #11 being the most challenging. Perform each exercise for three to six weeks before progressing to the next task.

1. Swiss Ball Forearm Plank 3 x 20-40 seconds

2.Swiss Ball Plank  3 x 20-40 seconds 

3. Swiss Ball Knee Stir The Pot  3 x 5-8 reps  per side

4.Swiss Ball Knee Roll-Out  3 x 6-12 reps

5. Plank With Feet On Swiss Ball 3 x 20-40 seconds

6. Swiss Ball Stir The Pot  3 x 6-12 reps per side

7. Swiss Ball Push-backs 3 x 6-12 reps

8. Swiss Ball Knee Tucks 3 x 6-12 reps

9. Mountain Climber With Feet On Swiss Ball 3 x 6-12 per leg

10. Swiss Ball Plank With Single Leg Lift 3 x 20-40 seconds per leg

11. Swiss Ball Pike 3 x 6-12 reps


1. Escamilla RF, Lewis C, Bell D, Bramblet G, Daffron J, Lambert S, Pecson A, Imamura R, Paulos L, Andrews JR. Core muscle activation during Swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 May;40(5):265-76. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3073. PubMed PMID: 20436242.

2. Escamilla, R. F., Lewis, C., Pecson, A., Imamura, R., & Andrews, J. R. (2016). Muscle Activation Among Supine, Prone, and Side Position Exercises With and Without a Swiss Ball. Sports Health, 8(4), 372–379.

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