INJURY FREE FITNESS : Swiss-ball Exercises 

Somewhat surprisingly, the Swiss ball first appeared during the 1930's in Italy, although its name suggests that it must have been used in the health spas of Switzerland at some stage. Today, you’re increasingly likely to come across these physiotherapy balls in offices, clinics, and gyms. Training with one of these balls is great fun, as well as one of the most effective ways of providing yourself with a method of both developing and maintaining a functional core. In addition, the balls are available in all sizes and weights and are of varying quality, so that they can be adapted to suit most environments.

The Swiss ball provides the opportunity to develop a creative, balanced exercise routine that takes us out of the single plane that most Pilates exercises employ. As well as developing and maintaining the core, such exercises require a great deal of coordination and general motor skills, and are therefore invaluable in promoting functional fitness.

In terms of usability, the ball has a number of advantages.

• Anybody of any age or fitness level, even if injured, can perform a program of exercises on the ball.

• The ball can be used equally effectively in a class setting or when exercising by yourself.

• The ball is invaluable in posture training since it encourages activation of the core and the lengthening of the spine into a neutral position, rather than spinal flexion,which is more usual when seated.

• Using the ball promotes core strength, which is vital for spinal health and daily activity.

• If used properly, and with a well-devised program, it can help to prevent injuries.Using a Swiss ball encourages movement in all three planes (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal) and through all of the ranges. In this way, joints are used as they are in everyday life, but with some measure of control and protection. Muscles can be strengthened without being exposed to impact or stress.

• The nervous system is also stimulated by the slightly unpredictable and unstable movements of the Swiss ball, which improves alertness and reaction times.

• When used properly and regularly, Swiss-ball exercises enhance the three definitions of fitness: muscular endurance, muscular strength, and mobility or flexibility.

• And perhaps the most important effect of using the ball is that it generates a huge increase in body awareness, balance, and coordination. This is important because it is due to this confidence that we are able to make progress and to achieve some of the harder physical activities on which the initial training is based.