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What is a Swiss Ball?

A woman does pushups with her feet elevated on a Swiss ball.
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  • Written By: Matthew F.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2014
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A Swiss ball is a large, inflatable exercise ball. Originating in the 1960s, the Swiss ball is used for a number of therapy, fitness, and exercise routines. It can be sat on, laid on, leaned against, or held between the arms and legs to offer different levels of resistance and balance training. It is popular among elite athletes at professional levels and the everyday beginner alike. Developed in the early 1960s, the ball is also known by many different names, including the yoga ball, Pilates ball, balance ball, birth ball, and stability ball.

Swiss balls are a large size for exercise equipment, usually between 18 and 30 inches (45 to 75 cm). They are highly durable and can support the weight of most average size adults, and usually can exceed 200 pounds of support. Swiss balls are popular because they are inexpensive, safe, simple, and offer a variety of exercises. The Swiss ball can be combined with many existing exercises and weight lifting practices, as well as a variety of new exercises developed for the ball, to complete a full workout.

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The Swiss ball is most notably used for balancing and core strength and conditioning. It is among the top fitness tools in the world. The instability of the round ball forces the user to constantly adjust their balance, enforcing stability and flexibility. The user can lie or sit on the ball to increase the difficulty and muscle isolation of lifts while using free weights. It works the back and abdominal muscles simultaneously during crunches or sit ups. It can also be held with the arms or legs for a number of stretching and lifting exercises.

Many trainers argue that the Swiss ball places too much emphasis on the core muscles, and neglects other muscles. They say that overuse of the Swiss ball can lead to a weakened upper body and lack of development in the lower body muscles. These lower bodies muscles fail to offer the explosiveness necessary for many sports.

The Swiss ball has also been used as a “birth ball.” During labor, the pregnant woman can sit on the ball, with arms balanced on a nearby table or bed. The rolling movement of the ball aids in the natural rocking process of the birth.

The Swiss ball was developed in the early 1960s in Italy by Aquilino Cosani. Coasani was a plastics manufacturer who found a way to make very large, puncture resistant balls made of cheap plastic. The balls soon found popular use in Switzerland among chiropractics and physical therapists. It was used to treat orthopedic problems and assist with rehabilitation. The Swiss ball found its way to the United States in the early 1980s as a therapy tool, and soon moved to gyms and athletic facilities, where it has remained ever since.

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