Swiss ball incorporation to improve core muscle development.

Bottom line up front (BLUF): Incorporating the use of a swiss ball into your core training can improve stability, strength, and reduce lower back pain.

When thinking about the best way to train our bodies, it is important to understand that a strong physical foundation will help facilitate reaching your goals without injury. Core muscle development is believed to be important in many functional and athletic activities, because core muscle recruitment should enhance core stability and help provide proximal (centralized/trunk) stability to facilitate distal (lower body) mobility (Escamilla et al, 2010).  This is important to understand because there are so many muscle groups that play an integral role in core stabilization, which in time when trained properly lead to noticeable improvements in performance (e.g. better personal record lifts, reduced distance run times, etc).  So what does the term “core” refer to? 

            The “core” has been used to refer to the lumbopelvic-hip complex, which involves deeper muscles, such as the internal oblique, transversus abdominis, transversospinalis (multifidus, rotatores, semispinalis), quadratus lumborum, and psoas major and minor, and superficial muscles, such as the rectus abdominis, external oblique, erector spinae (iliocostalis, spinalis, longissimus), latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings, and rectus femoris (Axler & McGill, 1997; McGill et al, 1996; McGill, 1997).  You guessed it!  There are a lot of muscles that provide us with the ability to remain balanced during nearly everything that we do in life.  Based upon the research by Dr. Escamilla and his colleagues, they were able to pin-point a few exercises that were most effective.

            The study, Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises, was designed to test 18 individuals that performed five repetitions of eight different exercises: the pike, roll-out, knee-up, skier, decline push-up, hip extension, crunch, and bent-knee sit-up. All movements were to a 3 second cadence to ensure all individuals did not cheat the movement.  Data was then collected via electrode placement on the various muscles within the core to measure the muscle activity during movement. According to Dr. Escamilla et al (2010), “the roll-out and pike were the most effective exercises in activating upper and lower rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and latissimus dorsi muscles, while minimizing lumbar paraspinals and rectus femoris activity.”

            Still want to know more?  I have provided the reference information below for your review if you would like to know more since I was just providing the cliff notes. Knowledge is what helps you make educated decisions regarding your training plan and can help prevent injury through poor planning.  I look forward to your feedback and may the gains be forever in your favor!       

David Hodge, BExSc, Paramedic, NREMT


Axler, C. T., & Mcgill, S. M. (1997). Low back loads over a variety of abdominal exercises: searching for the safest abdominal challenge. Medicine &Amp Science in Sports &Amp Exercise, 29(6), 804–811. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199706000-00011 

Escamilla, R. F., Lewis, C., Bell, D., Bramblet, G., Daffron, J., Lambert, S., … Andrews, J. R. (2010). Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(5), 265–276. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3073

McGill, S., Juker, D., & Kropf, P. (1996). Appropriately placed surface EMG electrodes reflect deep muscle activity (psoas, quadratus lumborum, abdominal wall) in the lumbar spine. Journal of Biomechanics, 29(11), 1503–1507. doi: 10.1016/0021-9290(96)84547-7

McGill, S. M. (1997). Distribution of tissue loads in the low back during a variety of daily and rehabilitation tasks. . Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development , 34(4), 448–458. Retrieved from <> 

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