7 Swiss Ball Exercises You Need to Know for Core Strength

These are the following 7 exercises that you need to be performing to get those core muscles switched on, those abdominals toned and have you looking primed for summer have been included below!


Physiotherapists in Switzerland invented the Swiss ball in the 1960’s to assist children with cerebral palsy. Their primary aim was to help these kids improve their balance, reflexes and strength. The use of Swiss balls grew in popularity throughout the world in the 1980’s and as such, are now found in many gyms, rehabilitation settings and Pilates studios.

Why use a Swiss ball?

a) Decrease your pain levels through certain exercises

b) Improve postural awareness and alignment

c) Increase muscular tone, endurance and strength

d) Improve balance, body awareness and co-ordination

e) Improve flexibility

f) Partake in low impact aerobic exercise


Everyday use

Swiss balls are common occurrences in workplaces nowadays. Many people have discovered that it is an excellent substitute for a chair in terms of postural alignment and improves sitting tolerances. Many office-based workplaces in the 21st century incorporate Swiss balls as their primary tool to sit on.

It is important to remember however, to still think of an appropriate ergonomic set up in this instance. Both feet should be flat, knees bent at 90 degrees and the lumbar spine in a neutral position. If you are just starting out using a Swiss ball in this instance, then it is a good idea to position a towel or a pillow under the base. This is to increase the stability of your base of support as there is less roll. Once your body becomes accustomed to this position, removing the added support will force you to engage your core muscles further.

What size do I need?

Generally speaking, if you are between 5 foot and 6 foot 2 inches, either a 55 inch or 65 inch ball will be suitable. These are the two most common sizes available. However, if you are of the short variety, go for a smaller ball. Conversely, if you are exceptionally tall, go for the larger one available. Also consider that the firmer the ball, the more difficult the exercise will be.

Increasing the difficulty of the exercise

a) The further the ball is away from the body (or midline) the greater the load on the recruitment patterns of your core musculature.

b) Closing your eyes during the movement(s) to challenge your proprioception.

c) Adding manual resistance to the exercise, such as a theraband, free weights or a partner.

d) Increasing the inflation of the ball or using a smaller ball equates to a bigger load being put through the muscular system.

e) One-legged exercises. This has many implications for lumbo-pelvic control and strengthening of the lower limb. Please note – this should be one of the final ways to make your workout harder.

f) Decreasing the base of support (eg. as aforementioned with your sitting posture as you have a pillow or towel tucked under the Swiss ball to create less roll initially, then removing it).


The Top 7 Exercises

Before we begin, please consider two important variables. The first is to ensure an appropriate warm up and cool down program is ulitilised in conjunction with each workout. This is to warm up big muscle groups, increase your flexibility and to reduce the risk of injury.

Secondly, I have written about core musculature in previous posts – 5 Best Pilates Exercises for Low Back Pain and Top 3 Reasons Pilates Can Fix Your Back Pain

I mention this to ensure that you are aware of how to turn on your deep core muscles (primarily Transverse Abdominus and Multifidus) and for you to get a more efficient workout. As always, if you are unsure about anything, please consult your physiotherapist.


1/ Standing Roll Outs

Standing roll outs is a good introduction to Swiss ball stability work. It integrates many components of an abdominal work out and challenges lumbo-pelvic control as well as postural awareness.

The movement begins in standing with the ball in front of you, roll down onto the ball using your hands, then onto your forearms as you rise onto your toes (lifting your heels off the ground).

Progressions can be applied by way of holding that lengthened pose for 10 seconds (to begin with) in a plank position. If you are struggling with this pose, then it is perfectly fine to start on your knees to get a sense of the appropriate spinal alignment. If a full-length mirror is available to you, then I implore you to use it to check your alignment.

2/ Superman

Supermans on a Swiss ball is an excellent exercise to progress into toning of your abdominals and strengthening your upper and lower limbs. It also has a co-ordination componenet and brings in the ideas of timing and rhythm to your exercise workout.

The movement begins with the ball underneath your stomach. Be sure to check your neutral spine in this position. Keep your right arm and left leg straight, raise them both at the same time until they are parallel to the ground. Time the movement so both limbs come down together. Repeat this movement but alternating sides this time.

Progressions are making a sustained hold to the end range movement or adding tiny pulses to the arm/leg for 10 repetitions. If your timing and co-ordination feel staggered, then begin breaking the movement down by-way-of just starting with one arm only (alternating), then one leg only (alternating).


3/ Bridge

Bridging on a Swiss ball is a super exercise to strengthen your gluteal and hamstring muscles as well as working on your spinal articulations.

The movement starts lying on your back with both feet on top of the ball. Engage your core muscles, tighten your butt muscles as you lift up your pelvis. Placing your hands on your hips can give you good feedback of maintaining a neutral pelvis. This eliminates a shearing force on the pelvis as you have to maintain equilibrium.

Progressions which are especially relevant for a bridge exercise using a Swiss ball can be performing the exercise using one leg or adding in a weight across your chest. Furthermore, the exercise can be turned into a hamstring curl (see the second video below). If you are just starting out, place the ball against the wall to increase the stability, thus creating less roll.



Hamstring curl: 


4/ Clams 

Clams is an excellent pilates-based exercise that incorporates multiple components to core stability. Primarily targeting the gluteal muscles, this exercise is best performed with a theraband just above your knees. This allows your hip flexors to relax.

To begin clams, have your feet shoulder width apart and your upper back as well as your shoulders should be resting on the Swiss ball. Ensure that you are not arching your back in this position. Keep your back still as best you can whilst dropping both knees out to the side. This should be a smooth, rhythmical movement.

Progressions can be to use an unstable surface under your feet, such as a towel or pillow to challenge our proprioception. To start the action, try without a theraband initially.


5/ Push Ups

Don’t freak out! Traditional push ups are hard work! Using a Swiss ball can be a great way to rehabilitate your back muscles safely.

This exercise can be performed two ways (opposites, as a result):

  1. To start, have your feet on the ground with your hands resting on the Swiss ball. Come up into a push up preparation position and then putting force through your arms, drop down towards the ball by bending your elbows and then slowly come back up.
  1. Start in a lengthened position whereby your feet are resting on the Swiss ball, with your hands on the ground. Keep your back in this lengthened position as your perform a push up

Modify your push up by having knees on the ground. Sustained holds are a great way to build on the endurance of your core muscles because it challenges the core to stabilise over a period of time.

Or take a look at http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/push-ups-with-feet-on-an-exercise-ball



6/ Prone Jackknife

Prone jackknife is an advanced exercise on a Swiss ball and therefore should be taken on once you are quite confident with push ups and bridging. Targeted muscle groups include the deep core muscles, gluteals and hamstrings.

The movement is performed with your feet on the ball in a push up starting pose. Bending your knees to bring the ball closer to your chest, this movement should be maintained with a neutral spine.

Progressions can be to a single leg prone jackknife. As you are starting out this exercise, it is best to have someone spot you as the challenge on your balance is quite high.



7/ Lumbar spine extension

Lumbar spine extension is a great exercise to get your back muscles and core stronger. It is also a good warm up to a roman extension exercise off a barrel if you are working out in the gym. This exercise is also known as a revere stomach crunch.

Ensure you haven’t just eaten before performing this exercise! Have your feet resting against a wall as you bring the ball to underneath your stomach. Start with our hands behind your head as you bend over the ball. Lifting up to extend your back, push through your heels on the wall to gain further stability.

Furthermore, this exercise is a good demonstration, when starting out, to tuck a pillow or towel in underneath to create less of a roll with the ball.


There you have it! In conclusion, this list is an excellent way to get started using a Swiss ball for an entire gym workout.



3 Core Stability Exercises to Safely Strengthen Your Core








About Jim Fuller

Jim graduated from the University of Sydney with a Masters of Physiotherapy after completing his Bachelor of Health Science. He has special interests in sports injuries particularly of the lower limb, soccer injuries and pilates. He also pays particular focus to prevention of future injuries. Jim enjoys all outdoor activities with his family and friends as they are often out camping, cycling, hiking and sailing.