Former certified fitness professional who remains an active exercise ambassador.
What Is a Balance Ball?
The history of the balance ball and how it came to acquire its name as the "Swiss Ball" is fascinating. The companion fitness tool is known as the Bosu®, and it also has a memorable provenance. More importantly, the purposes and the many uses are the real story that is tangible for us today.
These highly engineered instability fitness tools take our workout routine from targeting muscles to true functional training, improving our athletic ability, and improving our overall health. These tools are wonderful. Read on and learn why and how they work.
History of the "Swiss Ball" or Balance Ball
The balance ball was actually invented by an Italian man, a toymaker by trade, named Aquilino Cosani. He invented it in the 1960s. The "toy" did not come into fame until Swiss physical therapists incorporated the new invention into their therapy programs, thus the name the "Swiss Ball" not the "Italian Ball". I
n the 1980s, the balance ball was introduced into the United State and has since become a fundamental fitness tool that is present at every gym and health club in the United States.
The magic of computers and the United States Patent Office allows us to bring to you the illustration to the right of the original "jumping ball". In 968, the Italian patent was first granted and then in 1971, the US patent was issued to Aquilino Cosani. The names for the stability ball which provided the instability that would become a great fitness tool for all included:
"Hoppity Hop, Hop Ball, Kangaroo Ball Kangaroo Hopper"
The Swiss Ball or balance ball as commonly referred to as an exercise or stability ball, a fitness tool that is a large, inflatable ball designed well for various exercises to change the core. With 640 muscles in the human body, it is helpful to incorporate multifunctional exercises that target to train more than one group at a time.
Efficiency of the Multifunctional Exercises
The efficiency of the balance ball exercise has been noted by young and old alike and have been incorporated into both the fitness routines of elite athletes and seniors and rehabilitation programs across the world. Just try to walk into a gym or health club and not find a balance ball.
Just try to spend more than 10 minutes in a gym and not see the balance ball in use! This fitness tool—former toy—is now an essential tool in all physical fitness programs across the United States and perhaps the world?
Primary Focus of the Swiss Ball
Strengthening your abdominal muscles, hips and lower back is the primary objective of this fitness tool. Challenging your core on the balance ball will allow you to activate new muscles—often muscles that are hard to target train with traditional stationary exercises.
In recent years, the balance ball has seen a popular trend by sitting on the balance ball while working at your desk. This activity actually serves two purposes—improving your posture and toning your midsection.
Balance balls, also referred to as Swiss, exercise or stability balls, are large, inflatable pieces of exercise equipment that provide a challenging workout. Perform your exercises on a balance ball and integrate new movements that burn calories, challenge your balance and contribute to gains in core strength—abdominal muscles, hips, and lower back. Sit on a balance ball while working at your desk and improve your posture while toning your midsection.
Proprioception: Multi-Dimensional Movement
"Perception of stimuli relating to position, posture, equilibrium, or internal condition. Receptors (nerve endings) in skeletal muscles and on tendons provide constant information on limb position and muscle action for coordination of limb movements. Awareness of equilibrium changes. The central nervous system integrates signals from the canals to perceive rotation in three dimensions. See also sense."
Main Features of the Fitball
- The Fitball can be used for all ages and fitness levels.
It improves endurance, strength and mobility .
- It provides exercises for better posture, balance, body awareness, and coordination.
- It can be used for group and individual exercise at the club or at home.
- It promotes functional movement for everyday life.
An important commercial aspect: Only a few products provide so many opportunities for different exercises at such a convenient price.
What Does the Inflatable Ball Called the Balance Ball Really Do?
The lack of stability forces the body to react. It is the muscles that are activated that are in the center of our body commonly referred to as the "core". The "core" muscles include the abdominals and the obliques and to a lesser degree the back muscles. These are the muscles that help humans stand erect.
Interestingly, a Veterinary yesterday stated that animals do not have spinal problems such as humans. The neck and spine pain that plagues humans is a human thing only. While humans share many of the same types of bones and blood and cells and ligament, walking erect is solely a human activity. Funny you would think the Giraffe would have more neck problems than me!
Our Spine Needs Muscles for Protection
The human spine needs muscle to protect it. Therefore, activating the muscles around the core is an important physical therapy exercise to help speed recovery. More importantly, in order to prevent injury to both athletes and health-conscious humans such as ourselves, the activation of the core is a fundamental exercise.
- Protecting Our Backs—Building Back/Core Muscles
As the Gymnic website details, the balance training for the back and core muscles is a "supplement", not a cure. Building muscle to protect the spine can help but not provide a permanent cure.
"It should be noted that the Gymnastic Ball is not a miracle-cure for back ache and pain caused by improper or repetitive work habits. It is on the other hand considered a useful and practical supplement for necessary exercise."
The instability of the balance ball engages our muscles in a non-linear movement that can be best described as a multi-dimensional movement.
- Benefits of Training Movements Not Training/Isolating Muscles—Train Beyond Strength and Beauty
A lot of what we do in fitness is isolating the muscle for the sake of strength and atrophy—all in the name of appearances. Yet, our body demands movement. Training for movements provides benefits beyond strength and beauty.
"Training for movement" rather than target toning allows us to improve our flexibility, our posture, and increase our speed in responding to different physical demands. Training for movement activates our core muscles and improves our balance and may prevent trips and falls.
- Balance Ball Appropriate Height Needed for Fitness
Finding a Swiss Ball that is the proper size for your height is important. The test is when you sit on the ball, you want your hips and knees to form a 90-degree angle.
Start off slow as with any new exercise program. Also, reduce your weight. Beginning with exercises that require sitting (bicep curls is a great example for one) or lying (such as crunches) are recommended.
- Recruit More Muscles
What is great about the Swiss Ball is you can target tone and train for movement. This multi-tasking in your exercise routine will pay off in allowing you to burn more calories for the amount of time that you are exercising. Remember you will also reduce or prevent trips and falls as you are training your body to respond.
History of the Bosu
The Bosu is a relatively new fitness tool yet very common and very popular tool introduced in 1999 by an innovator and visionary, David Weck. A self-proclaimed "physiology geek" who has poured his efforts into the study of physiology.
David is "a voracious reader" who draws tremendous influence from the works of Moshe Feldenkrais, Ida Rolf, and F.M. Alexander, all of whom were pioneers in somatic (body) education. He continues to expand his knowledge in diverse areas including Traditional Chinese Medicine and Tai Chi Chuan.
Bosu is pronounced "Bo" like the boy's name and "Sue" like the girl's name. David Weck developed this unusual fitness tool which means "both sides up" or to actively engage both sides in training building upon his philosophy that balance or functional training is the foundation for all sports and exercise.
Elite athletes and their head trainers, strength and conditioning coaches know the efficiency and effectiveness of this tool to train balance, core stability, and proprioception. Many feel the proprioception tools such as the Bosu Balance Trainers and the Swiss Ball have taken both sports and fitness into a new realm and was the beginning of functional training taking target toning and strength to a new level of agility and refinement.
"But on their own, Bosu products are just molded plastic, weighted rubber, and stability balls with secret filling. You have to engage them in order to bring them to life! So, beyond our products, we offer a system of mindful action, intentional movement and smart science that produces results."
Ambidexterity training is a training of the hands and eyes to effectively switch and engage with no favoritism. David developed another training tool called the Quick Hands Bola Trainer.
David's Philosophy on His Personal Fitness
If Jack LaLane was the father of strength and bodybuilding, David Weck is the forerunner or founding father in the United States for functional training. To quote David:
"I don't lift heavy weights like I used to very often these days. But I perform exercises with ropes and sticks/bars that most "stronger guys" simply can't handle—because they don't train the way I do. As a result, my movements are fluid and my strength is spiral in nature."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Kelly A Burnett
Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on March 23, 2016:
I don't know about the chair - have never tried that one but I can see where my core would be activated and my back would be straight.
The standing work stations for computers is a much needed invention that someday I hope to incorporate in my routine. Meanwhile, a sitting I shall go and hopefully work in a few exercises on the balance ball during the week to compensate.
Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on December 02, 2015:
This stability ball fitness method sounds like fun and that chair - although strange looking, probably does wonders for anyone that has to sit for long periods of time. Thanks so much for sharing.
Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on January 30, 2015:
Oh, pun intended "ball of the park" for the balance ball posters! Cute!
Kalin on January 24, 2015:
You've hit the ball out the park! Indcireble!
Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on July 07, 2010:
H P Roychoudhury,
I thought the story was amazing. Isn't it interesting how things come into being. The funny thing is how popular this toy has become for fitness. I loved the story and I hope my enthusiasm comes shining through in the article.
H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on July 07, 2010:
Hi GmaGoldie, You have nicely described how an Italian balance ball gets its popularity as Swiss Ball and finally named as Stability Ball in the United States turning into a human Fitness Tool. What a wonderful turn of discovery!