Swiss Ball Training aka Circus Training
There is a growing trend in the industry; the more incompetent the trainer, the weirder the exercise.
For example, the problem with Swiss balls is that people started doing things with them that their bodies weren’t designed to do! For example, squatting on the Swiss ball is completely moronic. It’s a party trick.
The problem is that you have to squat bowlegged. There’s actually one guy in the industry who was showing off by doing it at a seminar. He jumped off and blew his ACL! What happened is that he put the connective tissue in a bad stretch from squatting bowlegged, then he put it in a rapid eccentric load.
Now, if you use the Swiss ball to modify the strength curve like I’ve done with some arm training movements, I think that’s fine.
Also, Swiss balls are good for certain core exercises. The problem is when people say that Swiss balls cure cancer and get the IRS off your back. There are people out there making outrageous claims.
Recent research has shown that Swiss ball training for your core works only for six weeks (which is what I’ve been saying since ’94). You’ll get more abdominal activation from the squat and deadlift than any Swiss ball exercise, no matter how difficult. So if you’re an untrained person, you can do the Swiss ball, but after six weeks you’ll top out on the gains you’ll get.
About 70% of Swiss ball exercises are worthless. It’s just one of those things where people are taking an idea too far. There’s some value to it, but it’s not a cure-all.
Most personal trainers and strength coaches just don’t know how to get people strong. I remember talking to this one trainer who uses all these stability gizmos. I asked him why he used all that stuff and he said, “I’m not good, so I have to do these weird things so people will come to see me.” Pathetic.
Also I remember seeing him make this post-menopausal woman do one-hand split jerks with a fat dumbbell. Now, Adam Nelson is one of the best shot-putters in the world and I don’t make him do that! The risks are way too high.
The problem with using Duradisks and similar devices is that you have to use loads that are so insignificant that none of the prime movers really get activated. So if a woman can overhead press a 25-pound dumbbell, she’ll only be able to use an eight pounder while performing this circus act on a stability device. She just won’t be overloading her shoulder muscles.
I call it “entertrainment training,” not strength training. And any time I see that horseshit, I want to kick the personal trainer in the head with a pair of steal-toe construction boots.
And the BOSU ball? The BOSU ball is a Swiss ball for morons! Some people claim that it was invented to train the US surf team, others advance that Roseanne Barr’s personal trainer came up with the concept balancing on her contraceptive diaphragm…
Again, when you stand on it you’re always bowlegged. Why do you want to get into a position that’s not good for your knees and ankles? What about doing it on one foot? So what, then you have to reduce the load!
One of the dumbest things I see is the lying dumbbell press on a Swiss Ball using only one arm. The most a 180 pound guy will be able to use is about 45 pounds. Why? Because if you use more, you’re going to flip over. Now, the same guy can use much more than 45 pounds to do regular flat dumbbell presses. So what’s the point of underloading?
“Oh, it activates the core.” Yeah, and to what degree? All you’re doing is firing some stabilizers just to control yourself so you don’t flip over, but you’re not overloading the pressing muscles. So again, this is just entertrainment training. It’s circus training and it doesn’t do anything worth the time investment.
Now, these devices do work well… in marketing terms.
It’s like those speed ladders. Parents see them and get impressed, but no world class sprinter has ever used a speed ladder. It’s never made anyone faster on the track or the field, only made them better at doing speed ladder drills. Once the speed ladder has become an Olympic event, I’ll recommend athletes to use them. The same is true for cone drills. How often do you run in a perfect pattern in a football game? It’s never perfect, especially once you add in a 300 pound defensive player running at you with the intent of trying to take your head off.
I did some consulting for a top soccer team last summer. Their strength coach is one of the highest paid in the world, making 700,000 euros a year. He has his athletes do all their energy systems training with a soccer ball. He’s figured out that perfect running technique goes to shit once you add in a ball you’re responsible for. So if you’re going to be doing energy systems training, you might as well be using a ball with it.
The same is true with a hockey puck. You see a lot of guys doing these power skating classes, which is basically a cute looking figure skating coach who teaches a hockey player how to skate perfectly. But as soon as you put a puck on the ice and a 210 pound monkey who wants to ram your head into the boards, all those motor patterns you learned are gone!
Gimmicks and Games
What we know from an industry standpoint is that all those centers that rely on gimmicks and games, especially the ones geared for teenagers, need to have 76 new clients a month to stay afloat. Why? Because client turnover is very high. The kid goes there and does all this circus training, but he doesn’t get faster on the field and he doesn’t get stronger. He goes to camp and gets tested on the bench and power clean and comes off like an eleven year old stamp collector and gets cut from the team.
“Functional” training or just entertainment training?
There is such a thing as overcoming inertia. Whenever you sprint, jump, or throw, you’re always overcoming inertia. What makes you overcome inertia? Getting stronger. Entertainment training gets you better at the skill, but it doesn’t make you stronger and it doesn’t transfer to the field. It’s a way to make money as a personal trainer, but it’s not a way to make money as a strength coach because your athletes won’t get any real results.
And by the way, if you look at the studies on the core, it’s actually the least trainable part of the body (after the hands) of all the muscles in the human body. (The calf is actually the most improvable.)
Coach Charles R. Poliquin