The Swiss ball crunch is rapidly becoming one of the most common exercises you see in gyms where these balls are used.
It is also a much better exercise than doing a crunch while lying on the floor, since your clients can work on giving their muscles a greater range of motion while discouraging the shortening of their upper abdominals (which help to create poor posture).
Unfortunately, the Swiss ball crunch is one of the most common exercises that is performed incorrectly.
What follows are specific guidelines to help your clients perfect their technique and avoid some of the common problems I see in the gym.
First, lie supine over the Swiss ball, with your head resting back on the ball and your back curved over the ball. Ensure that your tongue is in the physiological rest position, which is where it is on the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth.
Then, curl up from the head, one vertebrae at a time until the rectus abdominis is fully contracted. Slowly reverse the curl, ending with the neck and head.
Use the list of progressions below to increase the load. Master the technique at each level as described.
When done correctly, you’ll know that you’ve gone too far if your muscles are trembling. In this case, slow down the exercise.
- Your arms must reach forward toward your knees.
- Fold your arms across your chest.
- Place your fingertips on the mastoid processes (the bony area just behind the ears).
- Stretch your arms above your head.
- When weighted down with a dumbbell or medicine ball, make sure you anchor your feet with an equal amount of weight as you are holding on your chest.
Common Technique Problems
- Don’t clasp your hands behind your head. This tends to pull on your neck and promote poor postural engrams. Just place your fingertips on the back of your ears.
- Don’t lead with the chin. Instead, try to keep the head in a neutral position as you move into the crunch. It can be useful to put your closed fist under your chin to indicate the maximum bend of the neck for which you are aiming.
- Don’t go too fast. You will lose many benefits of this exercise if you try to use momentum to perform the exercise.
- Don’t overdo the crunch range of motion. This is not a full sit-up! You can stop when you have fully contracted the rectus abdominis. Try imagining shortening the distance between your belly button and your sternum. When you have achieved this, you’re done!
If you get dizzy or nauseous when looking up at airplanes flying by, or reaching for things in an overhead cabinet, be cautious about extending your head back on the Swiss ball. You may have a vertebral artery occlusion, which could lead to a stroke if the blood supply to your brain is compromised. See an orthopedic physical therapist for an evaluation.
To perform this exercise, position yourself more on top of the ball or use a larger one to reduce the extension of your neck.
If you have a posterior disc herniation, extending over the ball will help to re-centralize the disk. However, you should learn how to modify this exercise to prevent putting yourself in flexion at the injured site as this could further damage the disk.
Place your fingertips on the spinous process of the lumbar spine at the level of the disk herniation and stop as soon as you feel pressure on your fingers. That’s as far as you should go.
Love and chi,
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