Thera-Band® exercise balls are used by therapists and trainers around the world for therapy and fitness training. Despite its widespread use, the exercise ball has lacked in research to support its clinical application. Some studies have shown that abdominal exercises performed on exercise balls produce more muscle activation than the same exercise performed on a stable surface (Vera Garcia et al. 2000). In addition to traditional abdominal crunches, the exercise ball offers a variety of exercises aimed at activating the core muscles. With the variety of exercises being performed on exercise balls, more research is needed to prove or disprove the efficacy of specific exercises.
Physical therapy researchers quantified the electromyographic (EMG) activity of the abdominals, latissimus dorsi, lower back, and quadriceps muscles during eight “core” exercises on the exercise ball in 18 healthy subjects. They reported their findings in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy.
They found that the upper and lower rectus abdominus muscle were most activated during the roll-out (63% and 53% of maximum, respectively), and pike exercises (47% and 55%), while the internal and external obliques were most active during the pike (84% and 56% respectively) and skier exercises (73% and 47%). Not surprisingly, the lumbar paravertebral muscles, latissimus dorsi, and rectus femoris only produced low- to-moderate activity (less than 40% maximal activation) in all exercises.
The authors concluded that the roll-out and pike exercises on a Thera-Band exercise ball were the most effective exercises in activating the abdominals while minimizing low back and rectus femoris activation. In addition, these exercises produced more activation of the core muscles than a traditional crunch or sit-up.
REFERENCE: Escamilla R et al. Core muscle activation during swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 May;40(5):265-76.