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.
Single leg training is very overlooked in the gym & in rehab! Yet walking is the number one single leg activity. In sports, a split stance, single leg stance and pushing off one leg from a parallel stance is used. Doesn’t it make sense to train your body on a single leg?
Anything that causes less load to the low back is a good thing. The rear-foot-elevated split squat (RFESS), also known as the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) or Bulgarian lunge (BL) (it didn’t originate in Bulgaria) is an exercise I like for fat loss and muscular conditioning . This exercsie puts more stress onto your legs and therefore builds more useable strength, and it works around the vulnerable low back, which is often the weak link in bilateral leg squats.
From a functional training point of view I’ve never liked the leg press machine for leg strength because the low back has a tendency to round, which over time might create disc damage. I know in sports the goal is to build stronger legs, and as an injry prevent rehab specialist, I think it’s a good idea to target the leg muscles without having to place heavy loads on the spine. The rear-foot-elevated split squat (RFESS), is a better way to do it.
Benefits of RFESS: Targets the leg extensors (it’s a primary lower-body exercise). Develops balance, hip flexibility, strength, size, and you can use heavy weights to target the leg muscles with limited spinal compression.
• Elevate your rear foot. An exercise bench or box works. If the stretch to the quads and hip flexors of your elevated leg is too extreme or uncomfortable, switch to a slightly lower box or step. I like the way the stretch feels and I personally need it for tight hip flexors.
• Start the exercise like a back squat, in that you position the bar on your shoulders in a squat rack, lift it off the supports, and take a step back. From there, lift one foot and place it on the bench behind you. Rest the top of your foot on the bench.
• How deep should you go? Place an Airex pad or mat on the floor under the rear knee, and tell they have to touch the pad with their knee on each rep. This creates consistent depth, and also serves to cushion the knee.
• Keep chest up. Core control is especially critical in the RFESS, as the elevated rear foot can create an unwanted back arch.
Add this in to your program for at least six weeks. Start with 50% of your one-rep max on the back squat.