Question Mark
Susan from the Workin’ on My Fitness site recently wrote about doing some ab work in order to get over some work-related stress. I asked her whether she had ever tried using a swiss ball rather than using a machine or just a mat. She emailed me back with the following question:

I’ve never used a swiss ball, although I’ve used those balls that are weighted. Is there a difference? I’m down to trying anything new when it comes to ab work.

It turns out that she does in fact have a swiss ball, she just had not heard the terms that I refer to them as before. Below I have provided a brief description of medicine balls and swiss balls, as well as their ugly step-brother the bosu ball.

Swiss Balls

Swiss balls are large inflatable rubber balls. Other common terms for it that I can think of off of the top of my head are exercise balls, stability balls, gym balls, sports balls, fitness balls, balance balls, yoga/pilates balls, body balls, and therapy balls.

The advantage of using a swiss ball rather than a hard surface is that your more of your muscles need to be engaged while you are exercising in order for you to counteract the instability of the ball. This is especially good when you want to work on your core muscles, which contribute to your balance.

You can also use swiss balls in place of a chair, which is useful if you are an otherwise sedentary person or if you are having some back pains. I have not tried this for more than about 10 minutes, though, and I recommend talking to your doctor or physical therapist before deciding to give up chairs on anything approaching a regular basis.

Medicine Balls

Medicine balls are the weighted balls that look similar in size and texture to a basketball, although they are usually a bit smaller and can sometimes have handles. They are usually made of leather or rubber, and are filled with sand, plastic pellets or (in the homemade variety) rice. They usually weigh between 3 and 18 pounds.

Medicine balls can be used like dumbbells by doing lifts such as squats or presses. Where they really shine, though, is in core work where you can toss the balls off of a wall or to a friend. When doing situps, they are a little easier to hold against your chest than a dumbbell and are much easier to toss around for a more dynamic workout.

A unique advantage for medicine balls that I have never had any desire to do is to have somebody drop them on your stomach while you are doing situps. This is a popular exercise for boxers to condition their gut to getting punched.

Bosu Balls

Bosu balls are fairly similar to swiss balls except that they look as though they were cut in half. They have a flat, rigid bottom with a gel filled semi-circular top.

They are called bosu balls because there is no top or bottom. Bosu stands for “both sides up” (or “both sides utilized”) and can give your muscles a unique stability challenge. If you put the rigid side down, then you need to balance your body against a ground that is not even and which moves beneath you based upon your center of gravity. If you put stand on the rigid side and have the ball side down, then the bosu ball will act like a balance board where your feet are firmly planted on it but it will wobble back and forth.

I most often use bosu balls with the rigid side down when I do shoulder presses in order to work on my balance.


My photographer moved to Massachusetts so I haven’t been doing new demos for way too long, and I never got around to doing swiss ball crunches or any medicine ball or bosu ball work. Here are a few other swiss ball exercises that I have written about and demonstrated before, though:

Most exercises that can be done on a bench can be done on a swiss ball, and many that are done standing up can also be done while sitting on a swiss ball or standing on a bosu ball. It adds a nice dynamic that makes your muscles work together to keep you balanced. You can also substitute medicine balls in many exercises that utilize dumbbells or kettle balls. (Kettle balls are basically just lumps of iron with a handle that are engineered to be awkward to handle.)

So now that you know the difference between these useful tools, what are your favorite exercises that utilize them?