Using an exercise ball, also known as a Swiss ball, should be considered by anyone involved in grappling or mixed martial arts. A wonderful tool for building core strength and stability, the multitude of exercises you can do with it can make it a fun and challenging part of anyone’s workout.
There are literally hundreds of exercises you can perform with a standard sized exercise ball, but I will focus on a couple that have direct benefits for grapplers.
Just as in grappling, when using the exercise ball you are not using isolated muscle groups. By utilising the exercise ball you not only target major muscle groups but also the stabilising, or support muscle groups. By properly exercising these you can enable your body to become more efficient and improve your overall strength and balance.
A quick analogy can bring this home. If you had a hundred men carrying a large weight, you would place the strongest men under the heaviest part of the object. The weaker men could get by with supporting the less heavy parts. This is fine, but if the weight were to be replaced with a huge tank of water, then you would encounter problems. First, the distribution of the weight would change as it moves along, and the stronger men would not necessarily be supporting the heavier areas. The weaker men would be called upon to help stabilise the load and could end up failing if it is too much for them.
This is just like the strain your muscles are under when you are grappling. If you rely on only the strong major muscle groups, they will not only tire out quicker, but if the load you bear were to shift and your preferred muscles could no longer take that weight then the weaker supporting muscles would be called upon to act and you risk not being able to cope. Also, major muscle groups are more efficient when supported and surrounded by strong stabiliser muscles.
So if that’s not enough and you still need persuading to try using an exercise ball in your next workout, just check out the fun stuff you can do with them.
As a great warm up, pick up the ball between your legs and play guard. Basically shadow roll with the ball between your legs and you will feel your core muscles brought into action. Rather than simply hit the abdominals, you will feel most of your torso working as you move the ball around.
Pick the ball up and keep it off the floor while moving your hips, extending and retracting your legs, sitting up, and mimicking moves you might use while using an open guard.
Another good warm up is to shadow roll, but this time play top position. Sprawl on the ball, and then transition from position to position, all of the time aware of where your balance is. You will find the ball trying to get out from underneath you as you move your centre of gravity around, but don’t lock it up, rather keep your movement fluid and smoothly ride from one position to the next.
After a suitable warm-up and playing with the two drills mentioned, you can work any core stability exercises you wish, but for now I will focus on some very applicable exercises for grapplers.
One of the best ways to actively target stabilising muscles is through balance and proprioception exercises. By sitting, kneeling or standing on the ball you will develop core strength as well as improve your balance.
These three balance exercises will almost certainly help you in a fundamental area of grappling, and that is maintaining your posture in your opponents guard. Whether kneeling or standing in his guard you will find it easier to keep good posture and avoid being swept.
Try the three balances shown. To begin with, hold each balance for as long as feels comfortable. This may not be very long as you become used to it, but try holding it for extended periods of time until you can hold it for a minute or so.
To stand up on a ball correctly, you must take great care and only do it under trained supervision. Use a partner for the first few attempts, but once you are comfortable enough you can do it alone. As an idea of how to stand up unassisted please watch the following video.
As you become more adept at maintaining your balance as shown, you can add in supplementary exercises to make these more difficult.
The first set of exercises we will look at is simultaneously balancing while throwing a ball.
Start by sitting on the ball and either using a partner or a wall, throw the ball and then catch it, making sure to keep good balance. Then progress to kneeling and even standing as you become more comfortable with each exercise.
By performing these exercises you not only test your balance but the action of throwing and catching the ball will exert force upon your body in many different directions, much like trying to keep posture while someone is attacking you with their guard.
So now that you‘ve got these simple yet amazing exercises down, what do you do next?
Well you impress your friends by jumping about and shadowboxing while stood on the ball, of course! Rocky would be proud.
Take care, have fun and experiment. Try these exercises only under trained supervision and in a safe environment.
Article Submited by Hywel Teague.