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Head Coach Mark Zawadski of Peak Condition talks through the many exercises you can do with a Swiss ball before you head to the mountains.

When recently asked to write a blog on a piece of equipment that every gym goer must have seen, but probably doesn't know how to use effectively for ski performance conditioning then I had no hesitation in choosing the Swiss Ball as the subject matter. 

Not many people know that the Swiss Ball was widely introduced into gyms by Paul Chek, who has enhanced, utilised and championed this training tool for rehabilitation and high performance athletic conditioning for 30-plus years. When you see one in the gym it's him you have to thank.

For the skier, the Swiss Ball is a vital conditioning tool due to the fact that using it correctly has a high functional carryover to skiing.

One of the main reasons for this is that doing any exercise on a Swiss Ball requires that you activate a far higher number of stabiliser muscle fibres than doing the same exercise on a stable base of support. These stabiliser muscle fibres are vital for maintaining optimal stability over your skis, while ensuring that your joints and spine remain protected.

Also, the reflex profile is similar when you are skiing and when you are exercising on a Swiss Ball, so this will make your body far more effective at reacting to the requirements of the sport of skiing. When you are on an unstable surface you use the Tilting Reflexes predominantly and this is the same when exercising on a Swiss Ball.

Therefore, I want to introduce you to 3 highly effective Swiss Ball exercises that, when undertaken correctly, are likely to have a beneficial impact on your performance on the slopes.

The Seated Single Leg Swiss Ball Woodchop is one such exercise as not only does it incorporate the Anterior Oblique Sling of muscles, which is vital for creating ski turns, but also it is using the ski-specific "Tilting Reflexes”. 

I would suggest undertaking this exercise with a weight where you are fatigued after 12 to 14 repetitions, then swap sides. You should count for 1 as you rotate to the side, hold for the count of 1 and then return to the midline for the count of 2. Start with 2 sets and build up to 4 with a rest of 45 seconds between sets. Increase the weight when you can complete 4 sets of 14 reps each side without significant post training muscle discomfort the following day or 2 after training.

Single Leg Seated Swiss Ball Woodchop


Another fantastic conditioning exercise for the skier is the Russian Twist, Back on Ball. Conducted as shown, this exercise is really effective for skiers as it creates upper/lower body disassociation, which every good technical ski coach knows, you need to have to turn effectively on your skis. Again, when you consider you are conditioning that Anterior Oblique Sling and your Tilting Reflexes you have a great ski conditioning exercise.

In the early phases of conditioning, I would suggest undertaking this exercise at an intensity where you are fatigued after 10 repetitions each side. You should count for 2 as you rotate to the side, hold for the count of 1 and then return to the midline for 1. Start with 2 sets and build to 4 with a 45 second rest between sets. Again, increase the weight once you have managed to complete 4 sets of 10 reps each side.

Swiss Ball Russian Twist


The final exercise I would like to introduce you to is the Swiss Ball Horse Stance Balance Roll. This exercise is highly effective at recruiting and testing the stabiliser system. I often prescribe exercises similar to this for skiers who have a dysfunctional abdominal wall as the 4 point position makes it a lot easier to activate.

I suggest rolling to the end range of balance, in each position, with good postural alignment. Build the sets up to 2 minutes. Hold gentle pelvic floor activation and draw the belly button in throughout. Start with 1 set and build up to 3 with a 30 second rest between. Once you can do that there are many ways in which to make this exercise incredibly challenging.

Swiss Ball Horse Stance Balance Roll


As with any physical conditioning program, it is always optimal to conduct an in-depth physical assessment to ensure that every exercise prescribed will be ideal for the needs of the individual.

This is vital as everyone has specific requirements due to the individuality of their musculoskeletal system and physiology.

Therefore, it is often the case that an exercise that would be excellent for one person may actually be detrimental to another. This is the crux of world class physical conditioning programs and very few coaches have the level of knowledge of assessment procedures and how to implement the results effectively.

However, the exercises suggested above are unlikely to create any physical imbalances and do not load the spine, hence why I have chosen them for you.

I hope you enjoy them and you see and feel the differences on your next ski trip.

Train well, ski better!

Peak Condition work with professional and amateur skiers, helping them get out of pain and rehabilitate all manner of musculoskeletal injuries; create ski specific stability and strength; condition them to perform at their optimal on the slopes. Please visit Peak Condition to take advantage of their complimentary 60 minute, ski conditioning consultation and assessment

Mark Zawadski.

Head Coach and Director, Peak Condition.