Side bending strengthens the obliques more than twisting exercises do. Main points of the exercise:
- Sit side saddle on the ball, weaker side uppermost.
- Top leg straight and in line with the body rather than behind. Put the foot on a wall or something solid.
- Bottom leg bent and forwards, foot flat on the floor.
- Take careful note of where you are on the ball so you can be in exactly the same place when you come to do the other side. The further over you are, harder the exercise. So start sensibly.
- Instead of just bunging the hands behind the head, put the top arm straight down the outside of the top leg.
- The bottom hand can support the head if liked.
- Align your body, so it is straight from arch of foot to crown of head. This matters. We all tend to be rather bent, even if only with a slight stoop in the upper back. We must also watch out for rotation: the shoulders and hips must be square to the side walls and in line with each other. This is why it is good to start this exercise with the top arm down the top leg AND the top leg in line with the body – it makes it easier to detect twists and bends in the body.
- Lower yourself down,
- The TVA gently contracts and we lift up, feeling as if our low ribs on the top side of our body are crunching down towards the ball. The tendency is to lift up from the hips, making the exercise feel deceptively easy. It isn’t. If you can do 20 reps straight off, there is an extremely high chance that you are cheating.
- Then lower back down. Do about 6 – 10 reps nice and controlled, then repeat on the other side.
- The abs do need to be working properly – TVA nice and active. The signs of this is a flattening of the abdomen as the exercise is done. If wheat is eaten regularly, then the TVA will not be active. Period.
- This exercises not only the obliques but also the quadratus lumborum, a very troublesome muscle running down the back which attaches our ribs to our hips. It does work as a back stabiliser, but when the TVA is weak, as it is in most people, it works much too hard, frequently becoming stronger on one side than on the other. Thus we end up subtly lopsided and this is a major driving factor of back pain. When we have weak, wheaty tummies, the QL contracts hard to try to stabilise us. One side of it contracts harder than the other, goes into spasm and -kapow – backache.
- Therefore this is an exercise to be treated with a great deal of respect.
The wobbliness of Swiss ball work has its place in improving our balance and waking up the TVA. However, the more we wobble, the more energy goes into stabilising us and the less we can put into making ourselves stronger. So as we get better at this exercise, there is a tendency to make it harder by stacking the feet, one on top of the other, for example. If the TVA is nice and active and we have done work to get ourselves into good alignment, it is fine to go down this route. But it won’t make you stronger. Quite frankly, to train this sort of thing, get out of the gym and onto the squash court/tennis court/football field etc.
How to make it harder:
Progress to hands crossed on the chest, hands clasped behind the head, arms held over head. Good alignment is absolutely critical at all stages. Then do the same exercise on the Roman chair for a serious oblique workout.