Over the past 15 years I have taught quite a few swissball classes – strength /pilates / pregnancy and used them extensively for Personal Training and in my own workouts and I have used many different brands of swiss balls. Often I am shocked at the state of swiss balls in gyms and studios that I visit.
Nowadays we are spoilt for choice when it comes to purchasing fitness balls/ swiss ball. But do you really know what you are buying? – are they all fit for purpose or are you potentially putting yourself and your clients at risk of injury? More often than not trainers and clubs go on price alone when purchasing equipment. Our main concerns when buying equipment for our clients to use should be suitability for use, quality, safety and longevity. A high quality swissball that maintains its shape under load also ensures a much more effective workout and provides a far greater exercise experience than a cheap soft (beanbag like) ball. Over recent years there have been reports of anti burst and burst resistant Swiss balls exploding during use and injuring users. Not all balls are the same quality despite what their labels may indicate and the use of balls may put the user at risk of serious injury.
I have done the research for you – hope it helps with your use of and next purchase of a swiss ball:-
Age of Swiss Ball
Swiss balls should be treated like car tyres. The morefrequent and harder they are used the sooner they will stretch and possibly lose their burst resistance if they had any to start with. I suggest that gyms and studios should rotate their Swiss balls every 12 months if there is high use or the possibility of abuse. Domestic users have reported 10 years of use when the Swiss ball is well cared for.
Aging Swiss balls may develop surface fractures. A slight scratch or cut can expand to a potential failure – DO NOT use Swiss balls that exhibit such damage.
Abuse & Damage
Swiss balls are very commonly kicked around a gym or studio. Impact with an edge (equipment, furniture etc) may damage the inside of the ball surface. Over inflation can also weaken the ball. Check that it is not over inflated. This may not be apparent on casual inspection. This may diminish the burst resistance totally and leave the user at risk. Always look closely for surface marks and abrasions. If you are not sure, do not use the ball. If you are in a gym, check the history and condition of the ball with an Instructor.
It is critical that the user care for the balls they use. The more hours of use and abuse it gets – the shorter its life. This is especially so in a commercial environment where there is little supervision. Does your facility have a system in place to inspect your swiss balls?
Know the Users’ History
Swiss balls provide an unstable environment up to 85cm above the floor. If the user has an injury, medical condition or lack of neuromuscular ability to deal with this dangerous environment – they are at risk of injury if they fall. Always seek advice from a trained professional if you are unsure.
If you are unsure of your suitability to use a Swiss ball, seek assistance from an Instructor.
It may be advisable not to do supine (back on the ball) exercises without assistance.
*DISCLAIMER: IF YOUR BALANCE IS POOR, UNSUPERVISED EXERCISE MAY PUT YOU AT RISK OF INJURY
Evaluate the Environment
Do not exercise near equipment that you may fall against or which may damage the Swiss ball. Ideally you should do ball exercises on a padded floor or a thick mat (15mm) to reduce impact injuries if you fall or the Swiss ball bursts. Balls that are left in direct sunlight, in cars or hot environments, are over inflated, or have surface damage, are likely to have a reduced burst resistance.
*DISCLAIMER: ALWAYS EXERCISE ON A PADDED FLOOR TO AVOID INJURY DUE TO FALLING FROM A BALL.
The materials for Swiss balls are almost always a form of PVC. They all have different performance characteristics. Always follow the inflation instructions exactly to avoid damage to the ball skin. Incorrectly inflated Swiss balls may lead to catastrophic failure and subsequent injury during use.
My Recommendation –
Only use high quality commercial grade swissballs – whether you are a gym or a home user.
I recommend Duraballs – I detest using anything else. When I’m teaching group classes or training clients one on one I want to ensure their safety, create effective workouts and to portray utmost professionalism.
Why Use Duraballs? – Background Information –
An ongoing evaluation program at the University of Newcastle helped in the development of Duralon™ a form of PVC. Duralon™ is ideal for rotational moulding. This is the process used for hollow objects such as the Duraball and the DuraDisc.
What is Rotational Moulding ?
First, the required weight of Duralon™ (each ball size is different) is placed into the mould which is then closed. While rotated around two rotational axes the mould is first heated to the melting and curing temperature of the plastic. Then it is cooled before opening and the finished duraBall® is removed, then inflated and tested. It is then inspected, vacuum deflated and packed for shipment.
No Phthalates in DuraBalls
The Duraball manufacturer is based in Australia and in line with current research and health guidelines have led the way in Swiss Ball manufacture by eliminating all phthalates from their products.
Evidence Now In
The risks of exposure to various classes of phthalates (plastic softeners used to make PVC soft and elastic) have been recognised for many years. Recently however a fuller understanding has been gained through various international research programs. Studies by the University of Rochester Medical Center and the Mount Sinai Children’s Medical Health Center have shown various links to poor health outcomes as a result of phthalate exposure.
The primary risk is through injestion by chewing plastics directly or by eating food stuffs stored or processed in contact with plastics. However while the risk of exposure via exercise products would appear to be low, users such as children or pregnant women should avoid using products containing phthalates until more research is completed.
The Duraball Manufacturer states that ‘At the time of this publication we are aware of no other swiss or exercise ball manufacturer who does not use phthalates in their products. This is particularly true of Chinese manufactured balls’.
For additional information regarding phthalates you should contact Australia’s leading authorities – the Vinyl Association and the Phthalate Information Association.
Evaluation & Testing
The Duraball manufacturer began their Swiss ball development and testing program in 1996. The University of Newcastle was selected because of its international reputation in materials testing. Testing protocols have been developed which are considered the best in the world for inflatable PVC products.
These Swiss Balls have variously supported static loads well in excess of 4,000 kg with burst-resistance to a load of 500 kg. This does not mean “puncture proof” but protects you from explosive deflation. Burst resistance means Duraballs are designed to take approx 30 secs to deflate if accidentally punctured. They are also tested for deflation under load and durability. Don’t be fooled by Demonstrations showing a ball under a huge load of say 1000 kg without bursting. It will deflect to be very flat. This is exactly what you don’t want when using a ball for exercise. Maintain the roundness under load is what you want. Beware of imitations, there are Balls on the market that look almost exactly like a duraball, with the same colours, look for the Duraball Label.
No Swiss, Therapy or Exercise Ball is 100% safe…
…as it is not possible to test every single ball. By having an ongoing Quality program in place the Duraball manufacturer endeavours to reduce the risk of ball failure. They pre-inflate and inspect every ball made and have achieved exceptionally low numbers of faulty balls. Over the past 5 years they have had a return rate of less than 0.2% – this compares with 10%-15% of some European and Asian balls.
Blog written by Kerry Johnson.
Kerry has over 15 years experience working in the Fitness Industry in the UK and NZ. A fully qualified personal trainer, group fitness and pilates instructor, GRAVITY Master Trainer and NZ Fitness Presenter. Kerry is also experienced in managing gyms as well as holding qualifications in Business and Marketing Studies.