Whether you’ve attempted to train your ‘core’ or perform some simple rehab exercises, chances are you’ve used a Swiss Ball at some point in your training career.
So where did the Swiss Ball come from? What was it’s purpose and how did they become so popular?
Swiss Ball Origins
Remarkably given its popular name, the Swiss Ball is actually an Italian creation. In the early 1960s, Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer created what he termed the ‘Pezzi Ball’, a large inflatable ball whose sole purpose was to aid in gymnastic exercise.
Unbeknownst to Cosani at the time, his ‘Pezzi Ball’ would have much wider applications than gymnastics. Within a decade of his creation, Cosani’s invention was being used by physical therapists across Europe for a range of different applications from cerebral palsy to spinal injuries. Particularly influential in the growth of the Swiss Ball during this period were English physical therapists Dr. Elseth Kong and Mary Quentin who, inspired by the Bobath method of stroke/neuro-developmental rehabilitation, developed pediatric neurological rehab programs using ‘Pezzi’ Balls.
Dr. Kong and Quentin’s popularisation inspired others to use the ‘Pezzi Ball’, including Dr. Susan Klein-Vogelbach, a Swiss Physical Therapist concerned primarily with postural re-education and back rehabilitation. It is most likely Dr. Klein-Vogelbach to whom we owe the modern practice of using Swiss Balls for a variety of rehabilitation techniques.
Okay okay okay…But how did the ‘Pezzi’ Ball become the Swiss Ball?
Well we have the Americans to thank for that. Following two decades of application in Europe, it was time for the ‘Pezzi’ Ball to make its way to the United States of America. In the 1980s, a number of American physical therapists visited Europe, specifically Switzerland, in the hope of examining and learning European methods of rehabilitation. Among the vast number of approaches used, those using the ‘Pezzi Ball’ caught the eye of a number of the travelling physical therapists. So impressed were these physical therapists that they brought the ‘Pezzi Ball’ back to the United States to use in their practices. In honour of their journey, they renamed the ‘Pezzi’ Ball the Swiss Ball.
So how did the Swiss Ball become so popular?
As is so often the case, people like to share their discoveries. When the Swiss Ball first came to America in the 1980s, physical therapists weren’t shy about showing off their latest toy. By the early 1990s, the Swiss Ball had entered the fitness industry and was soon being promoted in athletic circles, TV informercials and fitness magazines. This coincided with an increased focus on core stability and postural alignment in both the United States and Western Europe that began in the 1990s and still exists, albeit in a lesser way, to this day.
So next time you see someone attempting to perform barbell squats on a Swiss Ball, know they are honouring a lineage dating back to a 1960s Italian plastics factory.
Whether or not such exercises are useful is another story!