Do Planks and Swiss Balls Increase Core Strength in Soccer Players?

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Do Planks and Swiss Balls Increase Core Strength in Soccer Players?

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The integration of unstable elements in core strength training could provide an extra stimulus for strength promotion in soccer players resulting in superior performance enhancements compared with core strength training under stable conditions.

Planking and the use of Swiss balls for instability training is the new rage for core training.  Planking is a simple but effective bodyweight exercise in which you hold your body stiff in certain positions to develop strength primarily in the core.  Improving core strength means improving posture, balance, and stability. Proponents also cite increased calorie burn as a benefit of maintaining your balance throughout the day. When using the same absolute load (e.g., body weight) during core-strengthening exercises, trunk muscle activity increased under unstable [e.g., Swiss ball, BOSU (i.e., both sides up) ball] as compared with stable surface conditions. Thus, the integration of unstable elements in core strength training could provide an extra stimulus for strength promotion in soccer players resulting in superior performance enhancements compared with core strength training under stable conditions.  Researchers went into the study suspecting that training on a unstable Swiss ball would increase core strength.

A new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports compared stable versus unstable trunk training in high level, teen-aged soccer players. Thirty-nine male soccer players were split into a stable training group (i.e floor and bench) and an unstable group (e.g., Thera-Band® Stability Trainer, Togu© Swiss ball). Over a 9 week period, athletes performed between 2-3 core training sessions per week in addition to participating in routine soccer practices. Core training involved various planks (bilateral and unilateral), trunk extension and flexion movements and various derivatives of each. The only difference between the groups was that the unstable group performed the exercises on an instability device such as a Swiss Ball . Before and after the training program, performance markers (speed, agility, kicking speed and counter-movement jump) were evaluated.

Progression during 9 weeks of core strength training

Phase Week Exercises and used unstable surface*
Week-1-2
• Static prone plank with forearms on Airex® Balance Pad
• Static shoulder bridge with heels on Togu© Power Ball
• Dynamic side bridge with forearm on Airex® Balance Pad
• Crunches with lower back on Togu© Power Ball and feet on a bench
• Dynamic back extensions with pelvis and ribs on Togu© Power Ball and feet fixed at the wall
Week 3–5
• Static single arm plank with forearm on Airex® Balance Pad and one arm reached out parallel to the floor
• Static shoulder bridge with vertical arm reach and heels on Togu© Power Ball
• Dynamic side bridge with forearm on Airex® Balance Pad and 1 arm reached out vertically
• Loaded crunches with added weight plate, lower back on Togu© Power Ball and feet on a bench
• Loaded dynamic back extensions with added weight plate, pelvis, and ribs on Togu© Power Ball and feet fixed at the wall
Week 6–7
• Static body saw with forearm on Thera-Band® Stability Trainer and contralateral arm and ipsilateral leg reached out
parallel to the floor
• Static single leg shoulder bridge with heel on Togu© Power Ball and one leg reached out
• Dynamic side bridge with forearm on Thera-Band® Stability Trainer and lower leg lifted
• Loaded crunches with soccer ball in hands reached out over head, lower back on Togu© Power Ball and feet on a bench
• Loaded dynamic back extensions with soccer ball in hands reached out over head, pelvis and ribs on Togu© Power Ball
and feet fixed at the wall
Week 8–9
• Dynamic body saw with forearm on Thera-Band® Stability Trainer and contralateral arm and ipsilateral leg swinging
parallel to the floor
• Static single leg shoulder bridge with heel on Togu© Power Ball and ipsilateral arm and contralateral leg reached out
• Dynamic side bridge with forearm on Thera-Band® Stability Trainer, with vertical arm reach and lower leg lifted
• Loaded crunches with soccer ball in hands reached out over head, lower back on Togu© Power Ball and 1 feet on a
bench
• Loaded dynamic back extensions with soccer ball in hands reached out over head, pelvis, and ribs on Togu© Power Ball
and one foot fixed at the wall

shutterstock_141479434At the end of the study, results essentially showed no significant differences in performance markers between the stable and unstable core training groups. Therefore, core training, despite whether performed on a stable or unstable surface, appears to be effective in improving trunk strength, sprint and kicking performance in highly training young soccer players. The use of unstable surface training can be used to add variety to a soccer players exercise routine.  In practice, it would be logical to use unstable surfaces as a progression. Master the movements in stable environments first, then introduce perturbations to stability with various implements.

Prieske, O., Muehlbauer, T., Borde, R., Gube, M., Bruhn, S., Behm, D. G., & Granacher, U. (2015). Neuromuscular and athletic performance following core strength training in elite youth soccer: Role of instability. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Ahead of print.