Here is another article guest blogged by Karsten Jensen and Steve Millward, who co-wrote Top Five Strength Training Exercises For Sprinters Revisited.
You many remember Karsten wrote The # 1 Lower Body Strength Exercise to Improve Horizontal Acceleration (Part I) and Part 2. (Karsten Jensen, M.Sc. Exercise Physiology is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Visit his website at www.yestostrength.com )
Steven, a Masters sprinter from Toronto, wrote Comparison of Running Speed for Masters Aged 40-65
How To Improve Sprint Speed With The Forward Ball Roll & Prone Jack Knife
Better than the Plank!
“When Karsten first showed me the Swiss Ball forward roll I was barely able to do a single rep. However, after training for a few months I was able to build to 50 fast reps in a single unbroken set. I think it has helped me improve my performance in Masters track.
A younger elite athlete could probably quickly build up to 100 or more reps of the double arm forward ball roll, and should aim to progress to the single arm version performed from the feet (rather than the knees as I demo in the videos!). These are basically a dynamic plank, beautifully simple and effective.” — Steve Millward, M60 Masters Track.
What are the mechanisms through which the Forward Ball Roll and the Prone Jack Knife might improve sprinting ability?
Both the Forward Ball Roll and the Prone Jack Knife might be best understood as
“core stability” exercises
Interestingly, there is not agreement regarding a definition of the anatomical core or the definition of core stability in the scientific literature. (7) The anatomical core can be defined as the axial skeleton and all soft tissues with a proximal attachment to the axial skeleton. (8) Core stability can be defined as
the integration of the passive spinal column, active spinal muscles and the neural control unit which maintains the intervertebral range of motion within safe limits to enable activities to be carried out during daily living. (7)
Related hereto the phrase “proximal stability for distal mobility” (9) is very applicable to highlight the importance of core stability for sprinting for sprinting.”
There is good evidence that core stability training can improve low back pain but very little direct evidence that core stability training can improve high level athletic performance, possibly because lack of specificity of exercises and insufficient loading. (7)
Since athletes some continues to sprint into their eighties, nineties and beyond we find it worth mentioning that there is some evidence that trunk muscle strength is related to balance, functional performance and prevention of falls in older adults. (10)
In conclusion, we believe that the effect of the Forward Ball Roll and Prone Jack Knife on Sprinting ability is that the improved core stability provides a solid base (attachment point) on which the prime movers of the arms and legs can work on. Additionally, with fast arm or leg movement as seen on the accompanying videos these exercises may directly support the development of arm and leg speed.
The Forward Ball Roll and the Prone Jack Knife vs. other core stability exercises
Core training as a whole, including core strength (which is different from core stability), have at least three sub areas that should be periodized in long term plan: (7,8)
- Motor control stability (low threshold training)
- Core strength training (high threshold training)
- Systematic Strength training
The forward ball roll and prone jack knife should be understood as more advanced exercises of the first category. (8)
In addition to the Forward Ball Roll this section discuss the so-called Prone Jack Knife (see below) where the feet are on the ball and the hands are on the floor. Overall, the purpose of both exercises is stated to challenge the abdominal musculature to stabilize the spine against the pull from the hip flexors (during hip extension) and the pull from the latissimus dorsi (during shoulder flexion). (1)
An ongoing topic of research is the efficacy of the use instability in core training: (8)
- (Prone) plank type exercises have been shown to activate superficial abdominal musculature such as the rectus abdominis as well as the internal and external oblique’s. (3)
- Stability Ball exercises, including Forward Ball Roll and an exercise similar to the Prone Jack Knife results in higher activation of various abdominal muscles compared to crunch and bend knee sit-up. (5) Typically, but not always, there is a stronger activation of abdominal muscles when a similar exercise is performed in unstable compared to stable conditions. (8)
- There is no difference in activation of lumbar multifidi exercises between core stability exercises with or without a ball and lumbar paraspinal activity during stability ball exercises – like roll out and prone jack knife – appear to be low in general (5,6)
The contribution of individual muscles to core stability depend on trunk loading direction and magnitude and no single muscle can be said to be the most important muscle for stability. Thus, it is recommended that that exercises involve the entire spinal musculature and it’s corresponding motor control under various spine loading conditions. (5)
Combining the Forward Ball Roll and Prone Jack Knife ensures a more complete activation of the abdominal musculature
- During Forward Ball Roll the activity of the upper rectus abdominis was significantly greater than the activity of the lower rectus abdominis. (2,5)
- During the stability ball Jack Knife Exercise the activity of the lower rectus abdominis was significantly greater than the activity of the upper rectus abdominis. (3)
Single arm Forward Ball Roll requires transversal plane stability and thus very appropriate for sprinting. Single-leg abdominal bridge exercises produce greater muscle activation than the general abdominal bridge exercise. (4)
What is the optimal execution of the Forward Ball Roll and Prone Jack Knife?
Swiss Ball Forward Ball Roll
Purpose: Developing the anti-extension function of the abdominals (stabilizing against the pull of the latissimus dorsi and hip flexors). Torso-hip dissociation and torso-shoulder dissociation
Key points for execution:
- Optimal ball size: Thighs approximately horizontal when you sit on the ball (varies a little with the exercise).
- Forearms on SB.
- 90 degree in hips and 90 degrees in shoulders. Neutral spine. Use dowel rod.
Alternative = hips in neutral (0 degree flexion) if started on the feet.
- Flexing shoulders and extending hips at the same rate for as long as neutral spine can be maintained (inhale).
- Press forearms into ball and pull back (exhale). Squeeze thighs together to increase adductor activation. Maintain neutral spine
Use marker on floor to gauge progress – progressions
- Forward Ball Roll, forearms/knees
- Forward ball Roll, forearms/feet
- Single Arm Forward Ball Roll, forearm/knees
- Single Arm Forward Ball Roll, forearm/feet
Prone Jack Knife
Purpose: Developing the anti-extension function of the abdominals (stabilizing against the pull of the hip flexors). Torso-hip dissociation. Hip flexor strength
Key Points for execution:
- Optimal ball size thighs approximately horizontal when you sit on the ball (varies a little with the exercise)
- Hands on floor. Doral surface/top of feet on SB
- Arms vertical (90 degree in shoulder). Torso horizontal with neutral curves in spine. Hips in neutral.
- Pull knee towards chest for as long as neutral curve can be maintained (exhale)
- Return to start position inhale
- Double Leg Prone Jack Knife SB
- Single Leg Prone Jack Knife SB
How can the Forward Ball Roll and Prone Jack Knife be integrated in the sprint training program?
Core training should be periodized (see above) as a part of an overall long term. With respect to core stability sets may be longer in order to fatigue type 1 muscle fibers of the core musculature. (8) Specifically, sets with duration of 2-5 minutes are recommended. (11)
A longer set can be achieved by combining both movements (a combination exercise (12)) in one big set by performing 30-40 repetitions of each. Once good control has been established a faster tempo as recommended here can be used. Progressive overload is applied by increasing the difficulty of the exercise, using a weighted west or bands attached horizontally to the hands or legs (the last is the preferred method.
- Duncan M. Muscle Activity of the upper and lower rectus abdominis during exercises performed on and off a Swiss Ball. J BodywMovTher. 13(4): 364-7. 2009
- Schoffstall JE, Titcomb DA, Kilbourne BF. Electromyographic response of the abdominal musculature to varying abdominal exercises. J Strength Cond Res. Dec;24(12):3422-6. 2010
- Oliver GD, Stone AJ, Plummer H Electromyographic examination of selected muscle activation during isometric core exercises Clin J Sport Med. Nov;20(6):452-7. 2010
- Escamill RF, Lewis C, Bell D, Bramblet G, Daffron J, Lambert S, Pecson A, Imamura R, Paulos L, Andrews JR. Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball And Traditional Abdominal Exercises. Research Report. jospt.org
- Martuscello JM, Nuzzo JL, Ashley CD, Campbell BI, Orriola JJ, Mayer JM. Systematic Review of Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises. Journal of Strength And Conditioning Researc. 27(6): 1684-1698. 2013
- Hibbs AE, Thompson KG, French D, Wrigley A, Spears I. Optimizing Performance By Improving Core Stability And Core Strength. Sports Med. 38(12):995-1008
- Behm DG, Drinkwater EJ, Willardson JM, Cowley PM. The Use of Instability To Train The Core Musculature. 35:91-99 Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 2010
- Willardson JM. Core Stability Training: Application To Sports Conditioning Programs. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 21(3):979-985. 2007.
- Granacher U, Gollhofer A, Hortobagyi T, Kressig RW, Muehlbauer T. The Importance of Trunk Muscle Strength For Balance, Functional Performance and Fall Prevention in Seniors: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine. 43:627-641.2013
- Jensen K. Appendix 4: Definitions of Training Methods. Periodization Simplified: How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on The Fly. yestostrength.com. 2015
- Jensen K. Exercise Creation http://www.ytsmembersarea.com/exercise-creation-with-combination-exercises.html