Chest Exercise: Press up onto the Swiss Ball (Fit Ball)

What is it for?

Like any press up exercise this one is primarily for the chest muscles (pectorails major – .) focusing on the lower portion of the muscle. It also works the triceps and your core muscles (the stomach, back and hip joints – .). So why use the ball? We use the ball to add uncertainty and balance to the exercise. This makes the press up exercise far harder and involves more muscles. It works your chest and triceps more by being that more difficult. It works your core far harder than a standard press up due to the 360 degree movement from the ball. Finally it works your shoulders which are recruited as stabilisers against the ball’s desire to move away from you.

…and only for the experienced

As the ball is always wanting to move away from you in all directions you have to use all your usual press up muscles and your shoulder muscles, not only to complete the movement but to control the movement of the ball. A very hard exercise and perhaps one for the experienced exerciser only.

This exercise is not easy and it is very important that you do it with perfect technique as injury is just around the corner if you go into it too casually.


The equipment you will need is: a Swiss Ball (aka fit ball and exercise ball – .), a pump to make sure your ball is completely inflated and a non slip floor so that the ball can roll but it cannot slip from underneath you. As an option I would advise a mirror to check your technique and a training partner to help stop the ball from rolling away from you and causing you an injury.

Pump your ball so that it doesn’t give under your bodyweight. We want it inflated as much as possible so that its bottom doesn’t go flat under your body weight which makes it too easy for you as it won’t roll about as much. Also if the ball is slightly deflated it will put a lot of pressure on your wrists; with a fully inflated ball the pressure on your wrists will be far less.


To get into the start position you need to stand with the ball in front of you. Get your hands about shoulder width apart on the ball with your palms facing slightly inwards, as though you are trying to hold the ball rather than rest on the ball and have your fingers pointing down towards the ground.

Now get down on your knees (still holding the ball – .) and move backwards and up to get yourself into the press-up position making sure that your arms are vertical, straight and your chest is directly in line above your hands. Your body should be straight (use a mirror to check this – .) from your shoulders to your feet. You should be on your toes which should be the only part of your body in contact with the ground. You are now in the start position.

In this start position you are probably feeling a little unbalanced and this is where it is good to have a training partner at the ball end to stop any large movements. They should have their hands on the ball and allow small fluctuations of movement but anything more than a few centimetres should be stopped by placing their hands firmly on the ball.

Now for the movement; it should be slow and controlled which means no dropping down onto the ball and using the inevitable bounce to help you get back up. The downward movement should be slow and controlled, quickly adjusting for any ball movement. Allow your elbows to move slightly out to the side and behind your shoulder line. When your chest comes into contact with ball it is not a sign to rest on the fit ball, there should just be the smallest of contacts before you push yourself back up to the start position in an equally slow and controlled manner. Where, of course, you have completed one repetition.

If at any stage you feel like you are losing control and the fit ball is about to roll away, drop to your knees and take your weight away from the ball, this will help prevent any unnecessary injuries.

Breathing is going to be very difficult during this exercise especially if exercising with a fit ball is new to you. However it is very important that you do breathe, apart from the obvious benefit of keeping you alive, it helps to keep the mind calm and alert and the muscles fed with oxygenated blood which will help you complete more repetitions before fatigue hits you. So breathe in on the way down and out on the way up.

It is also going to be difficult to keep your body straight, to help you achieve this it is important to activate your transverse abdominals. To do this you need to suck your stomach in and up and hold it throughout the movement. This will help give you added core strength.


Personal Trainer Malta a press up onto a swiss ball fit ball exercise ball showing the start and finish positions

The Do’s

Make sure the fit ball is fully inflated
Use a non-slip floor
Get a friend to help you
Grip the ball with your hands facing down and shoulder width apart
Get down on your knees and step back into the start position
Position your chest vertically above your hands
Keep your body completely straight
Slow movement both down and up
Drop to your knees if you lose control
Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up
The Don’ts

Don’t play around on the fit ball you can really injure yourself
Don’t even attempt this if you cannot complete at least 50 normal press ups
Don’t just drop down onto the ball
Don’t rest on the ball at the lowest point
Don’t hold your breath
Don’t use a deflated ball
Don’t attempt this on your own
In Your Program

Press-ups on the fit ball are a great exercise to add to any program whether you are trying to lose weight or trying to gain muscle mass. You can have it as a regular addition to your workout or use it as a strength test. Whether you are using it just as an exercise, or as a strength test, I would always recommend that you complete as many repetitions as you can in a row with perfect technique and in a slow and controlled manner. As soon as the technique drops then you must stop. Then you can rest and try another set or leave it at that and try to beat it next time.

In most exercises there is a guide line to show you how many repetitions and sets to complete for different goals, but you also have the ability to change the resistance. With press-ups you can’t easily or safely change the resistance and so this is why I personally feel that the “press up till you have to stop” method is the best for this exercise.

This is a very intense exercise where you will need all your strength and control, so for that reason I would always have it near the start of your workout.

And a Warning

This is a very hard exercise and should only be attempted by people who have good upper body strength and can complete at least 50 normal press ups with perfect technique. If you are carrying an injury of any kind or have weak shoulders or upper body joints do not attempt this exercise. Similarly if you have high blood pressure or heart issues do not attempt this exercise. Last, but not least, make sure you are safe. Have a floor mat to land on if you fall, where possible always drop to your knees and take the weight off and away from the ball as quickly as you can.