There seems to be two extremes in the current fitness world when it comes to training on unstable surfaces, either it is a horrible idea, or you should use it for just about everything. I have never understood this, because as with many other parts of training, it is a something that can have incredible results when used in moderation/
The BOSU ball is a fitness device which was invented in 1999 by David Weck. It is a versatile fitness device which stands for “Both Sides Up” or, “Both Sides Utilized.” The device consists of an inflated rubber hemisphere that is attached to a rigid platform, and generally the most common use of the BOSU ball is for balance training. When the dome side of the ball faces up, the ball provides an unstable surface while the device still remains stable. If the other side is up, the device itself becomes unstable, but you have a stable platform to work on.
It is the combination of stable and unstable conditions that permits a wide range of users which ranges from the elderly, young athletes, injured athletes and even the elite level athlete. When the dome side is up, it can be used for aerobic activities and athletic drills, it can be flipped over to provide an unstable platform that can be used for other forms of exercise.
You can enhance a large number of workouts by incorporating the use of a BOSU ball because it requires you to engage more stabilizing muscles in order to control your body. This will train your body in a unique way providing you with benefits that you would not normally be able to find on a stable surface.
Benefits of using a BOSU Ball
The BOSU Ball has actually been scientifically proven to improve your stabilizing muscles, as well as your ability to recruit muscles to work for you. During a one-week proprioception training program for older adults that included work on the BOSU ball, it was discovered that the ball helped to improve static and dynamic balance and postural stability; resulting in the reduction of the risk of falling.
The BOSU ball is also very useful for rehabilitation of many injuries, and improving general pain issues caused by a lack of muscle activation.
The results from a survey that was conducted in 2013 which measured electromyographic activity and muscle force output in men doing squats on several unstable surfaces, (which includes the BOSU ball) concluded that increasing the instability of any surface during maximum effort isometric squats will help maintain muscle activity of the lower limb and also the superficial trunk muscles.
This is also an important time to note that although muscle activity is increased, force output was clearly decreased. This, therefore, suggests that unstable surfaces in the squat may actually be beneficial in rehabilitation considering the fact that similar muscle activity can be achieved with reduced loads. If training for raw strength or power, the BOSU ball is not going to do it alone. A combination of training protocols is necessary, but the BOSU ball can be effective and helpful.
BOSU Ball is Effective for Flexibility Training
One of the advantages of the BOSU ball is that just like a stability ball, the BOSU trainer’s rounded top when placed side up provides great support for back and abdominal stretches. Drape yourself over the BOSU trainer’s soft dome facing up and then relax to feel the stretch.
It is also possible for you to place the BOSU trainer dome side down and make use of it as a slant board which can be used to stretch your calves. Performing squatting motions on this side of the ball along with a general calve stretch can help train ankle flexibility, as the natural movement of the BOSU ball will work with your ankles to loosen them over time.
How NOT to Use a BOSU Ball
The BOSU ball can be used for different training styles, as it is effective for improving balance and also flexibility. In order to use the BOSU ball for balance training, you can start by placing the domed side of the ball facing down. While standing on the platform, you will be compelled to engage your stabilizing muscles more than if you were on a stable surface. You can start by simply maintaining your balance while standing, on either two or one feet.
For now, this may be all that you can manage to do.
As you continue to build balance through the BOSU ball in unique ways, it is important to remember that this is not your “one stop shop” for all of your exercises to create some sort of “super” workout. Too much work on the BOSU ball can actually impair your stability and muscle recruitment on flat ground. Along with this, overtime your ability to produce power on a stable ground will also decrease.
The BOSU ball can be incredibly effective as a tool for warming up, or training certain balance mechanisms in your body. Do not over-rely on it however, because there are certainly several drawbacks to this.
BOSU Exercise Samples
These exercises range from beginner to advanced level, but can all be used on the BOSU ball for different levels of athlete.
Burpee- In order to perform a basic burpee, take a squat position and place your hands on the domed side of the BOSU ball. Step back one leg at a time, and then step back in one leg at a time. It is the most “beginner” level of burpee. Simply go from a standing position holding the BOSU, to a push-up position, then back up.
In order to perform an intermediate burpee, a hop is involved. Again, start from a standing position holding the BOSU. Jump your feet straight back in to a pushup position, stabilizing yourself on the BOSU as you go down. You can jump both feet back in and then jump up with your BOSU overhead to finish.
In order to do the advanced version, simply add a pushup at the bottom of the Burpee position.
All three of these movements utilize the BOSU to improve shoulder and chest stability, working nearly every muscle of your upper body. The more advanced of a movement you are able to do, the more caloric expenditure it will cause. Burpees can absolutely rip through fat, quick!
Squat- I have always been a fan of BOSU ball squats, especially for a warm-up before heavy squats. I feel that this is a form of “rhythmic stabilization,” which activates my muscles and lower body joints. This has also been something that has helped with chronic knee tendonitis over the years as well.
I would ever suggest attempting to perform barbell squats on the BOSU, but a goblet squat can be a nice advancement to squatting only with your body weight. Either way, don’t perform these squats looking to add any serious amount of mass. Do them knowing that they are purely for lower body health, and should be done in absolute moderation.
Mountain Climber- For beginners, start from a regular pushup position with your hands gripping the flat side of the BOSU ball, then bring your right knee forward towards your right elbow. Then switch legs, bringing your left knee toward your elbow that is one rep.
For intermediate level, repeat the same as the beginner’s exercise but with a cross-over so that your right knee goes towards your left elbow, and then your left knee towards your right elbow. While performing an advanced exercise, switch feet with a small “hopping” motion, instead of being more slow and controlled.
BOSU Ball Push-up- Switch the ball around to enable the hemisphere to be on the ground while the flat platform faces up. While having your wrist underneath your shoulders, position your hands on the outside rim of the platform in a push-up/plank position.
Proceed to spread your feet 12 inches apart in order to give yourself more stability and also make the exercise much easier. Engage your core and gradually lower your body down to the BOSU ball in order to allow your chest to touch it, then you can drive back up to the starting position.
BOSU ball pushups are excellent for those people who (like me) have nagging shoulder issues. I have consistently found that the BOSU ball push is easier for my shoulders than any weighted pressing motion, and works to improve stability greatly. It is difficult for me to find a wide range of upper body movements that suit my shoulders, and the BOSU ball certainly helps with this!
Plank- Planks on the BOSU ball can be done either traditionally or on your side. A traditional plank is easier to me and the side plank is certainly where the real money is. Place the BOSU ball down with the flat side on the ground then place one forearm on the ball and then extend your feet out so that you are lying on your side. Tighten your core and then lift up into a side bridge/plank. A nice advancement to this eve is to pulse up and down at the top or you can also hold statically for 30 seconds or more to feel the burn.
Single-Leg Deadlift- Note: do not feel the need to try this with any large amount of weight. Similar to the squat, single leg deadlifts on the BOSU ball can have a great effect as a warm-up or a stabilizing exercise. Performing the single-leg deadlift on the rounded side of the ball will be more difficult for your stability, while performing them on the flat side will be challenging for stability, but allow you to add some amount of weight easier.
Either way, I am a definitely a fan of (moderately) using these for overall leg stability, especially when rehabilitating a lower body injury.
About 96% of trainers offer balance training as a session option, based on a survey that was conducted by IDEA Health and Fitness Association in 2008. These professionals help their clients to coordinate muscles and nerves to balance on the type of unstable platform that you can possibly encounter in life. A BOSU ball occupies less space than a stability ball and due to the fact that it has a flat surface on one side, there are more options for more levels of athlete than most other devices.
The BOSU ball fits almost all comprehensive fitness routines that you could find, in one way or another.
Understanding the benefit of using the BOSU ball for various exercises, as well as how not to use it; can provide significant help in your ability to accomplish your fitness goals. Always remember to ask a doctor before you try anything you feel uncomfortable with! Be safe with your training, and use these techniques to help you achieve your dream body!