I’m going to assume everyone knows what a BOSU is? You know the half ball you see people using in the gym? They will do as much of their workout based on this device at the exclusion of regular ground based training. By ground based I mean one or both of the feet are in contact with stable ground. Well unless you are rehabilitating a sprained ankle it appears lower body unstable surface training (UST) may be impractical for your workouts. Here’s why.
In our training we usually start with setting a proper postural foundation from which to initiate movement. At the feet, we strive to find and maintain that neutral position between pronation and supination or rolled in and rolled out. This is a challenge for most people to set this position when standing on two feet and is very difficult on one foot. As the foot deviates from neutral we notice changes at the knee, hip, back, shoulders and throughout the rest of the body. If a neutral foot is that hard to maintain on stable ground we don’t necessarily want to jump on an unstable surface to start for a number of reasons.
First on all the body is designed for stability at the ground. Our bodies function best with stable footing. When we use UST we cause the feet to over-pronate, we see a loss of force production and an impaired plyometric effect. Athlete or not, nobody wants this. Athletes constantly crave more power and many of the falls experienced by the elderly are related to a deficit in power production.
Secondly, if our goal is increased lean mass we want to handle as much load as possible. We won’t develop the same type of physique or calorie burning furnace from pressing 5 pound dumbbells overhead while standing on a balance toy as you will from pressing an Olympic bar overhead while standing on stable ground.
Lastly, we want to lessen the chance of injury, followed by enhanced performance in that order. As we move from stable to UST we increase the chance of a fall which may outweigh the benefits that may come from this type of training.
So am I saying there is no place for UST? Not necessarily but if your goal is to be the best athlete you can and to minimize the potential for injury then UST may not be your best bet. UST can be very effective in a rehab setting as well as for upper body joints and exercises such as the use of a Bodyblade or push-ups on the ball.
Keep these points in mind the next time someone demonstrates a circus movement on an unstable surface at the gym. Then smile knowingly to yourself as you head to do some stable ground barbell squats.