Training for the Circus

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If I never see a BOSU ball again, I would die a happy man. Unless you’re training to be part of the circus, I really feel that this foo-foo piece of equipment has no place in a healthy individual’s training program.

Bosu Ball

I hear a lot of personal trainers tout that using a BOSU ball is great for “functional training.” The phrase functional training has gotten a bit skewed as of late, and I think that people have forgotten what the true definition is in the first place. To me, functional training entails anything that improves a REAL LIFE quality or function. Examples: squatting down to pick something up off the floor, walking up stairs. Standing with one leg on a BOSU ball while doing overhead presses or arm curls does not constitute “functional” in my opinion.

Conversely, it DOES constitute being a complete waste of time. (Side Note: there is some research which shows that unstable surface training is beneficial for people coming off of severe ankle sprains, but like I alluded to above, for HEALTHY individuals, it’s just not worth it).

Trust me, your time can be better spent sticking to the basics if you want to lose fat or get stronger in the gym. Squats, deadlifts, various lunges, bench presses, chin-ups, rows, etc. These are the staples. If someone can’t even do a regular squat with correct form on a stable surface (the floor), why would I want to put them on an unstable surface (BOSU ball)? It doesn’t make sense to me. All they will be doing is promoting a faulty motor pattern which could possibly predispose them to injury down the road.

By training on an unstable surface (again, such as a BOSU ball) you’re shooting yourself in the foot in a few ways.

1. You will burn less calories. You won’t be able to use nearly as much weight on a BOSU ball as you would on a stable surface performing the same exercise. Burning calories (and hence, fat) is all about progressive resistance/overload (stressing the body). BOSU balls are inferior in this regard.

2. You will actually make yourself weaker. Gaining strength (and yes, strength is a good thing and should be a goal for everyone) is all about force production (ie: being able to transfer force from the ground up). By training on an unstable surface, you’re really limiting the amount of force you can generate in any given exercise. For athletes, this is crucial.

3. Core Strength? Please don’t be THAT person who claims that unstable surface training is great for training the core. Whatever. I can have someone do a one-armed step up or just squat with a bar on their back and they will be training their core just as much.

I could go on and on, but I’m hungry and need to go eat.

In the end, I just don’t think BOSU balls are worth it. Again, if you’re training for the circus they’re great! However, I feel that people would be much better served steering clear of them in the long run.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Marpay Fitness

    Do you mean to say, that I shouldn't be attempting things like this?---> (Not a bosu, but still a bozo teaching it)

    September 3, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul Bruce

    Hey Tony, I like your comments about core strength. I've very recently started to question the validity of exercises in which the lower extremities are on an unstable surface, like a BOSU or SWISS ball. I think Eric Cressey mentioned it in an article on BOSU balls: the upper extremities commonly encounter instability, but the lower extremities do not. Exercises with the arms on a BOSU or SWISS ball may have a good carryover to athletics and provide transferable core strength. I know you like the stir-the-pot exercise, and rollout/fallout/Pallof press variations, in which the implement (whether the SWISS ball, the straps, or the cable handle) is at least relatively unstable. Do you think, in core training, putting the feet on an unstable surface is useless? I know some trainers suggest doing planks or push-ups with the feet on a SWISS ball, but do you think this is unnecessary? Your mentioning the offset step-ups as "core training" I think speaks volumes - the instability is in the arms as a single, free weight is controlled, but the only instability in the legs is created by single-leg stance, which is commonly seen in athletic movements.

    February 22, 2015 at 3:24 pm | Reply to this comment

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