Sunday Sweat Talk {Unstable Surface Training}

A couple of months ago, I splurged and bought myself a bosu ball. It was definitely an impromptu decision after training on them all day at my MMA Fighter Fit certification, but I learned a lot of new moves using the bosu that weekend. It was also on sale. Like super duper sale. My at home fitness equipment collection was starting to get boring, so a bosu seemed like a good solution to add some variety.

MMA Fighter Fit - Bosu & AirFit

Despite my purchase, I have mixed feelings about using the bosu as a workout tool. If the bosu is used correctly and creatively, it can be a fun piece of equipment to shake things up in a workout routine. However, I know many fitness professionals out there who will argue that unstable surface training is not all that cracked up as everyone makes it out to be.

Here are some reasons for this:

  • You can’t use nearly as much weight while training on an unsteady surface. I know that I can lift much more when both feet are standing on steady ground than when I’m wobbling around on a bosu. And lifting heavy equals results. You think there’s any chance of me deadlifting over 100 pounds while standing on a bosu? No way.
  • Quality of form often gets compromised, which can lead to injury. This kind of goes hand in hand with the first reason because it’s when trying to use too much weight on the bosu that you often see form go right out the window. But even just bodyweight exercises can lead to bad form. Buckling knees on bodyweight squats, arched backs or butts in the air during pushups and planks, etc. are very common things to see in your everyday exerciser who doesn’t know any better while using a bosu.
  • Core strength can be obtained in better ways. Using a bosu DOES challenge the core, but it’s not the end all be all to core strength training like many inexperienced people claim it is. I know that when I am holding a heavy barbell on my back in a back squat, I am using a LOT of core strength to be able to get through my full range of motion.

Weighted Barbell Squat

When I do train with the bosu, I really don’t use it much as a tool to stand on like many people do (and how I used to do myself). I know I’ve posted a couple of workouts on F&F before that include exercises standing on the bosu, but my views have simply changed over time and with more experience. Whenever I stand on the bosu now, it’s either 1) for rehabilitation or balance work, such as building the strength back up in my weak ankle after spraining it in January, or 2) for cardio, power, or explosive types of exercises that don’t focus on using weights.

For the latter, I love coming up with creative exercises that fit these categories. I like to pick the bosu up and LIFT it as part of my workouts by doing burpees with bosu halos and bosu sprawls. I like to punch the crap out of it for upper body work. I like to do core work on the bosu, but again, I prefer moves such as walking planks and oblique hip dips instead of awkwardly wobbling on one leg while curling 5 pound weights in each arm. How boring is that? When teaching, I like to use the bosu in stations classes to introduce members to these different types of exercises.

Stations Workout

I guess the point I’m trying to make in this post is to just be careful if you are doing unstable surface training. Save the weights for a different workout so you can lift heavier and safely. If you can’t yet do a regular pushup with good form and DEPTH without dropping to your knees, don’t do them on the bosu just because it seems like you’ll get more results that way. Use the bosu to work on balance, or try to think of ways to lift and hit the bosu instead.

Maybe I’ll do a post soon on some of my favorite creative bosu exercises. Just not today because I’m recovering from Katrina’s bachelorette party last night, and nobody wants to see me try to do anything that requires an unstable surface today.

–Let’s chat–
Do you incorporate unstable surface training into your workouts? Do you ever exercise using a bosu ball? What’s your favorite way to use them? After reading this post, do you think about some of the “traditional” standing bosu exercises in a different light? Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you!

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14 thoughts on “Sunday Sweat Talk {Unstable Surface Training}

  1. I like to incorporate balance work and often do it using my BOSU. For me, I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older (you know I’m technically “middle-aged”) my balance needs constant work.
    I also like to use my BOSU for explosive moves so I’m sort of a mix with it!

    • Hi Kim, I agree with you that the BOSU is a great tool for balance work, but I am not a fan of trying to use heavy weights for the balance work on it! I always enjoy seeing what moves you are coming up with, so if you have any explosive favorites with the BOSU let me know!

  2. I think it’s important to work on balance but there are many other ways to besides the bosu. I don’t incorporate it often unless it is used in a workout class. I do like doing pushups on them though!

  3. I do scorpians with the BOSU at the gym. I typically do it for a minute, rest, then do it for another minute. I do find that my heart starts to beat fast! I don’t know what else to do with the BOSU besides the ab exercise though…

  4. With my patients, I use the BOSU a good amount for rehab exercises and retraining stability… but that’s about it. I’m definitely in the camp that discourages use of the BOSU for every day gym goers — and you are absolutely right that you can lift so much more and work your core just as well (if not better) by training on a stable surface. To each his own, I guess, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for a gym client. It’s definitely a topic that’s debated a lot in the fitness industry, so glad to see you bring it up here!

    • Thanks, Steph! The BOSU played a big role in getting my ankle back to normal. And like I said, I love it for certain core moves (mostly horizontal ones) and plyo type stuff. I just hate seeing people standing on it so much while trying to lift heavy!

  5. I think if you are using it either as a professional or with someone who is a professional it has some great uses. I enjoy it but it does have limits. I like Burpees with them and squats. I don’t love the hyperextension stuff as for me it always screams injury. But some for some things I’m ok with it. I want to invest in one but the $$ always makes it hard for me to say yes too!

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  7. I am a big lover of the BOSU, and also guilty of using it in classes with weights doing exactly what you described (standing on it while doing curls or shoulder presses or squats, etc.), but I do understand what you mean. It can be unsafe, as anything I think, really, if used or done incorrectly. I think if you’re trying to increase your strength and lift heavier, obviously you need to be doing old fashioned lifting on a stable surface. But, if you’re looking for just over all fitness perks, I think using the BOSU for cardio and core and even some body weight exercises (I love air squats on the BOSU) is a great thing!

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