The Truth About Stability Ball Training and Other Gizmos
I’ve seen some pretty crazy things done in the gym. I once saw a guy attempt a push up with his feet on a friend’s shoulders and his hands on a set of dip bars (don’t ask because I have no idea what he was trying to achieve). I also saw a poor soul fall off a BOSU ball because her trainer instructed her to try a one legged squat on the ball while holding a medicine ball over her head. Right. I hope she pulled an Apprentice and promptly fired her trainer. For me, this is evidence enough that unstable surface training is a gimmick without any actual training effect. Let me explain.
Your feet are meant to be connected to the ground. That’s how you produce force. If the BOSU ball helped make you stronger, than I’m sure some crackshot would have came along and designed a BOSU shoe for our feet. But no one has and rightfully so. Trainers that use the BOSU ball do so because they’ve run out of tricks and are unsure of how to make you stronger, leaner, or both. In the general public’s eye, the more confusing an exercise is, the more benefits it should have. So trainers throw you up on the BOSU ball to make you think that you’re actually doing something. Sure, your knees shake and it’s hard to maintain balance, but this comes at a cost: you have to lower the weight. In the end you’re sacrificing the weight you lift – which lessens the workout’s effect on your metabolism and strength – to try and do a balancing act. Not money well spent in my opinion.
Before you ask, the BOSU ball is not an efficient core workout. In one study, researchers found no additional benefit in muscle activation when performing a shoulder press on a bench or on a stability ball (1). In another study, researchers compared a lunge and a deadlift to a whole host of exercises performed on unstable surfaces. Researchers found that the best exercises for activating the muscles of the core were the deadlift and lunge (2). Lastly, an investigation found that the squat and deadlift were superior to BOSU and stability ball exercises for training the core (3). The researchers found that the heavier the weight, the more the abdominals and lower back had to work. If you want a great looking midsection, stick with whole body movements.
Once in a great while, I use a stability ball with clients. This is usually done with stretches or activation exercises. However, when it comes to getting in shape, always follow the KISS principle. Save the gimmicks for the infomercials.
1. Uribe, B.P., Coburn, J.W., Brown, L.E., et al. “Muscle Activation When Performing the Chest Press and Shoulder Press on a Stable Bench vs a Swiss Ball.” (2010) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24.4, 1028-1033
2. Colado, J.C., Pablos, C., Chulvi-Medrano, I., et al. “The Progression of Paraspinal Muscle Recruitment Intensity in Localized and Global Strength Training Exercises is Not Based on Instability Alone.”(2011) Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.92:11, 1875-1883
3. Nuzzo, J.L., McCaulley, G.O., Cormie, P., et al. “Trunk Muscle Activity During Stability Ball and Free Weight Exercises.” (2008) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.22.1, 95-102