“Both Sides” of the Story

If you’ve been to the Warehouse you’ve seen this piece of equipment.  If you’ve been in a gym worth half its monthly fee, you’ve seen this piece of equipment.  It’s called the BOSU ball.  BOSU stands for Both Sides Up, because that’s just what it is.  Whoever invented this ball basically cut an air-filled ball in half and put on a solid bottom.  It’s a great tool, but there are still some misconceptions about it.

When somebody tells me they’ve got good news and bad news, I always ask for the bad news first.  For me, I just don’t like to focus on the negative side of things.  I like the take-away to be positive.  So I will do the same here.  There are both good and bad things about the BOSU ball, and I want to explain a few of them here.  FYI, Jon’s favorite piece of gym equipment is the BOSU ball, so please understand that I am walking on thin ice with this first part, so it will be brief.

One of the worst things about the BOSU ball really has nothing to do with the ball itself.  It’s more the misconception that a majority of people – trainers included – have about the ball.  I have heard the phrase “stability training” associated with the BOSU Ball hundreds of times.  This is all fine and dandy, except for the fact that whoever says this is completely wrong.  Stability is, in layman’s terms, your body’s ability to resist and respond to changes in displacement.  This is constantly changing, as we are always moving.  Balance, on the other hand, is our body’s ability to maintain equilibrium.  Balance is a skill, whereas stability is more of a state.

The problem here is that while most people refer to stability when working on a BOSU ball, they are in fact working on balance.  Furthermore, since balance is a skill, it is also skill-specific, just like anything else.  You want to get better and shooting a basketball, you work on shooting a basketball.  You want to get better and balancing on a BOSU ball, you stand on a BOSU ball.  That’s great.  The downside??  Balancing on a BOSU ball isn’t going to increase your balance on anything other than a BOSU ball.  That isn’t a knock on the ball itself, it’s simply how your body works.

Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it???  On to the benefits.  BOSU ball provides individuals with an unstable platform in which to exercise.  Now, don’t get ahead of yourself.  Yes, I said unstable.  Don’t let that fool you into thinking I’m contradicting myself.  Unstable and stability don’t necessarily have to coincide here.  So, back to this unstable surface.  If you have ever done an exercise on solid ground and then done the same thing on the BOSU ball, you’ll notice it’s much more difficult on the ball.  That’s what the ball is for.  Now, what happens within the body??  This uneven, unstable surface cause you to recruit more muscle fibers than you would normally recruit.  Even better is that most of these muscles recruited are DIFFERENT than what you would normally recruit.  So not only is your muscle recruitment generally larger using the ball, but it is different, allowing you to train muscles you wouldn’t normally train.

I won’t go as far as to say that BOSU training is more efficient than training on solid ground or using a stable surface.  It is simply different.  Within the fitness world, different it always GOOD, but not always BETTER or WORSE.  Think about this for a second to help explain it… How many hours of the day do you spend walking on an uneven surface???  If you’re a lifeguard on a beach, sure, the majority of the day.  For most people, however, the day is spent on solid ground.  Does that mean the BOSU ball is pointless for us???  Of course not.  Like I said, it is simply different.  Recruiting more muscle fibers is great.  But that balance that you’re working on while on the ball is only going to come in handy when you’re on the ball.  The main benefit of the ball is the recruitment of muscle fibers that aren’t normally used.  So, next time you’re on the ball… You’re not working on stability.  You’re recruiting muscle fibers in a different way than you normally would, which will add great variety not only to your weight training, but your results, as well.

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