Training on unstable surfaces has become a popular trend in the past few years. Walk into any gym and you will see someone standing on a bosu ball or balance board performing a weighted exercise. Is there any merit to this type of training? Before you consider these kinds of exercises, examine your reasons for wanting to do them. Is it because everyone else seems to be doing them so you think you should, or were you given the exercises by a physiotherapist/personal trainer?
When you perform exercises on unstable surfaces your stabilizing muscles are required to work harder to control the movement. The amount of weight used with this type of training is usually only body weight or light free weights because of the amount of instability. When working with a machine, your body is in a fixed pattern of motion and the weight that you can perform the movement with is much heavier in comparison. This type of exercise uses less stabilizers though and the focus is solely on the prime mover.
There has been quite a bit of research done on this subject and it has been found that training your lower body on an unstable surface does not help to increase your maximum strength and power output. If you are an athlete who relies on explosive power from their legs, you are better off training on a stable surface for those exercises. However, it has been noted that performing upper body exercises on unstable surfaces is more efficient than with the lower body. The upper body is used to adapting to uneven and unstable surfaces all the time as we perform our daily tasks. It is this reason the upper body may actually benefit from unstable surface training.
Another reason you may want to try unstable surface exercises is if you want to increase core stability and improve balance. The TRX, balance boards, bosu and swiss balls are just a few pieces of equipment that could be used for that. You should note the only time you are to try using unstable surface exercises is when your core is strong enough, and when you can perform the same exercise with perfect form on a stable surface. You want to begin with easier exercises first like push ups, inverted rows and core work and over time gradually increase the difficulty.
Who may benefit from this type of training? Seniors may see a fair bit of improvement in their balance from working with this type of equipment. As would people with injuries in a rehab setting. This type of training is an excellent tool used by physiotherapists. You will also find athletes who require a solid core and stability in their upperbody using these techniques and tools to improve in their sport.
The next time you contemplate incorporating these exercises into your routine, keep in mind the importance of using perfect form. Without it, you are settting yourself up for an injury.