As athletes, we know we should follow a balanced workout program, but as humans, we tend to do what we like and avoid what we don’t. Along those lines, balance and stability training probably take a back seat to metcons and strength training for most of you. However, you could ultimately benefit by regularly practicing these training protocols.
The first thing to know is that stability and balance are different beasts. “Stability is the ability to control your body position from head to toe through movement, and balance is the ability to maintain your center of gravity over your base of support,” explains Douglas Brooks, MS, exercise physiologist and director of programming for Hedstrom Fitness and BOSU. For example, static leg-split squats challenge your balance, while walking lunges challenge your stability.
While it’s somewhat obvious how this kind of training can improve athletic performance, stability/balance work also can better your physique. “The physique aspect comes into play as it relates to caloric expenditure and muscular strength,” Brooks explains. The instability of a BOSU or stability ball requires more effort from both the primary and secondary muscles, boosting overall calorie burn and building muscle synergy.
Here are some additional advantages of training on an unstable surface:
Improving Athletic Performance
“The key is functional training, which really comes down to balance, stability, mobility and integrated whole-body training,” Brooks says. He recommends using exercises that will improve your performance over time. However, he warns against programming moves that replicate actions in your specific sport. “The goal is not to mimic an already complex skill,” Brooks says. Instead, choose moves that train the same musculature you need for your sport. For instance, to improve your golf swing, work on core stabilization with weighted core tucks or BOSU crunches.
“You may not know what your physical weaknesses are, but working on an unstable surface can help you discover them,” Brooks says. For example, if you notice it’s easier to stand on one leg as compared to the other, you can work on developing more symmetry using single-leg dominant movements. Make sure, however, that you integrate unstable surface training gradually and allow your body to adapt so you strengthen the weakness rather than inadvertently progressing to an overuse injury.
Building Head-to-Toe Strength
Over time, performing weight-training moves on an unstable surface can enable you to lift more weight. “Any time you improve stability, you improve the likelihood of better performance across the spectrum of athletic goals,” Brooks says. For instance, performing a dumbbell press on a stability ball trains your pectorals as well as the smaller, stabilizing muscles in your shoulders and upper back, ultimately increasing strength for future performance on any surface. While you don’t want or need to do all your exercises on an unstable surface, you can use this protocol as a pre-exhaustion or finishing technique, or to change things up from one workout to the next.
There is no doubt that balance and stability training extend your life span. “The studies supporting this are numerous and conclusive,” Brooks says. In addition, this kind of work can help athletes lengthen their careers by preventing or helping overcome injury. However, like anything, don’t overdo it. “Create workouts by consciously scheduling in balance, mobility and stability work to complement the foundation of your sport,” Brooks suggests.
The BOSU Bonus
Many stability and balance exercises can be performed on the new Nexgen BOSU ball. This BOSU revamp provides four easy-to-distinguish quadrants that allow you to precisely determine your body positioning, cueing you for cardio, agility, strength, core training and balance. The added texture and markings allow for better grip with your hands and feet, allowing you to take your workouts to the next level regardless of your age, fitness level or performance goals. The Nexgen BOSU ball is made from latex-free, burst-resistant material — supporting up to 350 pounds! — and comes with a one-year limited warranty.