The Bosu Blog

I’ve made a lot of comments in the past on Bosu’s and figured it would be a good week to devote a blog to it.  I might possibly put aside opinions that I’m a Bosu Bigot.

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“The more incompetent the trainer, the weirder the exercises.”                                        Charles Poliquin

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: I’ve said it before and I will say it again; I don’t hate the Bosu, it is the silly stuff trainers have their clients do with them that I hate. As with any tool (Bosu,TRX,Kettlebell,Barbell et al) we cannot argue which tools have, or do not have merit until we know who the client is, where they are starting from and what achievement we are trying to unlock.

While not totally without its use, I consider the BOSU (in too many cases) to be ineffective,overused/misused and based on risk vs reward potentially dangerous. There are certainly more effective or efficient ways of training, but it CAN be a tool worth adding into a clients program…generally for a relatively short term and not often in the very beginning of training.

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A Short Bosu History
The BOSU Ball (AKA BOSU Balance Trainer): Was developed in 1999 and is a 14lb inflatable hemisphere with a rigid base. BOSU is short for “Both sides Up, or Both sides utilized.” The BOSU falls under the continuum of Unstable Surface Training (UST) which includes Inflatable discs and Balls, Balance Pads and Beams,Wobble Boards and similar devices that offer various degrees of balance challenge.

WHAT RESEARCH ON UST HAS SHOWN SO FAR….
The BOSU/UST has proven useful for:
Upper Body Prehab/Post Rehab
Upper Body Deloading periods (Strength Trainees)
Ankle injury rehabilitation
Some abdominal exercises

It has been claimed to be useful for….
Active Aging populations/Fall Prevention
Youth Training
Sport Performance
Recovery from Breast Cancer

It has not been proven useful for….
Strength/Power Training (Increasing Absolute Strength or Rate of Force Production) or
conferring any balance benefits to stable surfaces in healthy populations.

Balance training and Strength training are separate things, It is my opinion that strength training can improve balance, but balance training only modestly might improve strength.

Two of my programming guidelines
1-Stable before Unstable.
2-Simple before Sophisticated.

Neither exercise here benefits greatly from the addition of the Bosu.  The Bosu does however make them complicated to perform and increases risk factors.  My personal opinion here is the addition of the Bosu alters the exercise biomechanics in a potentially unfavorable way, and minimally makes each exercise difficult to perform consistently. 

What is often seen is trainers going straight to the Bosu in a well-meaning, but misguided attempt to improve a clients balance. It’s also entirely possible the trainer had no plan in place and saw the Bosu as an “easy time killer.”  In either situation, what possibly hasn’t been considered is that balance is a skill, and skill must be progressed.

In the case of UST, one could progress from standing on objects with greater relative stability first, then moving onto objects with decreased stability as skill improves.

Long before Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san took a trip to the beach…
When I was 12yrs old I was very involved in Karate and competed frequently. I had just learned a new Kata (a pre-arranged form) which involved numerous movements that pivoted, contracted and high kicked from single legged positions.

Despite my young age I was fully aware that my instructor was keen on making sure students KNEW and OWNED their techniques. What I didn’t know was that my instructor never put me through anything that he knew I wasn’t prepared to do. He made sure that I was progressed to a point where the movement was a possibility for me.

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No, I didn’t grow hair or magically change my race.  The gentleman shows great form here.  From this position  a head height side kick and 180 degree turns must be performed. It’s an advanced form typically taught above Black Belt level.

“It is one thing to be quite strong, and quite another thing to display it.”
                   Louie Simmons

Athletically speaking I was able to apply the same movements under live sparring conditions (I had, and greatly enjoyed kicking people in the head.) This meant I had the technical skill, flexibility,mobility, timing and distancing down. I had difficulty in competently controlling the moves from a static posture.

Remember,I was 12 and I hadn’t yet visited my first gym. All weight training up to this point was some basic bodyweight, rock lifting,Sears Dumbbells and pig iron (an unknown, and uneven amount of weight fashioned into a crude barbell)

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One Saturday I was watching Kung-Fu theater of TV (Loved that show!) and there was a Kung Fu master making his student practice his balance on various challenging but stable objects throughout the movie. As the student improved the masters balancing challenges increased.

I was inspired.

When the movie ended to the backyard I went and began practicing balancing on whatever surfaces would hold my weight. I started with cinder blocks and progressed to smooth rocks, stumps, rails of various widths and even along the top of a wall. Within a short time I got the point where I could walk along edges of rather thin rails,stand on one foot performing very similar motions to my Kata.  Mind you, as soon as balance work was done for the session I was re-trying the movements again, being as exact as I could while standing on the floor and training local leg muscles with some ankle weights.

Two weeks later I had no problems with balance in the Kata, and even used it in competition as a primary or secondary choice. I didn’t become much faster, stronger or  gain flexibility, but I did improve my ability to stand and execute complex movements on one leg. That was my entire need at the time and my amateur hour training transferred to a very specific need.

FAST FORWARD to 2017….                                                                                                                 Training done on unstable objects isn’t useful for developing the type of balance, proprioception or strength that’s generally useful in sports, unless the sport itself is also performed on unstable surfaces. Even then, it has its limitations.

What my amateur-hour efforts did was demonstrate the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) and Transfer of Training to Sport.

SAID Principle: This principle basically states that the body will best improve and adapt by a closely related and specific mechanisms. The body does far better at focusing on a type of training for one goal in mind rather than multiple types with every goal in mind.

Transfer of Training to Sport: (Also known as the Transfer Principle) means training in practice conditions that best prepare athletes for sport competition. This involves matching training activities to energy demands (strength,endurance) of a sport but also developing the techniques and skills to produce the best outcomes.

Q&A                                                                                                                                                              “What about the Bosu as a core training device?”
For those thinking that BOSU training activates the “core” in standing exercises, observe an untrained person struggling to balance on one. You’ll see the legs and feet straining, not the core muscles. That said, there are abdominal exercises performed sitting on the BOSU that seem to activate the muscles quite well and the risk of injury of injury is very low.

“What about this Risk vs.Reward?”
Accidents have happened when trainers have caused serious injuries by putting clients on the BOSU with flat side up. You could be held responsible if an injury happened on your watch because there is a very faint warning on the ball stating they don’t recommend using the device flat side up.

If I thought of that, don’t you think a sharp lawyer would have thought of it too?

“But it improves balance right?, haven’t you heard of proprioception?”
Actually I have heard of proprioception. Proprioception is the sensory information that provides a sense of position of self and movement. Your bodies position in space is perceived at the conscious level to do complex motor activity, and at the unconscious level to set posture during sitting, standing and simple gait activities.

Center of gravity isn’t something that can be trained. It’s a concept used in physics, not a physical things. Balance and proprioception can be trained though, but they should be trained in a manner that’s useful. Which means that it’s the individual, or perhaps an object lifted that is the unstable object, rather than the surface they’re standing on.

As stated previously UST can be effective n the context of physiotherapy. It’s either being used for rehabilitation, or to address issues that have developed due to aging and there is research and anecdotal evidence supporting this use. This doesn’t mean that unstable surface training can be extrapolated as being beneficial to healthy individuals.

If the client has a lower limb injury their proprioception might be off a bit. In this case UST serves a purpose, but not straight to the BOSU (too difficult), and not something I would need to do for very long either. The goal would be to return them to a functional baseline and improve performance as they are not commonly standing on wobbly surfaces throughout the day.Based on available evidence there is no transfer of training between UST to real world stable surface applications.

So yes, it will improve your balance and righting reflexes …on unstable things.

From Science and Practice of Strength Training (2nd Ed. Zatsiorsky,Kraemer) “Strength is a MAJOR component of balance and you’ll get much stronger via stable surfaces as compared with unstable. Neuromuscular control can be improved with stable surface training.

The equation: Stability=strength+neuromuscular control.

Improved balance is a byproduct which can be done with stable surface training.

Which begs the question, how was balance trained before 1999? (or before Chris reenacted Kung Fu theater in his neighborhood) Off the top of my head…Balance Beams,Unilateral Exercises,Split Stance Exercises,Yoga (especially for a beginner) and walking (which requires a lot of balance.)

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The Suitcase carry is a legit exercise that challenges balance. In this case, it seems it would make single leg balancing slightly easier despite being on the Bosu.  I’m not doubting the guys ability to recover from a loss of posture while holding a load, but I can’t say the same for a post-rehab client, nor would I risk it.  I believe greater benefit would be to ditch the Bosu and walk around with the load on stable surfaces.

Carrying, Squatting, Lifting or Pressing a load with only one hand, or with one hand and the opposite foot lifted on a stable surface certainly challenges ones balance and can confer more benefits. It’s also easily quantified and repeatable. I’m decently athletic and I don’t think any two Bosu based movements I would do would be very alike.

The standard squat certainly is balance challenge, and it could be regressed enough that it is achievable by nearly all client populations.  Not just the ones that work for Cirque De Soleil.

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