“It’s a stability ball for dummies.”
“No-one ever got strong on a BOSU.”
“It’s only good for skaters and surfers.”
All of these are statements I’ve heard over the years. What they all have in common is that they’re all wrong.
When I was first introduced to the BOSU around 2003, I’d already been coaching for around 10 years. Most of my exercise prescription for clients was based around the standard blend of weights and cardio. My own exercise though, was pretty varied, including cycling, tennis, MMA, climbing and weights.
I remember coming out of my first BOSU workshop at a FitPro convention, feeling inspired and surprised in equal measure. I’d had an exercise experience that was completely new to me. I immediately changed two of my subsequent sessions to BOSU. At the end of the convention, when I returned to my gym, I proceeded to talk the ears off anyone who would listen about how great the BOSU was. Fast forward almost 20 years and whilst I’m certainly more sensitive to the interests of others, I still think it’s one of the biggest game changing pieces of fitness equipment ever invented.
But, in workshops, seminars, courses and even internships, I’ve rarely come across any piece of kit more misunderstood. Not only that, but by some of the brightest and smartest minds in the industry. It’s even been so bad, that at one point I stopped using it for almost a year, because I was convinced that if Coach X said it was rubbish, and he’s one of the best strength coaches in the world, the error in understanding must be mine.
Within a year though, I’d noticed that my clients weren’t making the same level of progress or getting the same results. In that time, the only significant change to my coaching was dropping BOSU, so, I reintroduced it. Sure enough, within a few months, clients were back on track.
So, what did I learn?
Firstly, most people misunderstand (or misrepresent) what the BOSU provides, does or can be used for. One of the most common criticisms I hear is “No-one ever got strong training on a BOSU”. The problem with this statement is that it’s assuming that there’s only one measure of strength and that it relates to the amount of weight lifted. And that dear readers, just ain’t true.
If you’ve ever attended one of my lectures on any subject, you’ll likely have heard some version of “I don’t care how powerful the engine in your car is. If your brakes fail over 60, then 59 is your top speed”
And if you ignore that....
Training appropriately with the BOSU allows you to produce, direct and control force more efficiently in certain situations. Knowing what appropriate means and what those situations are, is what separates the educated coach from the ill-informed.
Secondly, people talk about how training on an unstable surface makes an exercise harder, because more muscles are firing, or the stabilisers are more active. It’s one of the reasons people started doing squats on stability balls. The problem was that a lot of people fell off stability balls. Interestingly enough, if you attend a BOSU education course, despite mentioning that as part of the BOSU’s origin, we never cite that as a rationale for including it in programs.
Because it’s mis-leading garbage.
Whilst that may have been some part of the understanding 20 years ago, science and research have clarified some of the early misconceptions and deepened our understanding of the biomechanics.
Using the BOSU properly is as much, if not more, of a training tool for your nervous system, as it is for your muscles. You’ll feel the latter, sure, but the magic or special sauce is in the former.
Now, as an important caveat, as much as I love the BOSU and all the advantages it offers, you can get many of the benefits via other means. Not only that, but not all of the benefits are important to all people. So please don’t think I’m naïve enough to believe that the BOSU is our key to world peace.
The challenge is that getting those same benefits elsewhere isn’t as well researched, evidenced or systematised. Not only that, but dissecting and then applying the science takes a lot more work.
Lastly, because people don’t understand what the BOSU does, they don’t progress exercises appropriately to maximise its unique benefits. Sure, the exercises get harder or more complex, but to what end?
If you train general population clients, and let’s be honest, they’re most trainers bread and butter, they likely have 3 main goals, feel better, look better and move better. The first two can be achieved through almost any sensible exercise and nutrition programme. The last, being more multi-faceted (mobility, flexibility, balance, co-ordination, agility, etc), requires a more strategic approach.
I find it telling, that in all the time I’ve used the BOSU, even when I’ve trained powerlifters, I almost never add weight to any exercise I do on it. If I do, it’s always a light weight, because it’s not about the weight, it’s about what the body does in response to the weight. Moving better is a lot about how the central nervous system processes the information it receives. That’s what the BOSU is great for.
So, if you’ve never done a BOSU course, book yourself on the Next Generation Balance Training course (trade secret: it’s not just about balance in the way you’d think). Likewise, if it’s been a few years since you did your last course, have a look at the revised and updated education. In addition to a heap of new information relating to the science of skill acquisition and development, there’s a brand-new programming system to make life even easier. Visit https://www.bosu.com/find-a-course for more information and to secure your space.