Wing, Cary H. Ed.D., FACSM
INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY
Cut a stability ball in half and what do you have? The BOSU® ball. Look around any health club today and you see BOSU balls used by members and fitness professionals as a training modality to enhance an exercise program; in particular, functional fitness and balance training.
David Weck, a personal trainer, invented the BOSU Balance Trainer. The ball debuted in 2000 and became a popular fitness training product. Originally, the name “BOSU” was an acronym for “Both Sides Up.” It meant that the BOSU Balance Trainer could be used on either side: the dome or the platform (1). According to the BOSU Web site, “BOSU training is about expanding movement capabilities, reshaping bodies, and strengthening minds. It’s about inserting thought into movement. It’s about asking our clients, fitness students, and athletes to be physically involved but also to be present and fully engaged in the training process.”
The fitness professional uses the BOSU ball primarily for functional fitness, with an emphasis on balance training and core training. “There are many things you can do with it [the ball] such as assembling a combination of moves that work together. Basically, it’s like a chef cooking with lots of ingredients thrown in. You have to experiment to create new things,” says Weck (4).
PHYSIOLOGY AND FUNCTIONAL TRAINING
The strategies necessary to help a client achieve optimal balance requires strengthening both sides of the body at the same time. According to Pete McCall, M.S., an exercise physiologist, “When David Weck developed the BOSU Balance Trainer, he created a tool that is well suited for enhancing coordination by improving symmetrical strength in the human body. Asymmetry occurs when one side of the body is stronger than the other. Using the BOSU Balance Trainer can help the weaker side improve and catch up with the stronger side (3).” The structure and function of the human body dictate the basics of BOSU training. Two principal objectives are the balancing of the left and right sides (control of center through symmetrical rotation) and the timing efficiency during the down/up movement. Improving these two fundamental capabilities fortifies the foundation for enhanced performance in all movements.
Weck explains how the human body is designed to move and function most efficiently (4). “Alternating bilateral coordination of both sides of the body is the common thread in crawling, walking, and running (fundamental to humanity). The hips, legs, and feet work opposite the shoulders, arms, and hands, in a balanced equal and opposite relationship. The BOSU ball helps improve this right/left balance in both the body and in the brain.”
Functional training is a classification of exercise that involves training a person to perform activities of daily living (ADLs). This could be a marathon runner, a committed daily exerciser, or a homemaker lifting or carrying children all day — all wanting to perform these activities without risk of injury. Functional training attempts to adapt or develop exercises that allow individuals to perform the ADLs easily and without injuries (2).
Functional fitness is a popular buzzword in the field of exercise. Functional fitness or training, however, has its origins in rehabilitation. Physical therapists developed exercises that mimicked what patients did at home or work for them to return to their lives or jobs after an injury or surgery. Thus, if a patient’s job required repeated heavy lifting, the rehabilitation, or work-hardening protocol progressively worked towards achieving this goal.
Standard resistance training machines are of limited use for functional training because their fixed patterns rarely mimic natural movements and the machines generally focus the effort on a single muscle group rather than engage the stabilizers and peripheral muscles. Functional fitness focuses on building a body capable of doing real-life activities in real-life positions, not just lifting a certain amount of weight in a set posture created by the machine. Hence, using tools such as the BOSU ball can provide a specific training option for functional fitness and enhance a client’s exercise program.
There are several components of an effective functional exercise program. See the Table for elements to include and that can be adapted to an individual’s needs or goals (5). Include these components when developing a BOSU training program for a client.
The basic BOSU tools for functional training are the BOSU Balance Trainer and the BOSU Ballast Ball. Choose the equipment that best fits the needs of your clients. A variety of accessories are available for each ball.
The BOSU ball Web site, as well as the American Council on Exercise Web site (3) and others, offers exercises to incorporate into a client’s training program. Options for the fitness professional include “The Workout of the Week”; video playlists; and exercises specifically tailored to general fitness, therapy/rehabilitation, youth, and older adults.
Candace Moose, ACSM Certified Personal TrainerSM and ACSM Certified Cancer Exercise TrainerSM, has been using the BOSU ball for more than 7 years as an instructor at the Atlantic Coast Athletic Club in Richmond, VA. “Because the BOSU ball is an unstable surface, it’s the perfect piece of equipment to use in a workout as it requires an individual to engage core muscles to maintain balance, which in turn increases the intensity of the exercise. Strong core muscles are beneficial at every fitness level and improve performance in daily activities.”
BOSU Balance Trainer Safety Considerations
As with any piece of fitness equipment, using the BOSU Balance Trainer has its risks. Because the BOSU ball is a wobbly platform, there is the risk of falling off. This is often the case when a person attempts to stand on the platform (flat part) of the BOSU because they ignored the “standing on the platform is not recommended” warning. As always, the fitness professional should maintain a controlled and safe environment and remove all items from the training area that clients could trip on, hit their head on, or fall on.
TRAINING AND CERTIFICATIONS
BOSU offers specialty certifications and continuing education workshops throughout the country. As an example, a BOSU certification course was offered at ACSM’s Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition entitled “BOSU Complete Workout System — Specialty Certification (8-hour Pre-Con Workshop).” In addition, master trainers are available to organize BOSU courses for fitness professionals in a health club setting. Visit the BOSU Web site to learn more.
Helen Vanderburg, a BOSU Workshop leader and 2005 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, says, “The BOSU Complete Workout System certification is designed to provide group instructors and personal trainers a solid foundation to utilize the BOSU Balance Trainer in fitness programs. The certification gives trainers the knowledge of the science behind functional balance training in relationship to the BOSU, as well as teaching skills to accommodate all levels of fitness with new tools and ideas for designing endless BOSU workouts that are effective and fun.”
FUTURE DIRECTIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Going forward, there are many opportunities for fitness professionals to incorporate the BOSU ball into a client’s training program, especially among the active aging population and patients in rehabilitation, as well as the general population and athletes. With the aging population, the BOSU ball has the ability to provide functional fitness training, with particular emphasis on balance issues. Balance is a fundamental aspect to activities of daily living, performance, fall prevention, and independence in seniors. Using the ball for rehabilitation purposes after injury or surgery — in any population — also can be an effective application of the equipment. And, as Moose notes, “I utilize both sides of the BOSU for strength, cardio, and agility drills with athletes for a total body workout. For many of my clients, the BOSU is an excellent tool for balance exercises, requiring them to use more muscle to stabilize their body, which is increasingly important as we get older.”
Lawrence Biscontini, M.A., a mindful movement specialist and BOSU development team member with the Active Aging program, says, “The BOSU Balance Trainer improves overall function of life because life is unstable and unpredictable, and so is the BOSU Balance Trainer. Furthermore, the ankles (and other contact points) have to learn to stabilize independently, not together, just like in life. We only stand on the BOSU Balance Trainer for 10 minutes but incorporate it in over 2 hours of other games.”
Each client is unique, with unique functional needs that, you, the fitness professional, must assess and address when designing a fitness program. Keep in mind the BOSU ball’s capabilities, as well as its limitations, and use the ball as a tool to train clients appropriately. Always remember that central to the design of any fitness program for your client is the principle of specificity, where the fitness professional matches the exercise regimen to an individual’s needs, abilities, and goals. In other words, develop a safe, relevant, and effective exercise session for each client regardless of the tools you incorporate into the workout.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND SMARTPHONE RESOURCES
Smart phone applications for the BOSU ball are available through the iTunes App Store and the Android Market. Connect on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/The.Official.BOSU.Fan.Page and Twitter @bosufitness.
Copyright © 2014 by American College of Sports Medicine.