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Two Balls, One Goal: Use a BOSU or Ball for Stability Training

By James Parker

How many times has the weakness of a body part hindered your progress towards your ultimate goal? With the typical bodybuilder routines available through magazines and internet, we are focused almost exclusively on the major muscle groups, taking for granted that the smaller muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue will come along for the ride. Granted, for the general populace, this is fine and is typically enough to attain the goals of fat loss and muscle gain while giving those guys enough work. For fighters, however, or for those that wish to consider themselves such, a little more is necessary. Balance and stability exercise can work for fat loss, but are also typically used as a proven way to increase strength to lagging body parts as well as bring about total body fitness with out impact. Today we will be focusing on major body movement using minimalist equipment (namely the Swiss/Fit or Stability Ball and the Bosu balance board/half dome) to work all the smaller muscles and ligaments, while also giving the major muscle groups a beating. I'm going to take you through a warm-up and a series of exercises that I'll then put together into a workout.

Warm-up:
As I have stated in previous articles, always warm up thoroughly to prevent injury. I know you keep reading the same thing from me… but it’s that important, guys! Start with a minimum of five minutes on a cardio machine of your choice, some light bag work, or your particular martial arts repertoire of forms (10 minutes is my preferred time, but it’s understood that many of you are busy folk). After this warm-up, start to move your upper body joints through small ranges of motion. Circular motion works well as long as you have the room and you won’t accidentally smack another gym member. Move your shoulders, elbows, wrist and neck in clockwise and counter clockwise small circles. When you are done with that, take another minute to rotate your torso, hips, and ankles through the same type of circular motions.

This brings us to the exercises themselves. I've put together a group of stability and Bosu exercises designed to work your entire body—lower, upper and core. You can use these exercises however you like, either on a one-by-one basis or to form an entire workout. First I'll describe the exercises so you can try them out, then I'll offer a suggested schedule for how to put them together into a complete workout.

STABILITY BALL EXERCISES
Stability Ball Full Body Roll-out (Beginner Version)
The roll-outs work every part of your body from the obvious shoulders/chest/arms, to your core stabilizing muscles, as well as your quadriceps and glutes. I’ve used this deceptively simple exercise to trick trouble clients into getting a workout with out them being fully aware of just how much they would have to struggle. If you have the option to pick a size for your Fit ball (like at the gym, where they should various sizes to accommodate), find one that gives you the least stability. If you don’t have an option on the size and dimensions, not to worry, any Fit ball will work well enough for what you need. Beginner position is to start with your stomach on the ball, but eventually your goal is to begin by kneeling on the ball. From this position you will roll forward in controlled fashion until the entirety of your body is being supported by your chest, shoulders, and triceps in a push up/extended plank position. The trick to making this a balance exercise, is to then try and place your feet so that only the toes are making contact with the ball (heels pointed up towards the ceiling), then hold for the count of five seconds. Once you’ve mastered this application, you then want to step down from the ball and begin again going the opposite direction. Eventually, this first exercise routine will be to perform as many roll-outs as you can in a minute, for three to four sets. You want to perform this exercise in a quick as possible pace, while still being controlled so you don’t fall.
Stability Ball Full Body Roll-out Variations
After performing up to four sets of one-minute roll-outs, try a couple of variations. The first variation is the hardest, but works as a good upper body workout. In the final position of the roll-out, with only your toes on the ball, do a set of ten push-ups. For the really nasty, you can add double dips to your push-ups. In other words, perform a partial rep, followed by a full rep, ten times. If you lose your balance and your feet leave the ball, you have to start all over from beginning position. Yeah…ouch! The next variation is the knee crunch. From the start position, you roll out to the point where you would then try to place your feet toes down, but instead, leave your instep (the top of the foot) and lower shin on the ball. With your weight balanced in your upper body, bring your knees towards your chest. Again the idea is to perform sets of ten. Make sure you keep your abdominal muscles as tight as you can throughout the exercise, otherwise you’re just giving your hips an unneeded workout and missing the point. The very nasty can attempt to add oblique twists to this variation by aiming both knees towards the left and then right elbows every second and third rep, respectively.
Stability Ball Hamstrings
To develop a complete leg workout, you want to make sure your hamstrings are stimulated in addition to your quads (which we will work using the Bosu). Start by lying on your back, placing the heels of your feet on the stability ball. Begin the exercise by placing your hands on the ground next to your torso to support your weight. Then with legs extended, raise your hips off the ground. Keeping your torso off the ground, curl your heels towards your glutes. To make this exercise more challenging, start to remove the stability of your arms and focus more on your core muscles to hold yourself in place. First lift the hands from the ground, keeping contact through your upper arms. Next you can place your hands behind your head, keeping your weight distributed through your upper back, shoulder blades, and upper arms.
Stability Ball Core
There is research to suggest that performing core and abdominal exercises at the end of your routine allows the core to remain strong through the stresses your workout places on it. Since your core is and should be active through any exercise routine you do, saving abs work until the end means you don’t accidentally weaken essential muscles before they are needed. The stability ball is my favorite apparatus for both the lower abs, as well as the upper region, and my favorite exercises are the super-setting of Thai-ups with standard ball crunches. Start by placing your lower back on the ball in a standard sit up position. Place your hands palms together in front of your forehead and eyes (hence the reason this is called Thai-ups—Swa de kap!). Extend backwards to full stretch position, keeping your abs tight, and push towards the ceiling to contract. This portion works your lower abs predominately, using them for stability and to move your upper torso upwards through this plane of motion. After doing as many of the Thai-ups as you can, go immediately with no break, to ball crunches. Start in the same position as the Thai-ups, but bring your elbows towards your knees this time. Make sure to keep your abs tight throughout the range of motion. If you slack off at all, you will only be flexing your spine and not giving your core the work it needs. Just don’t forget to breathe!
Now let's add the famous (or infamous) Bosu half dome to your routine. The Bosu is an apparatus designed to remove stability from various exercises and positions, using either side of the ball. Bosu literally means “both sides up”. One side is a blue half dome, reminiscent of a Fit ball cut in half, and the other side is a flat, black platform. For the purposes of this routine, I like to keep the blue side down.
BOSU EXERCISES
Bosu Push-Up
For the upper body (activated at the end of your Roll-outs), start in push-up position then place your hands on the platform or grab the sides. Do as many push-ups as you can while maintaining your balance. From this same push-up position, you can also place your hands on the ground and your toes on the Bosu, taking away the stability your legs provide. Another variation, and the more advanced option, is to place your feet on the stability ball and hands on the platform of the Bosu.
Bosu Squat
Squats are arguably the best leg exercise known. It is even considered the best full body exercise available by many fitness professionals. Try balance squats on the Bosu, blue dome side down. To begin, place the Bosu near a wall or a support structure, to assist you in getting on the platform. With one hand on your support, place the opposite foot on the edge of the Bosu like you would a skate board. Then with your weight supported in your hand, place your other foot on the opposite outer edge of the Bosu and allow the Bosu platform to even out. This alone can be challenging enough to be an exercise, but once you’ve conquered this aspect the next step is to attempt a full squat while balanced on the platform. Start with just your body weight until you can achieve twenty reps, at that point you can start to carefully load this exercise with dumbbells or even a barbell while inside a squat rack. To finish your legs, you want to make sure your hamstrings are stimulated. Start by lying on your back, placing the heels of your feet on the Fit ball. Begin the exercise by placing your hands on the ground next to your torso to support your weight. Then with legs extended, raise your hips off the ground. Keeping your torso off the ground, curl your heels towards your glutes. To make this exercise more challenging, start to remove the stability of your arms and focus more on your core muscles to hold yourself in place. First lift the hands from the ground, keeping contact through your upper arms. Next you can place your hands behind your head, keeping your weight distributed through your upper back, shoulder blades, and upper arms.
Now that you know the exercises, you can incorporate them into your regular workouts however you like. But I envision a complete workout composed entirely of stability exercises. If you're up for the challenge, here is how I would put that together:
STABILITY TRAINING WORKOUT
Exercise Muscle Group(s) Sets Notes
Roll-outs Chest, shoulders, arms and back 2 - 4 Focus on balance, keeping your wrists steady, weight in your upper body, and toes contacting the top of the ball.
Bosu Push-up Chest, shoulders, arms and back 2 Do not over-shoot the range of motion, going only as a far as to stretch position and before lock out.
Bosu Squat Quads, hamstrings, calves and core 2 Focus on your balance and staying relaxed through the range of motion. Like in a yoga balance position, focus your sight on a fixed target in front of you.
Stability Ball Leg Curl Hamstrings 2 Play with your balance at the beginning of this exercise to see what position hits you the hardest.
Thai-ups with Ball Crunches Core 3 Remember to follow your hands towards the ceiling keeping your hands on your forehead. No rest between exercises.
Variations All As desired Add variations when you feel you have mastered the above forms. They can either be added onto the routine or can replace the original exercise they are a variant of.
Wrapping Up
There are plenty of areas on our bodies frequently ignored, that need minor to major tune-ups. These areas can be worked in a secondary fashion by training with compound (full body or major muscle group) exercises, but can typically be missed in routines dominated by machines. Adding in a day of functional balance and stability training, or even adding one of these exercises to one of your regular routines, could raise the bar on how well your body continues its growth. Remember that when working the balance and functional aspects of exercise, pay special attention to avoid injury and over-training. Smaller muscles notoriously need less work to achieve the same results that more sets would get on larger muscle groups and balance work, if done carelessly, can cause injury instead of improvement. Like I said in my other articles, and especially when working with stability apparatus, please be safe and leave your ego at the door to the gym. Know and be honest enough with yourself to recognize your limits. Anything less and you not only risk derailing your continued success, but your health as well. Train hard, be safe, whup a whole lotta ass.

About James Parker: James Parker is a certified personal trainer, mixed martial artist, mma conditioning coach, and freelance writer in Los Angeles, California.