WORKOUTS

BOSU for Big Boys: Half the Ball Twice the Workout

By Mike Donavanik CPT, PES

If you belong to a health club or private personal training studio, chances are you have seen the funny blue half-balls on a flat black base. These are called BOSU balls, and they’ve quickly become a favorite of personal trainers and group exercise instructors alike for their ability to train strength and stability in the supporting and superficial muscles. BOSU is an acronym for Both Sides Up, referring to the ball’s versatility—put it ball-side up or ball-side down for an amazing variety of stability exercises. Learn why you must incorporate the BOSU into your workout regimen below, and then get a great full-body workout to teach you the ins and outs of the BOSU, including video exercise demos to show you how.

Stability
Stability is the key to the BOSU. Even though the ball’s rounded surface presents a host of balance challenges to the user, it does so against the opposite stable surface. In short, it’s challenging but safe. In fact, the BOSU was invented to provide exactly this perfect mix. This excellent piece of equipment was created by David Weck, who, trying to advance his balance training on the stability ball, quickly found that the risks outweighed the rewards and invented a safer solution. Prototypes of the BOSU were introduced in the fall of 1999 to select groups of professional sport and Olympic teams. Since then, word and usage has spread and, well, the rest is history.

Versatility
Because it is safe but challenging, the BOSU is almost endlessly versatile, and can adapt to both beginner and advanced workout regimens. It is safer than trying more daring moves on a stability ball. It improves your balance, coordination, and stability. You can flip it over so that it is ball-side down to change up your workout and make the same movement far more challenging, building core strength and stability in your supporting and superficial muscles. Best of all, the BOSU can be added to almost any exercise to change from a muscle-specific to a full-body workout.

The RealJock BOSU Workout
Ready to give the BOSU a test drive? Below you'll find a full-body workout that will challenge your core, legs, arms, chest, and shoulders, plus the many small muscles that support and stabilize them. With the BOSU, the mental challenge equals the physical—you'll need to focus on proper form and execution while balancing at the same time. The basic BOSU workout, in other words, is already a tough go. Still, for the guy greedy for pain there are many progressions that can be done on the BOSU. For example, many of the exercises below can be done on either the face-up or bottoms-up ball. For the more difficult version, put the ball upside-down on those exercises. You can also try simple modifications, such as changing your stance or closing your eyes to add a balance challenge. How intense you make the workout is up to you. Before progressing just make sure you are confident with your basic level.

Use this workout to get to know the BOSU ball and its versatility. Once you have mastered these moves, you can incorporate some or all of them into your regular workout regimen. Note that this program uses supersets; if you are unfamiliar with the concept, read What Are Supersets?
BOSU EXERCISE VIDEO DEMOS
Workout: BOSU Balance Trainer
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
S Push-up on BOSU Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Core N/A 3 20 N/A
S Plank on BOSU Shoulders, Core N/A 3 60 seconds 30 seconds
Dumbbell Squats on BOSU Quadriceps, Glutes, Core N/A 3 20 N/A
S Dumbbell Bicep Curls on BOSU Biceps, Core Medium 3 12 N/A
S Side Planks on BOSU Core, Obliques, Shoulders N/A 3 30 seconds each side 30 seconds
Alternate Prisoner Lunges onto BOSU Legs, Abdominals Light-Medium 3 20 each side 30 seconds
S Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows on BOSU Back, Biceps, Legs, Core Medium 3 12 N/A
S Crunches on BOSU Core N/A 3 20 30 seconds
Pop-Overs on BOSU Legs N/A 3 60 seconds 60 seconds
S Shoulder Press on BOSU Shoulders, Core Light-Medium 3 12 N/A
S Full Plank on BOSU with Knee Kicks Obliques, Shoulders, Core N/A 3 20 each side 30 seconds
EXERCISE DESCRIPTIONS IN BRIEF
Exercise Overview
Push-up on BOSU Begin by turning the BOSU bottoms-up, so that the round part of the BOSU is on the ground and the flat base of the BOSU is facing upwards. Get into plank or push-up position with your hands on the base, which should now be facing upwards. Your hands should be placed on the lower half of the base to avoid tipping forward when performing the exercise. Your back should be flat and your hips in line with your spine. Tighten your core and stabilize your shoulders as you lower yourself down, remaining flat through your back and hips as you bring your chest toward the ball. Keeping your core tight, push back up, making sure the ball stays as steady as possible.
Plank on BOSU This exercise can be done with the BOSU in its regular position or bottoms-up. Get into plank or push-up position by placing your elbows underneath your shoulders, with your forearms flat on the ball. Keep your back straight, and core tight. Be sure to keep your hips flat: don’t let them droop down or pike up. Hold the position.
Dumbbell Squats on BOSU This exercise can be done with the BOSU in its regular position or bottoms-up. Make sure you stand up on the ball and gain your coordination and sense of balance before beginning the movement. Stand with your feet slightly closer than hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms hanging straight down at your sides. Start descending into the squat position, keeping your core tight, and legs steady, and allowing your arms to remain perpendicular to the floor. Go as low as you are able to while maintaining proper form and posture: keep your chest lifted as your hips sit back behind you. As you come up out of your squat, keep your abs drawn in and your legs as steady as possible. For a more difficult version, bring the dumbbells to shoulder level and hold them there as you do your squat.
Dumbbell Bicep Curls on BOSU This exercise can be done with the BOSU in its regular position or bottoms-up. Begin by holding both dumbbells in your hand and standing up on the ball. Keeping your abs drawn in and core tight, begin to do bicep curls, bending your elbows to bring the dumbbells up (you may do both arms at once, or alternate). Avoid using momentum by keeping the motion at a slow and steady pace.
Side Planks on BOSU Keep the BOSU in its regular face-up position. Lie down on the ball on your right side, with the ball under your right shoulder. Place your right elbow directly under the right shoulder for support, with the forearm pointing forward. Draw your lower abdomen inward toward your spine. While maintaining the drawing-in maneuver, lift your body up onto the forearm and hold. After holding for the desired amount of time, slowly lower your body down and repeat on the opposite side.
Alternate Prisoner Lunges onto BOSU Keep the BOSU in its regular position. Make sure there is enough space between yourself and the BOSU to allow you to comfortably step forward into a lunge that lands on the ball. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lunge onto the BOSU with one foot. Stabilize yourself by engaging your supporting muscles in your legs along with your core and lower yourself into a full lunge, dropping the back knee toward the floor without letting the front knee come ahead of the front toes. From the bottom of your lunge, stabilize with your back leg and push off through the heel of your front foot. Alternate sides throughout the set.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows on BOSU This exercise can be done with the BOSU in either its regular position or bottoms-up. Step onto the BOSU with a dumbbell in each hand. Stand with your feet together and knees slightly bent. Bend at your hips to lower your torso forward toward the ground. Try to get your torso as close as possible to parallel to the floor, even as you keep a slight arch in your back. Keep your head down in a neutral position to avoid straining your neck. Pull the dumbbells up, into a row, keeping your elbows tight to your body while retracting your shoulder blades, or scapula. Hold your scapula retracted for a second then slowly lower the dumbbells until your elbows are fully extended, back into the starting position.
Crunches on BOSU Keep the BOSU in its regular position. Similar to a Swiss Ball crunch, protect your lower back by having it supported on the BOSU. Keep your feet shoulder width apart on the floor and your hands behind your ears with your elbows out to the sides. Lower yourself to about a 120-degree angle, keeping your abs drawn in to avoid straining your lower back. Using your abdominals to pull yourself up and forward, crunching into a “C” and rising to about a 45-degree angle. Slowly lower yourself back down and repeat. The farther out you bring your feet the more support you will have. The closer in you bring your feet the more your obliques will be used during the exercise.
Pop-Overs on BOSU This exercise is primarily for cardiovascular conditioning but provides a great leg workout at the same time. Start with one foot on the BOSU, while the other foot remains lateral to the ball – that is, off to the side. Descend into a squat and powerfully push off, jumping over the BOSU and landing with the opposite foot on the ball, and the original foot off to the side. Immediately lower back down into a squat and repeat the movement on the opposite side. The goal of the exercise is to spend the least amount of time making contact with the ground.
Shoulder Press on BOSU This exercise can be done with the BOSU in its regular position or bottoms-up. Begin by holding dumbbells in both hands and standing up on the ball with both feet. Keep your abs drawn in and your core tight. Bring the dumbbells up into the starting position of a shoulder press, with elbows bent in toward you and hands just above the shoulders, facing inward. Press the weights straight up overhead to full extension, making sure your back does not arch and your hips do not fall forward. Lower the dumbbells back to starting position.
Full Plank on BOSU with Knee Kicks Begin by turning the BOSU bottoms-up so that the round part of the BOSU is on the ground and the base of the BOSU is facing upwards. Get into push-up position with your hands on the base. Your hands should be placed on the lower half of the base to avoid tipping forward when performing the exercise. Tighten your core and stabilize your shoulders. You should keep your entire body straight and your hips in line with your back (no piking or drooping!) to get the most out of this exercise. Quickly kick your knee up toward your chest, then sweep it towards the opposite side and bring it back into the starting position. Repeat the movement with the opposite leg. This exercise should be done as quickly as possible while still maintaining proper form and positioning.
About Mike Donavanik: Mike is a personal trainer based in the Los Angeles area. Visit him on the web at mikedfitness.com.