The Bosu Ball: Why You Probably Shouldn’t Use It
Have you ever tried using a bosu ball?
If you haven’t, it’s probably not because you don’t have access to one at your gym…
These things are practically everywhere these days – and are a favorite among many personal trainers.
They are supposed to help train your core, improve your balance, and make practically any exercise more effective.
But in my humble opinion, bosu balls are completely unnecessary for the majority of people looking to get stronger and build muscle.
What’s more, using a bosu ball could actually be setting you back – keeping you weak and small despite your best efforts.
In this article, I’m going to be giving you the complete lowdown on the ubiquitous bosu ball – what it is, why it was developed, and why you probably shouldn’t be using it.
What Is A Bosu Ball?
For those of you that don’t know, a bosu ball looks very similar to a swiss ball that has been cut in half.
Here is a picture of one:
As you can see, the bottom of a bosu ball is basically half of a swiss ball – but unlike a swiss ball, the top part is a hard, flat surface.
This allows people to stand on the bosu ball and perform variations of pretty much any exercise that you could think of, including squats, shoulder presses, or bicep curls.
It can also be flipped over, allowing for variations of stomach crunches and other ab exercises.
How Did The Bosu Ball Become So Popular?
There are several reasons for the popularity of the bosu ball in recent years.
Initially, the bosu ball was actually used as part of certain physiotherapy practices.
For patients that had stability issues – especially those related to the lower body (ACL or ankle) – rehabilitation work done on unstable surfaces, such as the bosu ball, have been shown to increase the central nervous system response and speed up recovery.
The fancy term for this is ‘proprioception training’, which is any sort of training done on an unstable surface.
Getting back to the story, after the success of unstable surface training (UST) in the physiotherapy world, it began to spread to gyms and many personal trainers quickly grasped onto the concept.
The reasoning was that training on unstable surfaces, such as the bosu ball, would better recruit stabilizer muscles that wouldn’t be targeted by training on regular, flat surfaces.
Soon enough, many well-intentioned trainers had their clients doing all sorts of exercises on the bosu ball…
Basically, the thinking become that practically any exercise would be more effective using a bosu ball.
And it certainly didn’t help that it seemed trendy and different – another piece of newfangled fitness apparatus for personal trainers to wow their clients with.
So Why Does The Bosu Ball Suck Then?
First, let me say that the bosu ball doesn’t suck for everything, but the fact of the matter is that it probably does suck for you.
Let me explain…
Most healthy people that work out want to get stronger, more muscular, or lose weight.
Since losing weight is better controlled through diet, let’s put that aside for now and focus on the first two goals: strength and muscle development.
Now in order to build muscle and strength effectively, you need to be putting your muscles under steadily increasing loads, so that they will be forced to develop in both strength and size.
This is the basis of progressive overload, as I’ve discussed multiple times on this blog before.
However, when you are standing on an unstable surface – such as the flat top of a bosu ball – you are not going to be able to handle nearly the amount of weight you could if you were on a flat surface.
This also applies to exercises done on ANY unstable surface, such as swiss balls or balance boards.
You simply won’t be able to generate as much force in any movement on an unstable surface compared to a stable one, which ultimately means that you’ll lift less weight and build less muscle and strength in the long run.
Can you imagine someone squatting 300+ pounds on a bosu ball?
It just doesn’t happen.
What’s more, training many of these basic movement patterns on a bosu ball can actually be dangerous.
But the biggest thing to take away here is that if you try to improve balance and stability by doing many of your exercises on a bosu ball, you’ll actually be negatively impacting your ability to build strength and muscle.
OK, But What About For Improving Balance?
That is of course a good question.
If we concede that bosu balls aren’t very suitable for strength training or muscle building, what about if your goal is to improve your balance?
Well, even in this respect, they often aren’t the best choice.
You see, balance training is very specific, and often not nearly as transferable as you might think.
That is to say, if you spend a lot of time wobbling around on a bosu ball, in an attempt to improve your balance for a specific sport or activity, you are likely to end up disappointed.
This is because learning to balance better on one type of surface doesn’t translate very well into balancing on other surfaces.
So if you want to improve your balance and stability for a specific movement, activity, or sport, then you are better off practicing that specific movement on the appropriate type of surface.
And since there are very few surfaces in life that even remotely resemble a bosu ball, by using it to train your balance you are effectively only learning to balance better on a bosu ball!
What About Abs?
Now one of the few areas that you can potentially use a bosu ball for is ab work.
This goes for other forms of unstable surface training as well, like the swiss ball.
Studies have revealed that there can be greater core muscle activation doing crunches or sit-ups on a bosu ball compared to a flat, stable surface.
And if you think about it, this makes sense…
When most people do ab work, they don’t use very much weight, and tend just to do a higher number of reps.
So when you compare an unweighted rep on an unstable surface, to an unweighted rep on a stable surface, it isn’t a big shock that you get slightly greater muscle activation on an unstable surface.
However, I should also mention that one of the best ways to develop a strong core is by doing compound movements with heavy weights – like squats and deadlifts – and not relying entirely on isolation ab exercises.
At the end of the day, if you’re healthy, and your primary goals are to build muscle and get stronger, then the bosu ball isn’t going to be very useful for you.
You won’t be able to lift nearly as much weight as you would from a stable surface, which will significantly hamper your progress and development.
Now if you’re looking to improve your balance, then the bosu ball can be somewhat helpful, but it’ll be much more effective to just focus on training your balance for the specific activity that you want to improve.
So what is the bosu ball good for, then?
Quite simply, you should only be using the bosu ball as part of either a rehabilitation program to help with specific instability issues, or for certain ab exercises.
In all other situations, you shouldn’t waste your time with it.