How half a stability ball can change how you exercise
You’ve probably seen "BOSUs" at the gym or in workout videos—the funny-looking gear has a flat bottom, but the top half is a dome that looks like a stability ball. You can use either surface for your workout, thus the origin of its name: "Both Sides Up.” The unstable design activates more muscles by forcing you to adapt to changes and make small adjustments to maintain proper alignment.
For personal trainer and former Olympic track athlete Samantha Clayton, the BOSU was instrumental in regaining core strength after giving birth to triplets. “I was on bed rest for a long time, and I couldn’t do a lot of the explosive workouts I was used to. The BOSU slowed me down and made me focus more on activating the muscles that are used with each move.”
What’s crucial with a BOSU workout: technique. The unstable surface adds a challenge, so proper mechanics are key for safety. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t perform a move on the ground, then you’re not ready to do it on a BOSU. But even if you have yet to master the perfect squat, you can still use a BOSU to see fitness benefits. Try these moves:
Crunch Support: With the BOSU dome side up, sit at the base, and use the BOSU for spine support as you do crunches or sit-ups.
Single Leg Balance: With the BOSU dome side up, stand in the middle in an “athletic stance:” feet hip-width apart and legs slightly bent. Slowly lift one leg up and out to the side, front, or back while keeping the bottom leg slightly bent. If you’re new to BOSU, keep your lifted leg bent at the knee and focus on balance. Once you are more advanced, try to lift your leg while keeping it straight. Your arms can be wherever they need to be to maintain balance—on your hips, in front, or by your sides. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. Do a total of 10 leg lifts on each side.
High-Knee Lifts: With the BOSU dome side up, start again in an athletic stance. Lift one knee up to your chest. Keep your arms by your sides if you can. If you have trouble maintaining balance, place your arms where they are most comfortable. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. Do a total of 10 high-knee lifts on each side.
Simple Squats: With the BOSU dome side up, stand in the middle with feet hip-width apart and arms straight out in front of you. Slowly lower into a squat, keeping your knee in line with your ankles and arms in front, until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then slowly come out of the squat. Do a total of 10 squats. To mix it up, flip the BOSU over so the dome side is down.
Plank Holds: With the BOSU dome side up in front of you, start from an all-fours position on the floor. Clasp your hands and place your forearms in the middle of the BOSU and let your elbows rest on the surface. Stack your shoulders over your elbows for support. Straighten your legs and lift your lower body into plank position, keeping your spine straight. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and do a total of 3 to 5 plank holds. To mix it up, flip the BOSU over so the dome side is down.
Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.