By Dr. Mercola
A BOSU ball is a versatile fitness device that can be a great addition to any home gym. Developed in 1999 by David Weck, BOSU stands for "Both Sides Up" or "Both Sides Utilized."
With a flat platform on one side and a rubber dome on the other (resembling half an exercise ball), it can help you improve your balance and flexibility, sharpen your reflexes, and reshape your body.
As described in the featured article by the Health & Fitness Advisory:1 "The domed side is used for aerobic exercises and athletic drills, and when the BOSU ball is inverted, it becomes a tool for balance training that can be used by almost everybody."
Virtually any workout can be enhanced by incorporating the use of a BOSU ball.2 Because it requires you to use more muscles to stabilize your body, it means your workout will be more intense, making you burn more calories, too.
In the video above, fitness trainer Jill Rodriguez demonstrates several beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercises using the BOSU.
The BOSU Ball Offers Increased Versatility
To use the BOSU ball for balance training, place the domed side facing down. Standing on the flat platform will require you to engage your stabilizing muscles. In the beginning, simply maintaining your balance while standing still may be all you can manage.
If need be, use a wall or the back of a chair to prevent you from toppling over. As your balance improves, you can start out doing some of the basic exercises demonstrated by Jill in the featured video.
The real-life benefits of balance training using an unstable surface like the BOSU have been scientifically proven. In one study,3 a 12-week proprioception training program for older adults that included work on the BOSU ball was found to help improve postural stability, and static and dynamic balance, thereby reducing the risk of falling.
With the domed side facing up, you can use it much like a regular exercise ball, helping you stretch, lying either face up or face down. It's also great for doing crunches.
To stretch out your calves, place the domed side down and step on the rim of the platform. A number of cardio and strength training exercises can also be done incorporating the BOSU ball for added intensity. Examples include:
- Squats and squat jumps
- Squats with overhead press
- Pushups and planks
- Plyometric moves
BOSU Ball Can Be a Useful Rehab Tool
A BOSU ball can also be helpful for rehabilitating from injuries and improving back pain. One 2013 study4 measured muscle force output and electromyographic activity in men doing squats on various unstable surfaces, including the BOSU ball. According to the authors:
"[I]ncreasing the instability of the surface during maximum effort isometric squats usually maintains the muscle activity of lower-limb and superficial trunk muscles although the force output is reduced. This suggests that unstable surfaces in the squat may be beneficial in rehabilitation... because similar muscle activity can be achieved with reduced loads."
Sample BOSU Ball Workout
- Squat: For a beginner's BOSU squat, perform a basic squat standing on the domed side. For intermediate level, add a small hop as you raise yourself out of the squat. For a more advanced squat, flip the BOSU and perform the squat balancing on the flat platform.
- Burpee: To perform a basic burpee, drop into squat position with your hands on the domed side of the BOSU ball. Step back one leg at a time, and then step back in one leg at a time; finish by standing up and raising your arms. You can increase the pace as you go. The intermediate burpee involves a hop. Place your hands on the BOSU and jump both feet straight back. Jump both feet back in, then jump up, raising your arms. For the advanced version, flip the BOSU over so the flat side is facing up. Place your hands on the flat side, drop your chest to the ball, jump both feet back and return, then stand up and lift the BOSU ball above your head.
- Plank knee tuck: Beginners, start in regular pushup position with hands on the domed side. Bring your right knee forward toward your right elbow. Then switch legs, brining your left knee toward your left elbow. That's one rep. The intermediate is the same exercise but with a cross-over, so your right knee goes toward your left elbow and your left knee toward your right elbow. For the advanced version, add a small hop when you switch feet.
- Oblique crunch: Lie back across the domed side of the BOSU ball. With your hands behind your head, lift up and bring your right elbow toward your left, reaching across your body. Lower yourself down and repeat on the other side. The intermediate version involves lifting the opposite knee as you come up and reach across to the side, touching your right elbow to your left knee, and vice versa.
For a more advanced version, place your right hand out to the side and straighten your right leg, and raise your left arm out beside your head. Then reach up, touching your toes to your hand, keeping both arm and leg straight. Repeat on the other side to complete one rep.
- Pushup walk-over: Beginners start on your knees with one hand on the dome and the other on the floor. Do a pushup, knees on the floor, then walk your hands over to the other side and repeat. Intermediate is the same exercise but on your toes, with your legs straight. For the advanced version, add a small hop as you cross over the ball.
An Inexpensive Fitness Essential
The BOSU ball is on my list of inexpensive fitness essentials for your in-home gym. As you can see, it can pump up the intensity and add variety to virtually any exercise. As with most things in life, a balanced routine works best, so remember to include a variety of exercises. To cover your bases, you'll want to include aerobic, strength training, stretching, and high-intensity exercises. Again, the BOSU fits in nicely to just about any comprehensive fitness routine, and can be used with virtually all of your activities, from stretching and strength training to aerobics, so it can be well worth the investment.