bosu ball

Never seen a Bosu ball? Imagine taking a Swiss ball, cutting it in half, and mounting a platform on the cut side. It’s an interesting device, sort of like a wobble board.

But as neat looking as it is, nine out of ten strength training or fitness websites you go to, if the Bosu ball is mentioned, it’s only to make fun of the thing! It just seems most strength training coaches and bodybuilders hate the Bosu ball, not to mention their feelings toward personal trainers who include Bosu ball exercises in their so-called “functional training” fitness plans in the big commercial gyms.

But why do they hate it so much?

I think the problem lies not with the Bosu ball itself, but with the way in which people use it.

Background on Training Methods

To illustrate my point, let’s first review a few different training methods:

  • Weight lifting
  • Bodyweight exercises
  • Balance training

Weight lifting involves lifting heavy weights in order to gain muscle and/or strength. The object is to move as much weight as possible, which requires a very stable base – feet flat on floor, body tight, etc.

Bodyweight exercises involve moving your body through space. There are no extra weights for resistance; instead, you move your body in ways that are progressively more difficult. The object of this style training is typically to increase full-body strength without gaining extra muscle.

Balance training is typically used by athletes such as skiiers, snowboarders, gymnasts, martial artists, freestyle BMX riders, mountain bikers, etc. If you need to balance on something in weird positions to excel in your sport, you should be training to improve your balance. This type of training can be done without equipment, but it commonly includes the use of the Swiss ball, wobble boards, balance boards, and yes, the Bosu ball.

Why Diss The Bosu Ball?

I think most can agree with those statements on training methods. So why diss the Bosu ball?

Because some trainers are combining weight lifting and balance training together.

I’m not sure why they do this. My best guesses are 1) they can say it’s time efficient for your busy schedule, and 2) it sounds new and exciting, which probably appeals to many gym-goers.

But if you step back and think, weight lifting and balance training have completely different goals. Weight lifting is all about heavy weights. But, you simply can’t use heavy weights when standing precariously on a Bosu ball. So you can’t realistically make the gains you want. And worrying about adding weights during balance training seems useless. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a snowboarder or gymnast holding weights during an event.

Sure, doing squats with 300 pounds on your back while balancing on a Bosu ball could be a neat circus trick, but it’s not the most practical exercise. Spend your time doing something productive. It doesn’t need to be fancy to get results.

When it comes down to it, I agree that mixing weight lifting and balance training is pretty stupid. But that doesn’t mean I hate the Bosu ball!

How the Bosu Ball Can Be Useful

When it comes to improving balance, especially if you’re still working your way up to standing on a stability ball, the Bosu ball can be a useful tool. You can think of it like training wheels for riding a bike, or as another tool in your toolbox.

To see examples of Bosu ball exercises, take a look at this Bosu ball exercise page at AskTheTrainer.com. It shows some common uses of the Bosu ball. Note that I don’t recommend all those exercises, but in general, that is more in line with what the Bosu ball should be used for.

As long as you stick with using it for balance training, rehab, and as a Swiss ball replacement for some core exercises – such as, a plank with your elbows up on the Bosu ball – you’ll be fine.

Lance Armstrong Used a Bosu Ball!

Just wanted to point this out for fun – Lance Armstrong was spotted using a Bosu ball. It was in the February 2009 issue of Men’s Health magazine.

In one photo, it appears as though Lance is just using the ball and doing lateral jumps over it. But in the other, he is doing push-ups with one hand on the ball. That’s a good exercise, although it can be done with a medicine ball or soccer ball.

Why I Wouldn’t Buy a Bosu Ball

Even though I just said the Bosu ball can be useful, I have no plans to buy one, nor do I recommend you go out and purchase one just because.

First, the things cost $80-120. That is a lot! A stability ball will cost you less than $20.

Second, most of the time you could use a Bosu ball, you might as well just use a stability ball anyway.

Note: If the stability ball seems too intimidating to work with, just don’t inflate it so much. I think most people would be fine just getting a cheap, small Swiss ball and using it half-inflated when necessary. That’s a decent Bosu ball replacement while you improve your balance enough to use the stability ball as intended.

Final Word on the Bosu Ball

You know the saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”?

I adopt a similar stance in favor of the Bosu ball: “Bosu balls don’t make people do stupid exercises. Stupid personal trainers make people do stupid exercises.”

It is less eloquent and takes many more words, but it gets the point across. You can’t blame the Bosu ball for how people use it. While I don’t recommend the Bosu ball for everyone, it doesn’t need to be shunned and laughed at.

References


This article was originally published on January 20, 2011. It was updated and republished on July 3, 2018.

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Levi Bloom is an experienced endurance athlete who has been training and competing for over 17 years. A former Cat 1 road and mountain bike racer (professional class on the regional circuit), he is now a cycling coach (USA Cycling Level 3 Certified) and sports nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified).

12 Comments
  1. You are missing the point with this article. You are also suffering from a lack of education. If you don’t understand it, don’t write about it – it just makes you look silly if you are wrong.
    Stick with what you know – probably cycling.

    • I thought the same thing. Jerky headline too. This article wasted my time.

  2. @Neil

    Actually, if you read the article, you’d see I made my point quite well. But it doesn’t hurt to say it again:

    Bosu balls can be a useful training tool when used correctly.

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. What don’t I understand? Are you mad because I think the Bosu ball is expensive and not 100% required for an endurance athlete’s conditioning or strength training?

    And yes, this site is for endurance athletes such as cyclists and triathletes. That’s the whole point of this site. If you don’t fall into that category, chances are you shouldn’t be following the advice on this site. But thanks for stopping by and letting me know how silly I am. 🙂

    P.S. If you want to see silly, you should see my articles about grown men shaving their legs! 😉

  3. Do you really think that it is useful to be able to lift super heavy weights of stable ground, most common sports sports combine needing both strength, balance, flexibility and power each different amounts of each required but if you have a common sport say basketball football tennis when you need to combine strength and balance doesn’t it make sense to combine them while training, if you can’t lift heavy weights while balancing on fit balls bosu balls etc then one your balance isn’t very good and two how are you going to be able to use all of that strength that you can do on stable ground in game where you are off balance being pushed around jumping on all sorts of angles. Your article for certain sports and certain specific fitness goals could be right but for the majority it is way of the mark, please research more before you right an article like this and make yourself look silly.

  4. @Lachlan

    Yes, I do believe it’s useful to have strength and power developed via stable lifts (Olympic lifts, powerlifting, etc.) I also believe the majority of sports, including basketball, football, and tennis, take place on solid, flat surfaces.

    Furthermore, I believe it’s silly to attempt such lifts on unstable surfaces as it leads to a very good chance of injury before you even get to compete in the sport of your choice. Balance training and flexibility are important, sure, but there’s no reason to risk injury by combining them all at the same exact time.

    Thanks for stopping by to comment, but I can assure you that my athletes are doing just fine without ever having squatted 400lb while balancing on a Bosu ball.

  5. Well I’ve found this article very usefull thanks. Always interesting to see what others say about different ways of practicing. I was looking for a replacement for the bosu ball only because I don’t have one and need to do a elevated alternating superman on the bosu ball but defnetly can’t do it on the swiss ball Yet!

  6. Before studying for my personal trainer certificate, I often wondered the same thing. Why train on such a weird balancing device?
    The purpose of these BOSU things isn’t to train on them regularly, building up weight as you go, (such as the heavy barbell squat on the BOSU ball like you mentioned) but rather it is to be used as a tool to develop a stronger connection between the nervous system and the skeletal muscular system (usually by using lighter weights during the beginning stages of training: the early muscular stability and strength endurance phases). If a beginner to fitness jumps right into a moderate to heavy resistance training regimen without first establishing a strong connection between the nervous system and the muscular system, injury is likely to occur. The big stability balls (a.k.a. yoga balls) and BOSU balls provide a great way to develop the stabilizer muscles and core musculature activation during exercises. They are also very helpful for training the elderly who have an especially hard time with instability. try super setting a heavy set of barbell squats with BOSU ball squats some time, it is very beneficial.

  7. “Weight lifting involves lifting heavy weights in order to gain muscle and/or strength. The object is to move as much weight as possible, which requires a very stable base – feet flat on floor, body tight, etc.”

    I’d have to disagree that the lone goal of weight lifting is to gain muscle mass and/or strength. This article ignores one of the other measures of physical fitness that can be achieved thru lower weight, higher rep weight training – muscular endurance (not to be confused with cardio respiratory endurance). Muscular endurance is important in most sports, not just for beginners or rehab and the BOSU is for excellent for these types of exercises. While I agree that Olympic lifts or really heavy weights on a BOSU aren’t a good idea unless your goal is a broken/sprained limb. Cable weights are a great way to use heavier weight while incorporating the BOSU ball to work on proprioception and the core at the same time. Good proprioception and a stable core are important for not only performance, but also injury prevention, even though most sports take place on flat ground. When used correctly, I think the BOSU is a very versatile piece of equipment that can be used to change up the same old workouts, and really challenge the user to be better than just “fine.”

    Baylie, B.S Exercise Science, M.S Exercise Physiology

    • @Baylie

      Thanks for the comment, you make a good point. I like your suggestion about using cable weights with the Bosu ball to work on both proprioception and the core.

      I didn’t mention muscular endurance mainly because for endurance athletes, I feel the best muscular endurance training is from sport-specific workouts. Take cycling for example. Each of your legs is doing about 80-100 “reps” each minute of your ride. For the limited time I can have my athletes spend lifting in the gym, I’m going to have them more focused on muscle strength.

      For other athletes, I’d still be hesitant to incorporate the Bosu a lot, but I have to agree it’s a very versatile piece of equipment that can be used to change up the same old workouts!

  8. I have to disagree with this as well as I feel it is a narrow minded, you are looking at this through a tunnel vision of JUST cycling. I agree that for cycling there is very little use for a BOSU ball, but as others have mentioned for propioception and balance workouts this is an excellent piece of equipment that cannot be replaced. Take myself for an example, I am a skier, mountaineer, andr rock climber. Heavy weight workouts certainly increase endurance and are a part of my workout as well, but I must incorporate single leg, core and plyometric exercises as well as squats and lunges on a bosu ball to increase the balance I will need on uneven surfaces when skiing, and this is where balance exercises can be overlooked. Skiing req Not to mention that hip drop is a significant issue with skiers, and the bosu ball helps to train your body/core/hip to stabilize

  9. I have to disagree with this as well as I feel it is a narrow minded, you are looking at this through a tunnel vision of JUST cycling. I agree that for cycling there is very little use for a BOSU ball, but as others have mentioned for propioception and balance workouts this is an excellent piece of equipment that cannot be replaced. Take myself for an example, I am a skier, mountaineer, andr rock climber. Heavy weight workouts certainly increase endurance and are a part of my workout as well, but I must incorporate single leg, core and plyometric exercises as well as squats and lunges on a bosu ball to increase the balance I will need on uneven surfaces when skiing, and this is where balance exercises can be overlooked. Skiing requires eccentric strength more than concentric, which is often overlooked in training, as most sports use eccentric strength to push forces, rather than oppose forces. I use a very extensive ski workout regimens to train for eccentric strength and the bosu ball is a key for that since it helps train my body to go against the balancing and gravitational forces that would pull one out of a strong stance. Not to mention that hip drop is a significant issue with skiers, and the bosu ball helps to train your body/core/hip to stabilize. My only gripe with them is how expensive they are for what they are, seem VERY overpriced, agree, but I do them use quite effectively.

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