Exercise RX: Combine your knowledge of functional training principles with BOSU integrated balance techniques for fresh program design ideas.
You’ve probably seen it and even tried some moves on it within the past year, but have you considered the functional training implications of the little blue half-dome called BOSU? If you haven’t, it may be time to invest a bit of brain power to customize a program for yourself and those clients who say that they want more functional workouts.
BOSU, which stands for “both sides up” (because you can work on either the dome or the platform side), can best be described as a half-ball mounted on a 24-inch-diameter platform. Stepping onto the air-filled dome, which feels like stepping in dense gel, offers the benefits of training on an unstable surface with safety (because the BOSU won’t move out from under you) and simplicity. Indeed, professional trainers, physical therapists, conditioning coaches and professional athletes worldwide have adopted this balance product for functional training.
Although, regardless of training goals and fitness level, neither you nor your clients can ever master every move on the BOSU, every user can reach his own level of immediate success. With that in mind, discussing the versatility of the BOSU with regard to functional training can help you develop new ways to use this equipment with your clients. ‘
Understanding proprioception and how it relates to functional, or usable, movement is the foundation of the concept of functionality. To some degree, all humans possess proprioception, awareness of the position of the entire body or even a single body part at any given moment. Nonetheless, it must be developed and maintained through specific neuromuscular training. A good example of where nervous system development for proprioception is important is the progress that a baby makes from simple reflexive movements to coordinated movements such as crawling and walking.
The age-old adages “Use it or lose it!” and, more specifically, “Train it!” certainly apply to neuromuscular function. Without continual training or challenge, flexibility, balance and muscular strength and endurance can degrade from loss of neuromuscular control.
However, functional training involves more than just balance, stabilization and proprioceptive training. Some narrowly define it as stability training for the core (the abdominal and back muscles). Others inaccurately categorize it as sport-specific training, although any training that has a specific application to a real-life movement or sport can be considered functional training. Ultimately, a much broader description for functional training, such as “activity that trains movement” (including activity that requires both static and dynamic muscular force production), is required.
All of these systems can affect each other and must be trained with specific approaches so every physiological component that has an impact on health, fitness and performance is maintained at its peak. However, science has shown that “one-track training” is far from ideal for functional training. It is impossible to identify the “best” approach, but a variety of science-backed approaches must be used to challenge all of the body’s systems and movement requirements adequately.
Functional movement can be readily understood by viewing the body as a “kinetic chain,” “kinetic” referring to motion and “chain” illustrating the body’s ability to link motions at the joints. The kinetic chain model represents movement as a series of joint motions and associated musculature working together through a multitude of planes and balance challenges.
The kinetic chain is evident in one’s ability to swing a baseball bat, spike a volleyball, slam a tennis serve, perform a long jump, climb a rock, swing a golf club, drill a slap-shot while skating quickly, dunk a basketball or throw a javelin. Each is a direct result of practice, drills and play that ingrain specific neurological motor patterns between the brain and the specific muscles. Clearly, neurological, or motor, learning is as important as stability, balance and functional training. ‘
Because isolated strength alone is of little practical value to skilled movement, you might ask whether or not an exercise such as the leg curl is worthless. It isn’t, but strength gained in a nonspecific or nonfunctional way is utilized more effectively by being “transitioned” into movement-specific strength.
Think about the strength gained in a traditional resistance-training program. At some point in the strength development progression, a well-constructed, periodized plan of attack would either follow new strength acquisition with a “transitioning phase” or simultaneously develop functional fitness on rest/recovery days. A transitioning phase would employ training drills that mimic the client’s activity or sport. To focus on specificity, it would also be necessary to practice and participate in the actual sport or activity. The point at which transitioning or functional training took place would depend on the sport, the time of season in relation to competition or the client’s training goals.
Understanding the importance of and requirements for functional training can help you create a program using the BOSU. Just remember that, regardless of fitness level and training background, almost any participant can enjoy immediate success by training functionally on this device. Exercises just have to be properly chosen, modified and progressed. For example, moving from simple to complex movements and adding stability, versus increasing stability challenge (when called for), are essential.
Use the sample exercises shown throughout this article as a basis for your own program. Each exercise integrates balance and stabilization to challenge either the cardiovascular system or muscle strength and endurance. For an effective, 20-minute, total-body BOSU workout, perform the numbers of repetitions listed for the exercises. For a longer workout and greater cardiovascular challenge, intersperse exercise 7 or 8 among exercises 1 through 9; this creates a cardio/strength/balance circuit.
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This exercise challenges the abdominal and lower-back muscles as they work to stabilize this balanced position. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions, alternating sides:
- Sit with hips centered on top of dome
- Lean back slightly and lift one leg at a time until body is in bent-knee, V-sit position. (For greater challenge, place hands on sides of dome or lift hands.)
- Hold V-sit position and lower knees slowly to one side while rotating torso in opposite direction. (Torso rotation should counterbalance leg movement.)
- Return to starting position and alternate sides.
- Keep movement slow and controlled. Do not allow lower back to round at any time during exercise.
This exercise challenges upper-body strength and core stabilization. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions:
- Turn BOSU on dome so platform faces up.
- Kneel and grasp recessed grips on sides of platform.
- Keep arms straight and align chest over center of platform. Keep knees bent and in contact with floor or, for greater challenge, extend them.
- Bend elbows and lower body into push-up. Press back up to straight-arm position and hold with good body alignment.
- Keep elbows extended and tilt platform slightly to one side. Allow entire body to tilt, keeping core muscles contracted for stability.
- Tilt platform back to level position.
- Alternate single push-up with tilt to one side.
- Repeat push-up and tilt to other side. (One push-up/tilt equals one repetition.)
This exercise challenges abdominal strength and core stabilization. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions and then balance for 10 to 30 seconds on each side:
- Lie supine with lower back centered on dome.
- Clasp hands behind head and lift one leg at a time until both knees are aligned over hips.
- Extend one leg slowly, pulling other leg in toward chest. Rotate torso simultaneously until one elbow points forward and other elbow points backward.
- Continue “bicycle” motion, alternating sides.
- Do not arch lower back excessively.
- After completing 12 to 20 repetitions, hold with one leg extended (opposite arm extended overhead) and other knee pulled in toward chest (opposite arm reaching down leg). Balance, trying to align body parallel to floor.
- Change sides.
This exercise challenges abdominal and lower-back strength and core stabilization. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions and then balance for 10 to 30 seconds:
- Lie sideways and center waist on top of dome.
- Extend legs in “scissors” position on floor and align hips vertically.
- Place hands behind head and relax over dome until you feel stretch down side of body. From stretched position, lift torso slowly and flex to side.
- Avoid pulling on head and neck. Pull lower side of rib cage down toward top of hip bone.
- After completing 12 to 20 repetitions, lower torso until lower elbow rests on floor.
- Lift legs until they are parallel to floor. Hold and balance.
- For greater balance challenge, cross arms over chest or extend them overhead.
- Repeat lateral flexion and lateral balance on other side.
This exercise challenges lower-back strength and upper-body and core stabilization. Perform 6 to 10 repetitions on each side:
- Kneel with one knee centered on top of dome and hands on floor in front of platform.
- Extend other leg to back, simultaneously lifting that leg and opposite arm until they are parallel to floor. Hold lifted position and balance for 1 to 2 seconds. (Try to lengthen both leg and arm away from core, focusing more on length than on height of lift.)
- Bend arm and leg slowly, pulling elbow and knee toward abdomen. Allow lower back to flex or round slightly.
- Extend and return to previous lifted and balanced position.
- Lower arm and leg back to starting position.
- Perform multiple repetitions on one side before changing to opposite knee.
This exercise challenges the cardiovascular system while developing dynamic balance, agility and core stabilization. Perform 20 repetitions, alternating sides:
- Stand, centered on top of dome with feet hip-width (or slightly narrower) apart.
- Perform squat, simultaneously rotating torso to one side and reaching for outside of knee or ankle.
- Begin to extend out of squat and continue into forward-facing jump.
- Land in centered position and hold briefly (stick).
- Repeat rotary squat and jump stick to other side.
- Work to keep feet as level as possible throughout exercise.
This exercise challenges upper-body, lower-body and core stabilization and balance. Perform the “flutter” for 10 to 30 seconds and then balance for 10 to 30 seconds on each side:
- Lie prone with hips and pelvis centered on dome.
- Lift legs until they are parallel to floor.
- Rest elbows on floor or, for greater challenge, extend arms overhead.
- Flutter arms and legs for 10 to 30 seconds, keeping body straight and core muscles contracted. (This is a small movement; the focus should be maintaining balance while fluttering.)
- Hold and balance with arms and legs parallel to floor.
- Bend one leg slowly and then reach back with opposite arm and touch heel of foot on bent leg.
- Hold and then repeat balance with opposite leg and arm.
This exercise challenges the cardiovascular system while developing dynamic balance, agility and core stabilization. Perform 20 repetitions on one side, 30 seconds of compressions or jogging on top of the dome and 20 more repetitions on the other side:
- Stand on floor to one side of BOSU.
- Leap on to center of dome with inside leg, landing on one foot and holding briefly.
- Step back down with outside leg. Repeat leap hold on same leg.
- After completing desired number of repetitions, step on top of dome and perform alternating leg compressions. Alternate weight from foot to foot, maintaining good trunk alignment.
- For greater challenge and intensity, substitute jogging for compressions.
- Step down to other side and repeat leap hold with other leg.
This exercise challenges lower-body and core balance, stabilization and muscular endurance. Balance for 10 to 60 seconds on each leg:
- Center one foot on top of dome. Touch side of dome lightly with other foot until balanced.
- Lift non-weight-bearing leg slowly out to side, keeping shoulders level and holding arms out to sides.
- For greater balance challenge, rotate torso until one arm reaches forward and other arm reaches backward. Keep hips square to front while rotating torso. Repeat torso rotation in other direction.
- Lower lifted leg back to dome and repeat balance on other leg.
For a look at the business considerations of bringing BOSU into your studio or facility (including cost, storage and safety), check out the March issue of IDEA Fitness Manager. You can also learn how to integrate balance training and BOSU into group fitness by reading the March issue of IDEA Fitness Edge. To order these publications, call (800) 999-4332, ext. 7, or (858) 535-8979, ext. 7.
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