No two ways about it: Functional balance training is hot. This progressive concept has permeated all aspects of fitness, sports and elite athletic training and often brings with it a prop or two. Whether you are the type of person who hops on the balance trainer without a second thought or the type who prefers to wait and see if this hot new item makes it into the equipment budget, educating yourself is a good idea. Your class participants will benefit from your investment in time and energy.
Functional training incorporates core training, agility, balance, stabilization and dynamic motion. Many fitness professionals believe that balance is the foundation of all movement because, ultimately, alignment and the ability to recover your center of gravity are the keys to skilled movement in daily life and sports.
Agility is the end result of functional training. It is a refinement of many desirable athletic traits, including strength, endurance, power, quickness, balance, coordination and the ability to change direction without performance loss. The goal in a functional, integrated balance training program is to challenge both balance and proprioception, which is the normal, ongoing awareness of body position.
Training each fitness component on an unstable surface helps develop “smart” muscles (in a neurological sense) versus “dumb” muscles. Movement patterns become neurological blueprints embedded in the central nervous system. These blueprints can be called on time and time again in situations requiring skilled movement.
BOSU stands for “both sides up.” Inventor David Weck designed it to be used with the dome side either up or down for different balance challenges. Basically, it is half a stability ball secured to a solid platform. When the vinyl dome is firmly inflated, its dynamic (or soft) surface offers balance challenges in standing, kneeling, seated, prone, supine and side-lying positions. When the dome side is turned down (hard side up), traditional exercises such as push-ups and seated stretches take on a whole new dimension. The BOSU is versatile and offers a wide range of effective exercises that appeal to many class types.
These exercises demonstrate how you can integrate functional balance training into a group fitness class. As presented, this is not a “typical” class, but rather a sampling of balance training drills that you can use in any order. The drills include flexibility, strength and cardiovascular components. Use music tempos in the range of 124 to 128 beats per minute and don’t worry about always working on the beat. It’s more important to take time to help participants find and correct their balance and body alignment.
Acclimates the class to the dynamic surface of the BOSU, elevates core temperature and provides opportunities to review neutral-posture techniques.
- Step up and down on the dome from a position where you are facing the dome (on a step platform this would be a “basic step”) and then from the side (an “over-the-top”).
- Stand on top of the dome and warm up the feet and ankles by rocking back and forth between the toes and heels, and between the insides and outsides of the feet.
- On top of the dome, practice basic dynamic-balance movements such as squatting, marching, jogging and jumping.
- Perform static stretches for the lower body.
Challenges the cardiovascular system, dynamic balance, agility and core stabilization.
- Stand in a centered position on top of the dome, feet hip-width apart or slightly narrower.
- Jump and land with one foot slightly forward, alternating sides with each jump.
- Let the arms reach forward and back, in opposition to the leg movement. (Repeat for 16 to 32 counts.)
- Jump in place with the feet close together, holding the arms in front of the body as if you were holding ski poles.
- Keeping the upper body stable and facing forward, rotate the lower body about 45 degrees to one side and then to the other on each jump.
- For more challenge, alternate back and forth between cross-country ski and mogul jumps, performing eight repetitions of each.
Challenges lower-body dynamic strength, agility and core stabilization.
- Step up and center, one foot directly on top of the dome, bending the knee of the non-weight-bearing leg and slightly lifting that leg in front of the body.
- Maintaining neutral spine, flex forward from the hips and place a medicine ball on top of the foot.
- Steady the ball with the same-side hand.
- Extend the knee of the weight-bearing leg and simultaneously lift the other leg, “tossing” the ball into the same-side hand.
- For more challenge, add propulsion to the leg extension.
- Upon catching the ball, extend the hip of the non-weight-bearing leg, and balance with that leg behind the body and the same-side arm in front of the body.
Perform four to eight repetitions of this series on each side of the body.
Challenges balance, stabilization, upper- and lower-body dynamic strength and upper-body and core muscular endurance. Note: You will need two BOSU trainers for this exercise. Place one dome-side up and the other dome-side down, about 2 to 3 feet apart.
- Center the upper back and shoulders on the BOSU that is dome-side up.
- While holding the medicine ball, carefully move one foot at a time, placing the feet toward the outer edges of the other BOSU platform.
- Extend the hips slightly to hold a “bridge” position and lift the arms straight over the chest.
- Holding the ball in one hand, lower the same-side arm into a unilateral chest flye.
- Return to the starting position, transfer the ball and perform the flye with the other arm.
- Keep the core, hips and legs stable. Then, holding the ball between both hands, rotate the torso to one side and lower the medicine ball to a 2 o’clock position. Simultaneously rotate the lower body in the opposite direction by tilting the platform with the legs. The knees should aim for a 10 o’clock position.
- Return to center and rotate the upper and lower halves of the body in the opposite directions.
Perform this series eight to 12 times.
Challenges dynamic core strength, stabilization and balance.
- Turn the BOSU dome-side down. Begin in a kneeling position with the hands holding the recessed grips on the sides of the platform.
- With straight arms, align the chest over the center of the platform.
- Straighten the legs and hold this plank position.
- Slowly curl the trunk by bending the knees, performing a posterior pelvic tilt and pulling the lower rib cage down toward the pelvis. The platform should tilt toward the knees during the curl.
- Release and extend the body back out to the plank position. From the plank, bend the right knee and pull it up toward the waist. ‰
- Slowly rotate the trunk to the left and cross the right leg under the left.
- Extend the leg until it is parallel to the floor and pause. Then, return to the starting plank position.
Repeat this series eight to 12 times, alternating sides on the leg cross.
Challenges dynamic core strength, stabilization and balance.
- Lie face down with the pelvis and lower abdomen centered on the dome.
- Actively flex the spine, pulling the knees and elbows toward the platform.
- On an inhalation, simultaneously extend the hips and lumbar spine until the trunk and legs are parallel to the floor or slightly higher. Hold this position without letting the head or feet tilt toward the floor.
- Slowly flex both knees and reach back with the arms, attempting to touch the fingertips to the heels. Hold and balance for 8 to 10 seconds.
- Return to the extended position and slowly flex the hips and spine back to the starting position.
Repeat this series eight to 10 times.
Challenges trunk flexibility, balance and core stabilization.
- Sit on top of the platform, dome-side down.
- Bring one leg at a time into a cross-legged position on the platform. For an easier modification, keep one or both feet on the floor.
- Lift one arm overhead and grip the rim of the platform with the other hand. Simultaneously press the hip down and lift the same-side arm up and slightly over the head.
- Hold and balance in this lateral stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Return to a centered position and slowly rotate the torso to one side.
- Place one hand on the opposite knee and the other behind the body. For more proprioceptive challenge, look over the back shoulder. Hold this stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
Repeat both stretches on the other side.
Training for agility by flooding the neuromuscular system with sensory overload during cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training is a challenge worth taking. The BOSU addresses many different equilibrium concepts with drills for total-body, flexibility, athletic and rhythmic conditioning and is a creative tool your class will find rewarding and multidimensional.