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. ‘

Functional Training Basics

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.

The Kinetic Chain and Functional Training

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. ‘

Strength Transitioning

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.

BOSU Integrated
Balance Workout

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.

  • o, neither you nor your clients will ever master all BOSU exercises. However, that just means that a new challenge will always be waiting!