Death of the BOSU

I never really was sold on the BOSU ball. Sure, I have used them to add a little variety in a training session, but since the gym I use to work for tried to charge $300 to become ‘certified’ on the BOSU, I was a little turned off on it.
Certified? To use half of a stability ball? I was never given the option to get ‘certified’ to use a stability ball, which seems to me more complex and potentially injury causing than a mere half ball.

Athletic Performance at its best

For the uninitiated, the BOSU, or Both Sides Up, device is essentially a half ball mounted on a firm flat piece of plastic. It is designed to use with either side up (hence the witty name) and is marketed mostly as an athletic performance device.
Alas, now they are dying off. Slow and steady like the creep of a glacier, the death of the BOSU is approaching. There are a few trainers and facilities holding on and advocating incorporating BOSU training into clients programming.
This I don’t mind too much. I don’t think the BOSU is going to hurt you or hurt your clients. For the general population who is inactive there isn’t anything wrong with standing on an unstable surface and letting your underused propioceptors fire away in long forgotten patterns.
The issues are in the marketing. Companies retailing BOSU balls and trainers making money from offering certifications in their use are struggling hard to keep selling more of them and market themselves as a better trainer because they are using a high end piece of equipment.
The fact is the BOSU is a TERRIBLE tool for athletic performance. It is pretty simple really. When we want to improve performance for athletes it is most important that we work the muscles and movement patterns in ways that are somewhat comparable to the actual movements they may experience during the course of play. Except for maybe trampoline athletes, when do any athletes push off of or move on an air filled unstable sack?
Never. Human movement happens on firm ground and your body needs the feel of a firm surface to really maximize performance. In the performance world it is called the kinetic chain and when you are pushing off an unstable surface you are changing the way this chain has to work. You are not improving the performance of the body in athletic endeavors by using unstable surface training. In fact, it is arguable that you are impairing performance as the unstable surface means that the athlete will not be able to push their maximal loads and hence, will not achieve their true strength potential.
The other common application with BOSU is to improve balance. But, you can’t really improve your balance. You solidify those patterns when you are very young. What you can do is improve muscular firing time and how quickly you can respond to changing stimulus. So from this perspective I wouldn’t say standing on a BOSU is a bad thing but it is not going to do what most trainers believe it will. And if we really want to improve our clients’ ability to respond to changing stimulus (ie slipping on ice in the winter) then explosive training in a variety of planes with a variety of stimulus is the best way to do that. And like everything else with the human body – preferably all of this is done on a stable surface. Like the ground or a floor, you know – where people spend 99.9% of their lives.
So is the BOSU dying? Yes. Why? It really doesn’t serve any useful purpose and if we are going to invest time in training and improving our health and the health of clients in a world where time is a very precious commodity, then we should be focused on training that gives us the most benefit in the shortest amount of time.
If you are planning on competing in a BOSU competition or have extra time in your life and want to do something wacky just for something new to do, then by all means, BOSU away!
If your goal is to improve athletic performance or to make noticeable progress with your health and fitness, spend time on the floor moving your body the way it was designed to work.
-Strength Coach Taylor

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