Anyone who watched this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea may have noticed the ripped abs and “gold-medal physique” of figure skater Adam Rippon and wondered “how did he get that way?”  Besides a very grueling workout, a “secret” piece of exercise equipment he uses is a BOSU balance trainer also referred to as a BOSU ball.

BOSU stands for “BOth Sides Up” or BOth Sides Utilized.” The BOSU ball looks like half an exercise ball mounted on a rigid plastic base.  It can be used with the dome side facing up, so it sits flat on the plastic base or as a wobble board with the dome side facing down.  Either way you use it, the unstable surface helps improve balance, whether you stand on the domed surface or on the flat platform with the dome side facing down.  BOSU balls can also be used for strength training, aerobic fitness, for plyometric movements such as jumping activities or for stretching.  The nice thing about using a BOSU ball is that they take up less space than a stability ball and because it is flat on one side, it’s not going to roll away from you the way stability balls frequently do.

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This unusual piece of exercise equipment does have scientific research to back up its credibility. A 2013 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had 44 healthy but inactive older people assigned to attend a twice-weekly exercise class that used both a BOSU ball and a Swiss ball (a traditional round exercise ball) or to a control group that did no exercise intervention whatsoever. After 12 weeks, the exercise group showed significant improvements in balance, both while standing still and while walking, compared to no changes in the control group.  The BOSU exercises included standing on the ball and stepping up and down on it using parallel bars for support if needed.

Here’s what you can expect from using a BOSU ball:

Improve balance and workout intensity

Incorporating using a BOSU ball while lifting free weights is a great way to target and work on both balance and strength.  A BOSU ball forces you to use your core muscles to work constantly throughout the entire motion of a movement.  This is different from most gym weight-training equipment that positon you to push and pull on handles that move through set tracks.  This can certainly build muscle but they do not provide the sort of coordination you need to stabilize free weights as they move unrestricted through space.  By combining lifting free weights with a BOSU ball, it makes the exercise more challenging by forcing your muscles to stabilize as you guide the weights.  BOSU balls are also excellent for making doing lunges, squats or pushups more demanding than doing them on your own.

Improves flexibility

For a relaxing stretch improving flexibility, try using a BOSU ball.  Like a stability ball, the rounded top of a BOSU ball (where the dome side is facing up), offers good support for your back and abdominal muscles to be stretched out.  This can be done by draping yourself over the soft domed side, facing down or up and then simply relax to feel the stretch.  Turn the BOSU ball dome-side down and use the “slant board” to stretch your calf muscles.

Provides workout variety

One of the best ways to keep fit is by switching up your exercise routine.  This prevents your body from hitting a fitness plateau by forcing it to adapt to something different.  Using a BOSU ball is a perfect way to break up exercise monotony and can keep you entertained and engaged in working out by making the workout more fun. 

How to get started

If you have never used a BOSU ball before, it’s recommended to take a class at a workout facility or work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to see if they are right for you.  There are also videos online where you can watch to see how they are used. 

BOSU balls are meant to provide variety and a more challenging workout to your regular routine.  Most sporting goods stores sell them or they can be bought online.  However, do your homework on whether a BOSU ball is right for you or not.

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