The “Scary” Equipment Series Featuring the BOSU Ball
It kind of looks like a stability (also known as Swiss or yoga) ball cut in half and placed on a plastic platform. It’s likely a lighter blue color, although they are manufactured in purple and hot pink as well. You may refer to it, or heard others refer to it, as a “half ball” or a “dome,” or you may use its official name BOSU. But do you know what the acronym stands for and the history of these two-sided piece of equipment?
The BOSU Balance Trainer was invented by David Weck and released in 2000. The acronym stands for “Both Sides Up” (although the company is moving toward “Both Sides Utilized” as a more encompassing description) because it can be used with the dome side up or the platform side up.
Because the dome side is filled with air and squishy to stand on, while the flat side rocks in different directions when stood on, the BOSU ball challenges the user’s balance, proprioception and kinesthesia. These concepts are related to the body’s ability to orient where its limbs are in space and to right itself on unstable surfaces.
Keep an eye out this month where we feature all kinds of exercises to do on the BOSU ball!
The core is where balance originates, so those are the exercises we’ll cover first. Don’t worry if your form is not perfect – the best thing about the BOSU is you will be working your core no matter how wobbly or awkward you feel. As your body adapts to this piece of equipment, you will notice your movements become smoother and more coordinated. You can do core exercises with either side of the BOSU, but we’ll start today with the dome side up!
This movement can be performed with a smaller range of motion, like a crunch, or with a larger range of motion, as a sit up. Which one you do will depend on your core strength and how it feels on your lower back. For crunches, sit close to the black edge of the ball with your lower back resting on the ball, feet in front of you with knees bent at about a 90 degree angle. You can place your hands across your chest or lightly behind your head with elbows wide and fingers not pulling on your head or neck. You can even leave them out to the sides like in this starting point:
Lie back with control until your torso is straight or slightly draped over the ball, generally as far back as you can go while keeping your feet on the floor as you rise back up. Focus on lifting your chin and chest up together with space in between (imagine you’re holding a tennis ball under your chin) instead of tucking your chin to your chest. To progress to sit ups, move your position farther back on the ball and use a larger range of motion. Keep in mind that you can only go back so far – if you try to lean all the back when you sit in the center of the ball, your legs will come off the floor.
These can be performed in two different positions depending on your core strength and balancing abilities. The beginner version is to sit on your hips in the middle of the ball and lean back to about 45 degrees with your hands behind your head, elbows out wide and fingers only lightly touching (you may also hold your arms close to your chest if that is more comfortable.) Lift one foot off the floor and extend it, lift the other and bend your knee toward your chest, rotate your torso trying to bring your opposite armpit (not just your elbow!) toward the bent knee. Try to stay at the 45 degree angle and change sides by straightening the bent leg, bending the straight one, and bringing the other armpit toward the opposite bent knee. You will likely be wobbly, so don’t be afraid to place a hand or foot on the ground as needed.
Once you have mastered that, try lying more flat with the ball under a spot on your lower back that will allow you to balance. You may not be able to rotate as quickly and you will have to crunch up a little bit with each rotation, but you should feel your abs engaged the whole time even if you can’t get much movement.
Sit with your tailbone right in the center of the ball and stick your arms out diagonally in front of you at chest height. Keep your chest up and open and back flat as you lean back up to, but no more than, 45 degrees. Lift one foot off the ground, find your balance, and then lift the other, trying to bring both bent knees up to where your lower leg is parallel to the floor. Keep your core engaged the entire time and try to hold as long as possible without letting your back round.
This is a variation of boat pose that engages the obliques. Once you have balanced in basic boat, rotate at the hips so that your upper body stays in the same place but your knees stay together and sweep from side to side about 45-90 degrees each way. Don’t force yourself to twist more than you can naturally go, and move with control.
Once you have mastered the yoga boat pose, straighten both legs to place your body in a “V” position and hold as long as possible without letting your back round or legs lower.
In and Outs (or Double Crunch)
This is a good move to try after you can perform boat or V sit and sit ups. Sit on the ball and balance in boat, but scoot forward just slightly on the ball. Slowly straighten your body out until it’s in a “hollowed out” position with your arms either at your sides (easier) or overhead (harder) while keeping your core engaged. Hold for a second or two at the straightest position you feel comfortable, and then crunch up by bringing your knees to your chest and reach for your feet. If this ever becomes easy, challenge yourself to straighten your legs the entire time to perform “V ups.”
Everything with core is quality over quantity, so try to make all your sets consist of controlled reps and go until muscle failure (or you can’t maintain good form) instead of a specific number of reps.
Have you used the BOSU ball before? What are some of your favorite exercises on it?