Saturday, August 1, 2009

You're Training is Unstable!

As I have recently mentioned, I was just hired on at a local gym as a personal trainer. Over the past few days I have been observing some of the directors and top trainers, just to see how things are run at this specific location. I am also very interested in learning more about the business side of training so I am trying to see as much of the business interactions as possible. However, that's a different story. While I have been observing training sessions and talking with a bunch of these trainers I have learned a few things about this facility and its trainers. One thing, however, sticks out like a fat girl in a nudie magazine. This one thing I am talking about is the obsession these trainers have with Unstable Surface Training, especially with the BOSU ball. I am the type of person that when the end of the day comes I am going to do my own thing and not worry about the next, but this is an issue I wanted to address. Every trainer and every training session I have seen since I have been in this gym has used the BOSU ball. Whether it be standing on, kneeling on, one foot, both feet, this piece of equipment has been used. I have even made it clear to my bosses that I do not like the BOSU and I think it is worthless. We agreed to disagree, and that's fine with me but I wanted to give some info to the rest of you as to why the BOSU and other methods of Unstable Surface Training(UST) are pointless.

Before we get into "why not" let's look at the reasons "why". While talking to these trainers I was able to see why they used this type of training so often. They call it "functional training". Reasons for use include more core activation, balance improvement, strengthening of ligaments and tendons, and it is "fun". OK but...

I had my own thoughts, which have been formulated by the things I have learned through schooling as well as reading the thoughts and opinions of some of the best strength coaches and trainers in the country, but I wanted to do some research as well to have some science to back up my thoughts. So let's take a look:

  • One study by two doctors at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College found that there was an equal amount of core stabilizer activation in both stable and unstable surface training.
  • Another study showed that with UST there was a loss of power production.
  • With UST the body is not able to produce as much force because of the lower level of balance.
  • It has also been shown that balancing on a BOSU ball or some other type of unstable surface improves balance on that surface however that improved balance does not carry over to stable know, like the ones we walk on every single day. I don't know what place on Earth has a ground made of BOSU balls, but I sure hope I never have to go there, or I will be unprepared!

A few more issues that I have seen and thought about: core stability can be improved in many ground based movements such as squats, deadlifts, and RDLs, just to name a few. Not to mention stabilization training such as planks, anti-rotations, and other core movements also improve spinal stabilization and core strength. We can also get "creative" and perform basic strength movements such as a deadlift or a step-up with only one dumbbell, in order to demand the stabilizers to work. Another area of concern is that the majority of people getting training have trouble balancing well on the balls and therefore groove poor movement patterns, or fail to correct poor movement patterns, while performing these exercises. In turn, these people make themselves more susceptible to injury.

Let's review. Force production is lessened by UST therefore muscle mass cannot be built which in turn leads to lessened results. Power production is decreased. Whether you are an athlete or an elderly woman, you need power output. Higher speed of contraction can help prevent falling and there is also research showing that power training in the elderly can improve quality of living. Ligiments and tendons are also strengthened through ground based strength movements. They strengthen as muscles do and unless one takes a performance enhancing drug, muscle strength is not going to outpace tendon and ligiment strength.

The biggest thing in my mind is this: Athletes are in the best shape, from body composition to movement ability. So why not train in a way that athletes train. Sure, a sedentary individual needs to work into a program but the basic principles of strength training, corrective exercise, and movement training can and should be applied fom the start. Keeping that in mind, why not look at what the best strength and conditioning programs are doing. In my experience with collegiate strength and conditioning, as well as what I have read, there is not any UST going on. So why, as a personal trainer, would I want to do that!? Because it is the new fad? Because my co-workers are doing it? I am going to be my own and have reasons behind what I do, more than, Billy and Johnny do it with their clients, or, it is fun!

With all that being said, I hope I didn't offend anyone out there. I just wanted to pass on the knowledge I have accrued and point out some fallacies of these "exciting new workouts".

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