Several years ago the Balance Ball craze hit the fitness world, and many exercise “experts” scrambled to adapt traditional exercises so that they could be used on the ball. The marketing of the Balance Ball – and more recently the Bosu Ball – was genius as even some of the best personal trainers and strength coaches changed their philosophies to adapt to the ways of this gimmick.
“Unstable training environment” became the new catch phrase and personal trainers and strength coaches had clients do every exercise from crunches to bench presses and squats on the Balance Ball. Some people really got carried away and were kneeling and standing on the balls. Workouts started to resemble circus acts.
But a funny thing happened along the way; research indicated that the balance ball wasn’t as effective as advertised. Some fitness professionals started to question the claims made by the Balance Ball proponents, from both common sense and scientific standpoints.
As a result, studies were conducted that showed that while training on an unstable surface may require the stabilizing muscles to work harder in order to maintain control, the decrease in the force output of the arms and legs indicated that strength training should be performed not on the Balance Ball but on a stable surface.
Research indicates that the Balance Ball can be an aid in rehabilitation and in certain applications where the development of balance is the goal, but is not effective when used to improve athletic performance and general exercise goals.
Proponents have claimed that since sports are sometimes played on unstable surfaces – such as a wet field – the Balance Ball can prepare athletes for this condition. Hogwash. I’ve played and coached football and other sports for 35 years and have never encountered an unstable surface that in the slightest way resembles the “surface” of a Balance Ball.
Athletes contend with the “unstable surfaces” encountered in their sport by getting stronger in the weight room and by working on their sport-specific skills on the kinds of surface that they compete. Football, lacrosse, baseball, softball, soccer and field hockey players practice on wet and muddy fields and therefore are conditioned to contend with them.
For you gym rats out there, if you want to use one, only a very small part of your workout should include the Balance Ball. Personally, I have never believed that the Balance Ball is an accessory to bother with. Frankly, it’s a waste of time.
The most popular Balance Ball exercises are the abdominal crunch and the related, over-rated family of abdominal and crunch related exercises. The crunch is a waste of time as it is a non-functional movement, and to perform crunches on a balance ball is the epitome of a waste of time.
In recent years, the abomination known as the Bosu Ball has come on the scene; half a balance ball fixed on a solid base. This is just another fitness gimmick that isn’t worth the bother. As time goes on traditional modes of exercise have been proven to be more efficient and effective than the gimmicks that come and go.
Stick to the basics and in the long run you will be in better shape.