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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Drawback of Exercising on Unstable Surfaces

Stability training, mainly in the form of lifting weights while standing on unstable surfaces, became somewhat popular with the advent of the Bosu Ball, which is a hemispheric ball about 2+ feet across mounted on a flat plastic base. The idea is that the instability of the surface brings muscles into play that are required for maintaining stability; muscles that would be minimally involved when exercising on a stable surface.

A study by Chulvi-Dedrano et al. in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (vol. 24, no. 10, pp. 2723-2730, 2010) tested force production and muscle electrical activity during deadlifts on a stable surface and on two different unstable surfaces.

31 young adult subjects did the following:
  1. Isometric deadlift in which the lifter pulled upward maximally for 5 seconds against an immovable bar
  2. Dynamic deadlift in which a barbell weighing 70% of the individual’s maximal isometric deadlift was lifted for 5 repetitions 
Lifting force was measured during the isometric efforts. Muscle electrical activity of the lower back muscles (paraspinals) was measured during both the isometric and dynamic lifts to indicate how hard the muscles were working. Both of the lifts were done on the following 3 surfaces:
  1. Stable floor
  2. Bosu Ball
  3. T-Bow (a curved board that can rock laterally as one stands on it)
  • In the isometric deadlift, both the force produced and the muscle electrical activity were significantly higher on the stable surface than on either unstable surface.
  • In the dynamic deadlift, muscle electrical activity was significantly higher on the stable surface than on either unstable surface
Bottom Line
This study backs up other ones that have shown that exercising on unstable surfaces does not provide as much stimulus as stable-surface training to the main muscles (prime movers) used to effect the exercise movement. It has previously been shown that more weight can be handled when lifting on stable than unstable surfaces, providing greater stimulus to the muscles. In view of these factors, training on unstable surfaces is not best for increasing the size or strength of the major muscles. However, since such training does bring stability muscles into play, it can be effectively used as a supplement to training on stable surfaces, especially for athletes who engage in sports in which maintaining stability is of major importance (e.g. hockey, figure skating, snow-boarding, gymnastics). The major part of the resistance workout should still be on stable surfaces.

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