It may look like half of a stability ball, but the fitness device known as a half-dome or BOSU packs a whole workout punch. Here's how to use a BOSU correctly and make it a vital part of your home workout.
Whether you call it a half dome, BOSU Balance Trainer, or just a BOSU, this fitness training device consists of an inflated rubber hemisphere attached to a rigid flat plastic platform. And because it looks like a stability ball that has been cut in half, you may even have heard it referred to as the "blue half-ball." But the name BOSU is actually an acronym for "BOth Sides Up" or “BOth Sides Utilized” because this versatile little fitness pillow can be used with either the dome side or the platform side facing up.
The name BOSU is an acronym for 'BOth Sides Up' or 'BOth Sides Utilized.' Its half-dome half-platform can help improve your balance, stability, mobility, and strength, depending on how you use it.
The BOSU was originally developed to train balance because when the dome side is facing up, it provides the user with an unstable surface to stand on while the entire device itself remains completely still. And if the flat side is facing up, it provides a solid surface that has an unstable base. And it is this combination of still, flat and unstable that makes this device so versatile and useful.
The BOSU’s half-dome half-platform can help improve your balance, stability, mobility, and strength, depending on how you use it. The BOSU’s unique shape can make it the perfect item for spicing up your home gym.
BOSU and Balance
In a scientific study, researchers found that 12 weeks of proprioception training on a BOSU and Swiss Ball was effective in postural stability, static balance, and dynamic balance. They concluded that using a BOSU could lead to an improvement in gait and balance capacity and decrease the risk of falling in adults aged 65 years and older.
A portion of these successful results was attributed to an increase in the participant’s core strength.
These results were seen after volunteers did various standing and sitting exercises, with their eyes open and closed, twice a week for 50 minutes each session.
While balance is made up of many components, including the vestibular system (inner ear and the pathways to the brainstem), a portion of these successful results was attributed to an increase in the participant’s core strength.
BOSU and core Strength
It’s easy to see how a device like this would benefit and build our balance, much in the same way that walking on uneven ground or doing an obstacle course would. But one of the most impressive features of the BOSU is how effective it is at building core strength.
Any core work you do using an unstable surface will be intensified due to the need to use your stabilizer muscles.
Any core work you do using an unstable surface will be intensified due to the need to use your stabilizer muscles. These muscles can remain relatively untouched when you do a basic Crunch or a Bird Dog on solid ground. But as soon as your body needs to fight to remain in a stable position, that changes. Your body can’t simply rely on those big muscles to keep you upright while performing the exercise, so those important (and often underused) muscles need to get involved.
You already know that exercises like planks strengthen your core muscles more effectively than exercises like crunches. (And if you don’t, check out my article called How to Plank Like a Pro.) So, it won't come as a surprise when I suggest that doing something even as simple as a plank on a BOSU, with its unsteady surface, turns the benefits up to 11.
Some quick and dirty BOSU core exercises
In Don’t Ignore Your Core, I explained how building a strong and stable core is arguably the most critical part of any exercise program, especially if you have plans on continuing to be mobile and fit well into your senior years. Well, if you took those words of advice to heart, and you have access to a BOSU ball, here are some exercises that you can crank up by adding in the magic combination of unstable and stable that the BOSU does so well.
Only add the BOSU to the mix if you have been doing each of the exercises on stable ground for quite some time. You need to be proficient at each before you start doing them on an unstable surface.
Basic movement: Lie face-down on the floor. (A soft mat can make this more comfortable.). Place your elbows directly under your shoulders and align your wrists with your elbows. Push your body up so you create a straight and flat line from your toes to your head. Keep your chin tucked in close to your neck (think of holding a tennis ball under your chin). Engage your abs like you are about to be punched in the stomach, and squeeze your gluteal (tailbone) and thigh muscles simultaneously. Breathe normally. Hold this plank position for a few seconds at first and increase the duration over time.
On BOSU: Place your BOSU dome-side-down on the floor and get into the plank position by placing your hands on either side of the flat plastic surface. Make sure your hands are directly beneath your shoulders and that your hips stay lifted.
You can also do an elevated feet variation if you place your BOSU dome-side-up and put your feet on it instead of your hands. Because your feet are placed on an unstable surface, your lower core stability muscles do more of the work.
Basic movement: Start on your back, hips pressed up to the ceiling, body weight resting on your shoulders, feet in parallel position, and arms by your side. Squeeze your glutes before lifting the right knee to 90 degrees. Pause and then place your right foot back down. Re-engage your glutes again before lifting the left knee to 90 degrees. Pause and place your left foot back down.
On BOSU: Place the BOSU dome-side-down, so you can put your feet on its flat platform. Having your feet stable, but the platform they are resting on unstable, adds a challenging aspect to this movement.
Basic movement: Get on your back, spine neutral, with both knees lifted to 90 degrees directly over your hips. Reach your arms up to the ceiling, right above your shoulders. Extend your right leg forward and reach your left arm back, without moving the rest of your body. Return to the starting position. Then extend your left leg forward and reach your right arm back. Return to the starting position.
On BOSU: Place your BOSU dome-side-up on the floor and then position yourself face-up on the ball. Make sure your back is following the curve of the ball before you raise your knees up to 90 degrees above your hips. Try to stay as still as possible while you go through the motions as I described above.
Basic movement: Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep your spine long and neutral and extend your right leg back while you reach your left arm forward. Pause and then lower your limbs. Then extend your left leg back and reach your right arm forward. Pause, and lower your limbs.
On BOSU: Place your BOSU dome-side up and get onto all fours with your hands and knees on the squishy ball surface. You will likely notice that your hands and knees are closer together than when you do this movement on the flat ground, and that's OK. In fact, this creates even more instability, which increases the need for your stabilizer muscles to get involved.
Basic movement: Start on all fours again, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes and then lift or float your knees up off the ground—just one inch from the floor, without changing the shape of your spine or collapsing in your pelvis. Hold this position for a few breaths and lower the knees down.
On BOSU: Place your BOSU dome-side-down and put your feet on the flat surface. Now, when you raise your knees off the ground, you will be fighting the instability of your feet while also supporting your body weight with your hand and toes.
Basic movement: Start on all fours, the same as the others. Get into a high plank position (like starting a push-up), hands stacked below your shoulders and your body in one straight line. Make sure your neck stays in line with your body. Then quickly draw your right knee up to your chest, and immediately extend it back out and down as you drive your left knee up to your chest. To raise your heart rate, run your knees in and out as quickly as you can.
On BOSU: Place your BOSU dome-side down and take a firm grip on either side of the flat platform. Make sure your hands are beneath your shoulders (not out in front or behind). Now as you do the mountain climber movement, use your stabilizer muscles to keep the BOSU as flat and still as possible.
Resistance Band Torso Twists
Basic movement: In a standing position, tie one end of your resistance band to a sturdy anchor at chest height and hold on to the other end. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and reach across your body to grasp the band with both hands, with long arms. Rotate your torso and guide the band horizontally across your body. Slowly and with control rotate back to the starting position.
On BOSU: Place your BOSU dome-side up and stand on the squishy ball part. Once you have your balance, perform the torso twists while also trying to keep balanced and your weight evenly on both feet.
Make a BOSU workout
My favorite way to use these exercises in a workout is to mix them in with a blast of high-intensity movement like running on the spot with high knees, burpees, jumping rope, or jumping jacks. By mixing your core exercises with some periods of high intensity, you can get the best of both worlds: a good cardiovascular boost and a solid strength work.
A great BOSU core circuit could look like this:
- 10 BOSU Bird Dogs,
- 10 BOSU Marching Bridge,
- 30 seconds of running with high knees (not on the BOSU)
- Hold BOSU elevated hand planks until failure
- Repeat this three or four times through.
A word of caution
You may see people online or at your gym doing things like weighted squats or lunges on a BOSU. While this looks impressive, I don't believe it's worth the risk. The instability that we rely on during the exercises I described earlier can become a detriment when weight is added to joints like knees, ankles, and hips.
If you want to increase the difficulty of something like a dumbbell squat to overhead press movement (which I have seen being done on a BOSU—yikes!), simply increase the weight of the dumbbell you use. Don’t try to do that movement on something like a BOSU. The risk to reward ratio is simply too high.