Is the Instability Worth It?


As I search for new and exciting ways to change up my work out at the gym, I have been seeing more and more people using the BOSU ball, the Dyna disc, the Swiss Ball, etc. While I learned about these in physical therapy school as a vital part of improving one’s core stability and providing improved input to the lower extremities in an effort to decrease injury, I decided to dive a little deeper just to see what else is out there. After reading a few articles, I found that, indeed, creating an unstable surface requires a person to fire different types of muscles as compared to a similar activity on a stable surface. Additionally, I found that performing activities on an unstable surface over time may not be much different than performing a similar activity with free weights.

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Many different measures can be used to assess one’s balance. As seen in the Star Excursion Balance Test (discussed and researched extensively by Phil Plisky et al.), a specific balance training program assists to decrease an athlete’s risk of lower extremity injury. This occurs by improving the neuromuscular recruitment and adaptation to the muscles in the trunk and lower extremity so that when one is pushed to the limits of his/her base of support, the biomechanics of the lower body are still aligned and one is not placed at an increased risk of injury. (1)

So what should I use?

                An article by Wahl and Behm (2) suggests the wobble board and the swiss ball recruit more muscle activation than the Bosu and the Dyna disc. Obviously, this may change depending on what you are doing and what your goal is. It is also noted that those who already utilize free weights and have been training for years may not experience an increase as significant as those who are just beginning resistance training. This is generally because the free weights provide instability to one’s exercise already. By training this way for years, one may already recruit the similar muscular activity that is recruited when exercising on an unstable surface. Using the unstable surface will not do harm, but it may not benefit a “seasoned professional” as much as it would someone who is new to the exercise (2). Also keep in mind, while using a BOSU or a Dyna disc may assist in improving proprioception, reaction time, and controlling postural sway, it may not necessarily correlate to sport-specific or other functional activity (3).

What about Plyometrics? Do they affect balance?

As seen in an article by Myer et al (4), both balance training through use of BOSU,  Airex, Swiss ball, etc. as well as plyometric training can assist in improving strength (as measured via squatting and hang clean)  and power (as measured via vertical jump). Both methods have also been shown to improve hamstring strength and the hamstring/quadriceps ratio in order to decrease risk of injury. Balance training improves force dissipation in landing more than plyometrics, which may be surprising considering the jumping and power needed to perform plyometrics. Utilizing both of these in variation may help to produce the greatest benefit. Of course, depending on the end functional or sport-specific goal, one may want to focus more on plyometrics instead of using an unstable surface for balance training (or vice versa).


Are there any other ways to improve my balance and lower my injury risk?

Of course! This is not just one option. Other things such as yoga, Tai Chi, and pilates can improve one’s balance in all ages (while also providing a sense of relaxation at times). And don’t forget, as mentioned above, resistance training with free weights alone can assist in improving your balance! Keep in mind, if you do complete any sort of balance activity with a lower load, you want to increase your reps to 12-15 per set to emphasize the endurance factor (5). Feel free to be creative, but be careful and safe!

Until next time…


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  • Filipa, A., Byrnes, R., Paterno, M. V., Myer, G. D., & Hewett, T. E. (2010). Neuromuscular training improves performance on the star excursion balance test in young female athletes.Journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy40(9), 551-558.
  • Wahl, M. J., & Behm, D. G. (2008). Not all instability training devices enhance muscle activation in highly resistance-trained individuals.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research22(4), 1360-1370.
  • Yaggie, J. A., & Campbell, B. M. (2006). Effects of balance training on selected skills.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research20(2), 422-428.
  • Myer, G. D., Ford, K. R., Brent, J. L., & Hewett, T. E. (2006). The effects of plyometric vs. dynamic stabilization and balance training on power, balance, and landing force in female athletes.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research20(2), 345-353.
  • Kibele, A., & Behm, D. G. (2009). Seven weeks of instability and traditional resistance training effects on strength, balance and functional performance.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research,23(9), 2443-2450.


Published by Jennifer Palmer PT, DPT

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