To use stable or unstable exercises, that’s the question

Unstable surface training (UST), also referred to as stability training (ST), has gained tremendous popularity in the last several years. Unfortunately, for the average person just trying to improve themselves physically, the popularity of stability training has exploded into the mainstream. Why do I think this explosion in popularity is unfortunate? Because, like any industry, the fitness industry is full of people trying to make a buck anyway they can.

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The fitness industry preys upon people’s insecurities; the fitness industry is always looking for something new because of the ease at which they can hook consumers with an “easier”, “faster” way to look better. UST is not popular because it is more efficacious than traditional training, but because of a tremendous media campaign. They know there’s huge money in marketing a piece of equipment and/or workout program, especially when it’s backed by pseudo-scientific studies.

Some UST device advertiser’s claim their product is the key to achieving a strong, fit, balanced, functional body. They claim that no longer does one need to lift weights, push them self to get stronger, or even go to a gym. Just use an advertised device, like the Bosu ball, with a few dumbbells or just body weight, and viola! You will magically become fit. They are preying on people’s ignorance, and in many cases, inherent laziness.

Truth be told, UST has only proven its usefulness in the rehab setting and only with respect to ankle stability to any degree. There is no research to support the efficacy of UST in healthy people over traditional training. Several studies report that training on an unstable surface offers no increase in the electromyography (EMG) of the muscles involved in core training and no increase in athletic performance.

UST exercises have been shown to adversely affect movement velocity and range of motion when performing traditional ground based exercises like the squat. Hence the ability to exert force, power or move at high velocity is hampered during UST. This is simply because the loads needed to perform the exercises are too light to produce a significant adaptive response. These results are not conducive to building strength, muscle or explosiveness.

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