Unstable surface training. Is it worth it?

It still surprises me to hear of trainers utilizing unstable surfaces to improve strength or power or for so called balance training.  It frustrates me to know that people are still standing on these tools and performing squats or bicep curls or any additional exercise the trainer can think of to reduce boredom for their client instead of the trainer developing a progressive goal specific program based on adaptation and movement restrictions.

elephant on ball

Now, there are some rehab benefits to using these tools but since the term “Functional training” has exploded in the industry these tools are being used incorrectly to promote Sport performance and improve daily tasks, it is much more beneficial for the human body to be rooted into the ground!  Our brain understands this concept and standing on BOSU’s or stability balls isn’t the answer.

It should be in every list of goals to improve strength and power development plus improve speed and reduce injuries.

Why is this such an important topic?

The human body must create a strong foundation of efficient CORRECT movement.  Many people think that standing on unstable surfaces “strengthens stabilizers”.  Stabilizers such as rotator cuff, deep glutes, ankle stabilizers, transverse abs are reflex driven.  These take on an immediate response to movement in the body to correct and support.  It’s correct motor control and when these “stabilizers” work the way we want them to work we reduce risk and move better.  Muscles in our body must work together in order for CORRECT movement to occur.   We must be able to squat, lunge and step.  Stand on one leg, chop, lift and rotate all with the appropriate ability to create and control mobility and have the appropriate stability.

Let’s take a look at squatting while standing on an unstable service.  Ask yourself WHY?  If you are looking to improve strength the last thing your brain wants to do is improve your strength output.  It is doing its best to avoid falling off this unstable service.  It becomes a joke of an exercise with little or no strength gains and with most individuals moving poorly due to postural or mobility restrictions because of repetitive daily patterns, the last thing they should be doing is a circus act.

Stop trying to improve strength on top of dysfunction!  Start improving balance by improving mobility. Movement restriction in the body down regulates (decreases) effort in order to protect itself.  Restriction forces you to give up the stability you need in order to move.  Just because it’s hard or it burns doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do!  For example, If you lack hip mobility you may compensate in the low back while you try to squat.  Now what may happen if you try this on an unstable surface?

You are learning incorrect patterns on unstable surfaces.  Sure, that may seem to get easier the more you do it but you simply will get better at standing on an unstable surface.  Now put yourself into game play with ground reaction force and opposing players and you have done nothing to improve your performance.  Your brain and body hasn’t been following a sound program because you have wasted your time in circus play.

What would give you more benefit? Try standing on one leg with eyes open AND eyes closed. Narrow your base of support. Perform ½ kneeling patterns, chops and educate yourself on WHY!

What does it take to accept YOU?

How many times per day do you give yourself credit? It’s a tough one, I know as I am guilty of the glass is half empty mentality. It is much easier going through the day examining the negative and trying to figure out ways to improve instead of just accepting that life is pretty damn good. The days are filled with some pretty cool shit. But….it takes some special experiences to take a step back and realize that.

negative thoughts

I am fairly certain that the majority of females spend time in the “glass is half empty” mentality. Looking for the next best thing to lose weight or wishing they could look like someone else. What does it take for most women to appreciate themselves for who they are and what they can do? For most, it takes an event either negative or positive in order for them to appreciate everything they have to offer.  It’s a lightbulb moment.

I am one of those people.

The “glass is half empty” is all I have really known. There is always room for improvement. There is always a road to greater success. Why would you not want to strive to be better?

This is where the acceptance can be tough. Does accepting who you are and what you can do mean defeat? Does it mean you are giving up to any kind of further personal and mental growth? Well, that was always my thought process. Never stop learning and never stop being BETTER!

I am a very competitive person. I will not accept that I cannot do something well. I want to succeed and I want to perform. This is where it can be so detrimental to females. That feeling of never being good enough! It spews over into all aspects of life, Personal and business. It can be taken as bitchiness or selfish but it’s about personal acceptance and making others proud. You are always trying to prove…something! You are always trying to be… better!

Now this is where the past few years have given me a new appreciation of the “glass is half full”. It’s important for me to write about it because I know how hard I am on myself. There comes a time for self-appreciation and recognizing YOU!

Luckily I am one of the few who loves their job and career choice. Health, strength & conditioning are like breath to me! I always had a fear of doing new things, what if I failed? What if I sucked at it?

Why should I even give a shit?

And then I turned 40!

I hate hearing people bitch about their age. It’s just a number folks! I started to think about all the things I WANTED to accomplish. Why not? Why not try things that challenge who you are and what you can do! This is where the appreciation of me started.

I experienced races like Tough Mudder in Whistler, BC and was proud of how well I felt and did. The Tough Mudder appreciation made me participate in the Spartan Beast in Sun Peaks. Thanks to my amazing business partner, I followed that up by running my first ½ marathon in under 2 hours and was hooked. These experiences allowed me to realize that the work I put into my health & fitness had paid off. My competitive nature needed to accomplish something in order to appreciate ME!

Appreciating yourself can be tough work, for any female!

But there was still the “glass is ½ empty” thought process. Never being particularly happy with “myself” and searching away from the activities I loved. Maybe it was Yoga that I needed. Maybe I needed to zone out in some sort of activity that allowed me to calm myself.

NOPE…. That wasn’t the answer! I have come to realize that mentally I have a squirrel brain and slowing that down to appreciate me wasn’t it.  It only made me more anxious and bored.

The next eye opening experiences may have allowed me to appreciate what I am doing for me. And even better, it proves that encouraging others to stay healthy IS Important! It all means something! You should be doing SOMETHING every day to improve your health and move your body.

I was fortunate enough to receive a Dexa Scan which is a Whole body composition scan. It shows lean and fat mass and bone density. I was blown away by my numbers… why? Because I was always searching for better! I could never appreciate my body and what it could do! At the age of 43 my body fat % was 18. Any lower and I start losing bone density. That number put me below average, actually off the charts! I had no idea! How many OTHER females have no idea!!?? My goal now needs to be improving strength. Any additional fat loss could have me spiralling into an unhealthy state.

My bone density was above average and again, off the charts! I could breathe a sigh of relief on this one because I keep striving to be stronger! I now had a concrete number showing me that my lifestyle meant something! My V02 Max test kicked ass. It was high for my age range. (Scale from Low to high) Even though this is just a piece of the puzzle it again gave me a concrete number of acceptance. When I am pissed at myself when struggling on a run…how dare I! Walk it off and keep going!

I just recently completed my second Spartan Beast and was pushed to the limits on this one. 5 hours of climbing a mountain and completing obstacles with one of the best training partners you could have, Jonathan Martin. Proving to myself that I can do this shit!


Hitting the finish line pissed after finding out how long it took us turned into a short appreciation of myself when finding out I placed 3rd in my age group the following evening. Ask me what happened next! I noticed the 2nd place female beat me by 11 minutes. That was 11 minutes of me fucking with my shoes or waiting at an obstacle. I could have come in 2nd! DAMMIT! It was THAT CLOSE!

WTF is my problem!!!!! Why can’t I look at that 3rd place finish and accept it and be proud! Well, here is the best part… the realization that I NEED to accept it and be proud! Have I finally achieved what almost every female strives for? Accepting THEMSELVES?

Why is all this important enough to write about? If you are someone who knows me well, you know I’m not an emotionally soft & fluffy person. It takes a lot for me to accept defeat or failure, if so that means I HAVE FAILED MYSELF but I think I am finally starting to appreciate ME! It’s time to stop looking at the glass as half empty! And if I have such a struggle with it then how many women are going through the same thing and don’t even realize how fucking amazing they actually are! I may have needed numbers and/or placement and completion of something hard in order to look at what I can and have achieved but I now have a taste of realization that I am doing pretty damn good. The “glass is half full” work that you have put in cannot get ignored! It’s time to appreciate everything you are doing and can do! It does matter and it is actually making a difference!

You are better than you think you are. You are sexier than you think you are and you are fucking awesome! Now start accepting that!