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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: BOSU exercise

One of the great things about being a columnist for PFP Magazine is that I often get to test out the latest fitness equipment on the market. While there are certainly some very gimmicky things out there, I have some ‘go to’ selections in my toolbox, such as the BOSU®NexGen™Pro Balance Trainer. It is the latest version of this training tool.

In my clinic, I rehab lots of athletes suffering from gluteus medius weakness, poor pillar stability and decreased hip stability. Many of my clientele are working to make it back from ACL reconstruction. One of my preferred strengthening exercises to target the shoulder, torso and hips is split squats. Once the client masters proper form on the ground, I move to an unstable setting using the BOSU®.

It is essential to challenge athletes to avoid valgus collapse. The BOSU® introduces instability at the ankle forcing the body to adapt during the split squat movement. Avoiding dynamic valgus and trunk dominance during training will help with injury reduction efforts for the client.

In the video below I produced for my PFP online column, you will see how to use this exercise effectively to improve strength, stability and proprioception.


Click here to read the entire online column.

Facilitating better lower leg stability is always a priority in my rehab and training programs. I have long been an advocate of single leg training to resolve asymmetry and reduce compensations and injury risk. Once a client masters form on the ground, adding in more proprioceptive challenges can take their training to a new level.

Today I wanted to share a previously unpublished video I shot for my ‘Functionally Fit’ column that demonstrates a single leg squat exercise on the BOSU Elite Trainer. It is a relatively new exercise tool that offers some tweaks on the original BOSU balance trainer.

For those familiar with my blog, you know I like to post research updates and exercises that prevent injury and maximize performance.  In my setting, I get to work with a very active population ranging in ages from 10-50 in most cases, including elite and professional athletes.  I am pointing this out simply because I have an opportunity to test and measure unique and challenging exercises every day with fit, athletic clients.

As part of my world, I am often faced with restoring shoulder, core and hip stability.  As clients progress through rehab and conditioning, I am always seeking advanced training options that are feasible and functional.  One training tool I like to employ, especially in upper body, core and hip training is the BOSU Balance Trainer.

Emphasizing co-contraction and scapulothoracic and glenohumeral stability is essential for optimal shoulder function.  But more importantly, addressing kinetic chain function in the shoulder, torso and hips is a must if we are to soundly address energy leaks and reduce injury risk.  To that end, I like to incorporate unstable closed kinetic chain training when my athletes are ready.  The video below demonstrates two upper body step-up progressions (forward and side-to-side) on the BOSU Balance Trainer that I utilize for higher level clientele.

Upper Body Step-ups

Regression – in place stepping (this can be used to prepare clients for the step-ups)

This regression can also be a very effective training tool especially if the client lacks sufficient strength, endurance and form to execute the full step-up patterns.  Pain and form should always guide exercise selection and progression.

Below are two links to my Functionally Fit columns describing the execution and application of these exercises:

Unstable Upper Body Step-ups (forward)

Unstable Upper Body Step-ups (lateral)

As a therapist and fitness enthusiast, I always want to know the “why” and implications for exercises.  I have posted on modified push-ups in the past, but I felt compelled to share some information that was published in the October 2012 Strength and Conditioning Journal.  Bret Contreras et al. discuss the biomechanics of the push-up and provide an excellent overview of the different types of push-ups and what research has to say about them.


I was most interested by the parts on unstable push-ups as I tend to use the BOSU Balance Trainer and BOSU Ballast Ball in many of my programs.  Here are some key points that the authors point out that are worth mentioning:

  • BOSU push-ups have been shown to increase activity of some of the scapular stabilizers namely upper, middle and lower trapezius fibers compared to standard push-ups, while serratus anterior activity is diminished (Tucker et al. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2010)
  • Lehman et al. (Man Ther 2008) reported that elevating the feet above the hands had a greater stimulus on scapulothoracic stabilizing musculature than placing the hands on an unstable surface
  • Lehman et al. (Dyn Med 2006) found that push-ups w/hands on a stability ball significantly increased the triceps brachii activation as well as invoking increased activation of pec major, rectus abdominus and external obliques compared with push-ups on a bench from the same angle.  However, note that feet on the stability ball did not affect muscle activity compared to push-ups with feet on a bench at the same angle
  • According to Marshall and Murphy (Apply Physiol Nutr Metab 2006) triceps brachii and abdominal EMG activity was much greater when performing push-ups off a stability ball compared to stable surfaces from flat and elevated positions


  1. Using unstable surfaces for push-ups when the primary base of support is the stability ball, BOSU, or BOSU Ballast Ball is more effective in increasing muscle activation of aforementioned muscles
  2. Placing the feet on an unstable surface does not add much benefit in terms of increasing muscle activation
  3. Maintaining a stable torso and spine angle is key and should not be compromised with an unstable surface

Other thoughts of mine:

Mastering form, alignment and strength with stable push-ups is common sense, right?  So, do not advance to unstable push-ups without pre-requisite strength and satisfactory technique in a stable environment.  Wrist mobility, shoulder stability, and core strength are just a few other key factors that should weigh in your decision to implement unstable push-ups.

Considering some isometric work with slightly bent elbows or even some small pulses can be effective in progressing toward these more advanced unstable push-ups.  Clients need to understand the point of no return and I prefer to spot closely particularly when using a stability ball or BOSU Ballast Ball.  Working with the BOSU (dome side down) is generally safer and allows for easier modification with the knees on the ground for those with less upper body strength or diminished control.

I also like to add a plus (scapular protraction at the top) to help counter the loss of serratus activity seen with BOSU push-ups. In the end, I really like using the unstable surface as the point of balance and have for some time.  There are many ways to do push-ups, but considering some unstable work has a good return for those clients whoa ready for it.

Below is a picture of the BOSU Ballast Ball – I prefer it over the stability ball as it is less likely to slip out from underneath the client.  It provides excellent shoulder and core stability work – my primary goals when electing to use it.  Reps, sets, progression and recovery will be dictated by fatigue and form at all times.


I work with lots of patients and clients who consistently demonstrate inadequate hip and core stability.  I see this show up routinely as asymmetrical 1’s for the trunk stability push-up, in-line lunge, hurdle step and rotary stability movements on the FMS. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring them in many of my females recovering from ACL reconstruction as well as runners with persistent pain/dysfunction in one lower extremity.

I am always looking for better ways to train the body in whole movement patterns as well as functional positions.  One of my preferred positions is to test and challenge my clients in a split squat position.  I begin with an isometric split squat cueing proper alignment and muscle activation.  As clients master isometric postural control, I will allow them to add an isotonic movement by squatting in the position.

As they progress, I will add in perturbations to stimulate changes or challenges to their center of gravity.  Often, you will see them struggle much more on the involved side.  But to be honest, I find most people have an incredibly hard time maintaining proper alignment for long without cheating or falling forward or to the side.  Allowing clients to lose form is okay provided they are cued to fix their alignment or they naturally self correct.

An additional wrinkle I throw in for this training is using the BOSU Balance Trainer.  Below is a video that shows how I use this progressing from shin down to just the toes as a support on the trail leg.  The second version will burn up your clients’ thighs and quickly become one of their least favorite exercises.  The great thing is that you do not have to offer much resistance to create a significant perturbation.

For more detail on this exercise and application, click here to read my PFP column featuring it this week.