Saturday morning. Wrapped up my prep on this post for publication the following week. Saturday afternoon, a picture crossed one of my social media feeds & made me realize my entire angle on this post was wrong. Originally, I felt like I was beating a dead horse with this post. I had written it 2 months ago as a post for another site but they ended up not using it. So at the time of writing it, I only had Eric Cressey’s old article to link to – that article was the 1st, to my knowledge, to include data proving that unstable surface training was negatively affecting athletes.
And that article was BURIED, having been written 2 years ago & on a site that definitely wasn’t front-of-mind for the average person reading fitness content online. We hadn’t yet gone through the big buzz of this T-Nation/Eric Cressey article – which to-date – seemed to be the most helpful buzz in getting the word out about unstable surface training not being The Thing some thought it was when it first hit the fitness scene.
So in thinking Cressey’s research was common knowledge, I prepared this post from that angle. Then I saw the picture, which I won’t post because the client shown in the pic doesn’t need to be subjected to that – but suffice to say – that fitness pro hasn’t read Cressey’s data on the negative impacts of unstable surface lower-body training. Pictures sometimes don’t give context, so there may be times when a picture that looks crazy or wrong to you, might actually be totally correct for that individual and their fitness goals. (That was not the case with this picture and the caption the fitness pro paired with it.)
Let’s review Cressey’s original research on BOSU ball training with soccer players:
“The study found that performing half of the exercises in a training program on a BOSU ball not only didn’t offer a group of Division II soccer players any fitness advantage in terms of speed or agility, it actually decreased their performance.
The new findings back up research first done by Eric Cressey, president of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts, and the author of The Truth About Unstable Surface Training. In his study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2007, Cressey found that adding unstable surface training — even when it took up just 2 percent of a strength and conditioning program — curbed overall speed and agility gains. On a 40-yard sprint, for example, the regular training group improved their times by 3.9 percent, while the unstable group improved by only 1.8 percent.”
So what are we trying to do when we’re training for “stability” anyways?
“To have better control of ones’ body whether on 1 leg, on rough terrain, or when changing directions”, seems like a valid answer to that question.
“Better control” means that your brain does a good job calling on the right muscles at the right time, and that you have the strength to maintain your desired movement. So really, when we’re talking about becoming more stable, we’re talking about getting stronger.
Here are 3 ways to train “stability” in your program:
1. Strength train barefoot. Not in zero-drop heeled shoes. Barefoot. You have much greater awareness for adapting to the constant micro-movements of your foot when there is nothing between you and the ground. Learn how to press into the floor with various parts of your foot to better stabilize yourself, whether you’re on 1 foot or 2.
Make a point to take note of your toes, (if they are lifting off the ground or not), and your weight distribution on your foot as you do your strength training. You want your toes to remain in firm contact with the ground but not be scrunched up to do so. Distribute your weight through your foot like a tripod – pressure set in the heel, the ball joint of the big toe, and the outside border of the foot.
2. Get strong on 2 feet to be strong on 1 foot. Stability is correlated with the ability to produce force and since force production is higher during bilateral training when compared with unilateral training, it would make sense to prioritize these types of strength exercises in your program. Squats, deadlifts, and bent-over rows are three 3 exercises I commonly see done on 1-foot but that net greater gains in building more force production by doing on 2-feet instead of 1.
This doesn’t mean don’t ever do 1-leg exercises. It means prioritize your work on 2 feet. If it’s appropriate to add in 1-leg squats, 1-leg RDLs, 1-leg suspension rows or pushups, or any other 1-leg drills, add them in as supporting exercises for your main 2-foot strength movements.
3. Make sure your program includes rotational movements and anti-rotation movements. Being able to control when your body rotates, or keeps itself from rotating when it shouldn’t (think rolling an ankle or tweaking a knee), is a key part of ensuring you have good control and stability throughout your body. An example of a rotational movement would be a cable woodchop. An anti-rotation movement would be a 1-arm dumb bell bench press.
If you incorporate these 3 focus points into your program, you’ll see your body become a strong, stable machine. No BOSU, dyna-disc, or wobble board needed.