Heather Marr is an NYC-based personal trainer and The Model Trainer Method creator, whose A-list client roster includes some of the world’s most famous supermodels. Ahead, she breaks down instability training.
Most people with a gym membership are familiar with the BOSU® ball and wobble boards. As instability training has grown in popularity, more and more gym members have taken to performing their strength training exercises on these types of surfaces. The idea behind this being that they will be getting the added benefit of challenging their stabilizer muscles and core. It does beg the question, however: Should you be performing your exercises on these unstable surfaces or on flat ground?
Let's take a look at an exercise you often see people performing on these unstable surfaces: the squat. If I am standing on a wobble board performing a squat, I am going to be forced to use significantly less added resistance, if any, to perform the exercise. If my goals are aesthetic- or strength-based, you can see how this would certainly not be the best choice. By performing my repetitions on unstable ground, I am unable to load and train my legs properly.
What about the benefit of challenging the core while performing the repetitions on unstable ground? Again, because the exercise is being performed on unstable ground, the added resistance will be greatly reduced. If the squats are performed on stable ground, heavier loads may be used. As anyone who has ever performed heavy squats knows, this is an extremely challenging core exercise as well. Heavier loads on stable surfaces would result in increased strength gains and energy being used during and after the workout. This, of course, makes performing the heavier squats advantageous for those trying to lose weight as well.
Where this concept can really go into dangerous territory, is when people try to combine heavy loaded exercises and unstable surfaces. This, more often than not, can lead to injuring yourself and even those around you.
Let's take a look at another popular exercise you see often being performed in the gym: the military press. Most gyms are equipped with military press strength machines. Here, you just sit down on the machine and push the handles along their given path. The machine is really doing all the stabilization work for you. When you switch to performing this exercise standing with free weights, you probably won't be able to use as much as resistance as you did with the machine. You will, however, be getting a very challenging core workout. This is an example of an intelligent way to add some instability and functional exercises safely into your workouts.
Instability training is used with preventative care and rehabilitation and for good reason. It is also used in some cases for sport-specific training.
In order to reach your goals, you must train with programming that is in line with them. Many of the people using these training techniques in their workouts are not doing so for sports, injury or warm up. If you are training for aesthetics or strength, as we've seen, in many cases you are better off sticking to solid ground.