The Many Faces of the BOSU Balance Trainer

Seldomly used piece of fitness equipment strengthens your entire body

Most health club members have seen it—possibly used it—the BOSU Balance Trainer. However, this blue, bouncy, body blaster is often a hidden gym gem. It is an excellent piece of equipment that often falls in the shadows of the fitness machines, benches, and weight racks. It’s time to shed some spotlight on the BOSU, as it carries a unique level of versatility, convenience, and ability to be used in a broad range of training formats.

What is a BOSU? It is a rubber dome with a flat base that resembles half of a stability ball. It is often stored in the stretching/mat areas of gyms, which has given many people the inaccurate impression that this is a piece of equipment designed solely for abdominal work. It can be used as a base for crunches, but don’t limit it—the BOSU Balance Trainer can serve a multitude of purposes. Whether you are after an intense cardiovascular workout, strength building exercises, balance improvement techniques or core conditioning, the BOSU has it covered.

According to, the name is an acronym for “Both Sides Utilized,” meaning that it can be used dome side up (for cardio such as runs and jumps, strength training moves like squats and abdominal crunches, and more) or down (pushups, mountain climbers, etc.). However, there is even a time and a place for dome side out, when it comes to certain moves such as the BOSU burpees and other movements in which it is lifted upward. The options are wide-ranging and far-reaching.

Why use a BOSU? Sure, there is plenty of other gym equipment out there, but the BOSU can provide many effective ways to change up an exercise routine, present more of a challenge, and shorten the amount of time required for a workout by combining multiple training components. Here are some of the major benefits that the BOSU has to offer:

  • The unstable surface requires engagement of the core. The abdominals will be worked indirectly in almost all exercises.
  • Similarly, the BOSU's unsteady shape will demand more work from the legs when the feet are placed on the dome. The quads, hamstrings, and even calf muscles will be instrumental in maintaining stability.
  • It improves balance and coordination. The BOSU will naturally lead you to really contract your muscles, helping you to make the most of each exercise, movement and repetition, also increasing strength. It is surprising to find out how much harder we can work when we are really put to the test, feet up on the dome, rather than the trusty floor!
  • It can be a safer way to perform jumping exercises. While the BOSU is certainly challenging and not for everyone, those using it for plyometrics—normally high impact exercises—will put less strain on their joints thanks to the softer, more forgiving surface.
  • It is convenient in the sense that it does not take up much space and can easily be stored, making it perfect for at-home training. Transporting the BOSU will draw no sweat (although the actual workout certainly will), so taking it on a roadtrip or bringing it to a workout partner’s home is painless.
  • Variety, variety, variety! The BOSU can be used for an extreme lower body blast, upper body sculpting, six-pack shaping, or calorie-burning cardio. You can also combine any or all of those into one intense time saving workout by designing a workout with interval drills.

One example of a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) style workout involving the BOSU is as follows:

Warm up: Jog up and down from the floor up onto the BOSU, alternating feet that you land on. Do this for about 30 seconds.

Cardio: Mountain Climbers. With the dome side down, hold onto both sides of the base and take the knees in toward the chest, one at a time. Keep the arms and core tight in order to balance the dome on the ground and stay straight. Do for about 30 seconds.

Strength: Squats. Stand on top of the BOSU, feet about hip width apart, and sit back into a squat while keeping the core tight, chest lifted, and shoulders down and back. Push through the hamstrings, glutes and quads to come up. 10-15 reps.

Plyometrics: Over-the-Top Squat Jumps. Start with one foot on the floor, the other on the BOSU. Sit down into a squat and explode upward, hopping over the top of the BOSU and landing in the same position in which you started, but on the opposite side. 10-15 reps.

Cardio: Knee raises. With one foot on the BOSU, take your other foot off the floor and raise the knee toward your chest. Repeat three times, and hop over the top, landing in the starting position but on the opposite side. 10-15 reps per side.

Strength: Shoulder Raises. Stand on the BOSU, feet about hip width apart, holding hand weights. Maintain a slight bend in the knees and keep legs and core tight in order to balance. With shoulders down and back, arms out in front of you and palms facing down, contract the anterior deltoids (fronts of the shoulders) to raise the weights up to shoulder height, then push back down. 12-15 reps.

Plyometrics: Step-Down Jumps. Stand up on the BOSU, knees slightly bent. Step out to the side and onto the floor with one foot, then follow with the other, so you will be straddling the BOSU with one foot on either side. Again with knees bent, push up through the glutes and hamstrings into a jump and land on top of the BOSU. 10-15 reps.

**Important** Always keep a bend in the knees. For plyometric moves, make sure you are sitting/landing into the squat, making the glutes and leg muscles do the work. For squats, keep back straight and chest lifted as you sit back, then push up through the legs. Be sure to warm up before any workout, and give yourself time to become accustomed to the BOSU—there is no need to attempt all of this at once as you first get used to balancing and remaining steady.

This piece was originally published on Karina's Fit Zone.

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