Hopefully the days of squatting, pressing, curling and whatever else people may try and pass off as strength training on an unstable surface are over.
It became common practice to see trainers have their clients do exercises such as dumbbell chest press, seated shoulder press and, god forbid, squatting on a ball. Yes the ball adds a measure of instability and has shown to increase EMG muscle activation in some studies, but do the benefits really outweigh the risks involved.
I have had numerous conversations with people about their thoughts on stability ball training after a recent article was printed in a local paper about a fairly well known Strength Coach who works with some fairly well known hockey players was quoted as saying: “my guys don’t bench press, we get on a stability ball and press a 75lbs. dumbbell with one arm because it forces you to use your core and stabilize.”
First thought that pops into my head, what if you’re not strong enough to press that 75 pounds, what if you’re not even strong enough to press 25 pounds on a ball? This is where sticking to the basics comes into play. You MUST develop the strength and power first, on a stable surface, before you can even attempt unstable surface training with some measure of success.
In a twitter conversation with @REPerformace1, Cory Kennedy did bring up an excellent point, this said trainer is already working with trained athletes, he is not developing athletes.
What he is doing, however, is sending the wrong message to parents, coaches and younger athletes who look up to these guys and want to train just like them because they think that is what they need to do. The days of taking a professional athletes training program and watering it down for a younger, less-experienced crowd are over. This industry is a science and there are fundamentals that must be followed to produce successful results and reduce the risk of injury.
Speaking of injury, this must have hurt! Seeing things like this absolutely crack me up but completely reinforce what I am saying here:
When it comes to developing strength and power, the ball has no place in a gym as it can actually be a deterrent to success.
Findings of recent studies have shown the following with respect to stable (ST) and unstable (UST) surface training:
Eric Cressey et. al gathered the following in the study THE EFFECTS OF TEN WEEKS OF LOWER-BODY UNSTABLE SURFACE TRAINING ON MARKERS OF ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
The experimental (US) group supplemented their normal conditioning program with lower-body exercises on inflatable rubber discs; the control (ST) group performed the same exercises on stable surfaces. Bounce drop jump (BDJ) and countermovement jump (CMJ) heights, 40- and 10-yard sprint times, and T-test (agility) times were assessed before and after the intervention. The ST group improved significantly on predicted power output on both the BDJ (3.2%) and CMJ (2.4%); no significant changes were noted in the US group. Both groups improved significantly on the 40- and 10-yard sprint times. The ST group improved significantly more than the US group in 40-yard sprint time; a trend toward great- er improvement in the ST group was apparent on the 10-yard sprint time. Both groups improved significantly on T-test performance; no statistically significant changes were apparent between the groups. These results indi- cate that UST using inflatable rubber discs attenuates perfor- mance improvements in healthy, trained athletes. Such imple- ments have proved valuable in rehabilitation, but caution should be exercised when applying UST to athletic performance and general exercise scenarios.
Oberacker, L.M et. at recently published at article in the NSCA’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research providing these results:
Significant main effects for time were reported for straight-line sprint speed, planned agility and reactive agility with both groups demonstrating improvements during the post-training testing session. The ST group demonstrated a significant increase in CMJ during the post-training session (change in mean: 0.04 m) in contrast to the decline demonstrated by the UST group (change in mean: -0.01 m).
Performing resistance training exercises on an unstable surface confers no advantage over traditional resistance training exercises for improving the speed, agility and aerobic capacity of female soccer players. Furthermore, the use of an unstable surface may inhibit the effects of resistance training on vertical jump height, an important variable in soccer performance.
Ivan Chulvi-Medrano et. al used the deadlift as their performance marker with respect to stable versus unstable surface training. Findings are as follows:
The subjects produced more force and muscle activity on the stable surface than under the other conditions during the isometric test (p , 0.05), and the same differences in muscle activity were observed during the dynamic test (p , 0.05). These data show that the performance of deadlifts under stable conditions favors a higher production of maximum strength and muscle activity. Therefore, we conclude that the use of instability devices in deadlift training does not increase performance, nor does it provide greater activation of the paraspinal muscles, leading us to question their value in the performance of other types of exercises.
So it all boils down to this……
TRAINING ON AN UNSTABLE SURFACE WILL NOT IMPROVE YOUR PERFORMANCE!
In fact, it may reduce your ability to generate optimal levels of strength and power, thus decreasing your performance.
In my training programs, the stability ball only has one place, a progression to some of the core stability and anti-extension drills that I use when necessary. The stability ball roll-out is a common drill I use to teach clients how to properly brace and fight extension. Eric Cressey (www.ericcressey.com) has an excellent descriptive video I have posted for you to see:
The message to take from this?
If your trainer asks you to squat on a ball, kick it at him!
Train Hard, Train Smart and Recover