I’m sure that you’ve seen someone doing anything from squats to chest presses on a Bosu Ball, Physioball or any type of unstable device. Maybe that person is you. Instability has become a “new way” of working out for some people.

Before you jump on a ball, make sure that you understand how to get the most out of this type of training.

A study by University of Valencia in Spain showed that performing dead lifts on unstable surface produced less force than doing the exercise on a stable surface. However, the University of North Carolina found that balance training can improve static balance ability on stable and unstable surfaces, as well as dynamic balance ability.

So, how do you get the best out of training on unstable surfaces?

A Complete Program

Every exercise program should incorporate strength, endurance, flexibility, power, agility and balance. This is why I’ve designed a routine that you can use that incorporates unstable platform and meet a fundamental principle of training: overload, the outgoing challenge for our bodies to make progress and avoid plateaus.

The Toning Workout

This routine works all the muscles. If this is the only routine that you will do in a week, do it three times leaving one day in between. If not, do it once a week as one of your “cardio” sessions if you also do some strength/heavy lifting on separate days.

Since unstable surfaces won’t allow you to lift very heavy things, this routine will be more oriented to a cardiovascular/toning workout. Therefore, it’ll be performed in circuit (one exercise after another without pause) and at high reps.

The moves should be performed fast but in control and with proper technique.

Beginners: do one circuit, 12-15 reps. Rest as need it.

Intermediate/advanced: do 2 to 3 circuits, 15-20 reps. Rest less than 60 sec at the end of each circuit.

High reps don’t mean light weight. Make sure that every rep counts.

You’ll need a Physioball and dumbbells. When choosing the ball, a good measuring for selecting the height is to make sure that this is knee high and when you sit your tights are parallel to the floor or keens are at 90-degree angle.


Front Squat to Touch the Ball: Dumbbells should rest on the shoulders. Don’t let the arms fall. Try to keep them parallel the floor. Sit back and slightly touch the Swiss Ball with your butt. Look for a ball that allows you to flex the hip to a 90-degree angle so check this accordingly to your height. If you have knee issues, the ball can be bigger to allow you less flexion of the knee.

Unilateral DB Row in Plank: Use your core to keep the body in a straight line. Don’t rotate the hips. Use your abs to stabilize your body with one hand as you perform the row. When you row, keep the arm close to your body and pull your elbow back without shrugging the shoulders or rotating the body. I recommend trying this exercise first by placing the ball against a wall to better stabilization until you can progress to do it without support.

Triceps Extension to Pull Over: Your upper body should be on the ball, while the hips should be parallel to the floor. Keep the abdominals tight so the hips don’t sag. Flex your arms as low as you can while keeping the elbows in and arms close to your body and extend them without locking the elbow.

Arnold Shoulder Press: Start by holding the dumbbells in front of you with palms facing you. As you press the weight up, simultaneously rotate your palms out as you reach full extension.

Split Lunges to Bicep Curl: Put your rear leg in a way that allows you to flex the hips of the front leg as if you are sitting. This will allow you to fully engage the gluteus and to not allow the knee pass the toes. Go as low as you can. As you descend, do a bicep curl. This exercise requires strong abs to stabilize the ball. If you are a beginner, place the ball against a wall until you progress. Select a ball that is knee height.

Prone DB Raises: Lie on the ball face down. Feet should be shoulder width apart for stabilization. Keep your face down to avoid any neck injury. Extend the arms until they are parallel to the floor and fully squeeze the shoulder blades.

Unilateral DB Press: Keep your upper back against the ball and your hips tight. Don’t sag or rotate them. Alternate pressing each DB, making sure that your arm is parallel to the shoulder.

Side Lunges with Leg on the Ball: The leg on the ball should be straight with the foot pointing up in front. Sit back on the other leg while keeping the back straight, chest up and the DB close to your body. Go as long as you can without allowing the knee passing the toe of your foot. Make sure that the ball is accordingly to your height. Once more, it should be knee high or slightly less. This exercise requires strong core, so if you’re a beginner place the ball against a wall until you can progress.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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