Fitness Myth Busted: Core Stability and the Bosu

bosu exercise

All across the globe, personal trainers push their clients up onto BOSU balls with claims that it increases core muscle activity.

And while I personally think that the only reason trainers’ use the BOSU is to make their clients look silly…

…I always wondered what would happen if the BOSU got dragged into a university lab and put through it’s paces.

Well, back in March of this year, researchers from Eastern Illinois University did just that.

The Study

PURPOSE: To compare core muscle activity during resistance exercises performed on stable ground vs. the BOSU Balance Trainer.

METHODS: Twelve trained men performed the back squat, dead lift, overhead press, and bicep curl lifts. Each lift was performed under three separate conditions:

  1. 50% of 1 RM (rep max or max possible lift) while standing on solid ground,
  2. 50% of 1 RM while standing on a BOSU and
  3. 75% of 1RM while standing on solid ground.

For each lift, the activity of the rectus abdominis, external oblique abdominis, transversus abdominis/internal oblique abdominis, and erector spinae muscles was assessed.

RESULTS: Significant differences were noted between the stable 75% of 1-RM and BOSU 50% of 1-RM conditions for the rectus abdominis during the overhead press and transversus abdominis/internal oblique abdominis during the overhead press and curl.

Conversely, there were no significant differences between the stable 75% of 1-RM and BOSU 50% of 1-RM conditions for the external obliques and erector spinae across all lifts examined.

And most significantly, there were no significant differences between the BOSU 50% of 1-RM and stable 50% of 1-RM conditions across all muscles and lifts examined.

NOTE – I am trying to get permission to publish the actual data…when I get it, I will update the post

CONCLUSIONS: There is NO advantage in utilizing the BOSU Balance Trainer.

With equal loads, there was no significant difference in core muscle activation between the BOSU and a solid platform.

The BOSU might make the exercise feel harder, but it won’t make your core muscles work harder.

So, just like those guys on the Discovery Channel, I declare this fitness myth…BUSTED.



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  1. Interesting post. I rarely use the Bosu myself, mostly for fun. I just did kettlebell presses on it a few days ago.

  2. I’ve found the bosu to be very helpful for clients (especially older ones) who have balance problems and would like to avoid falls and to recover leg strength (building stabilizing muscles) after knee and hip surgeries… I think it also adds more of “real world” randomness to “steps” (how often is the ground actually perfectly flat?) — so they’re great for cardio in small spaces where you might use steps.

    And arms?–do a push-up on the floor and then turn a bosu over and hold on to it while doing a push-up. The bosu push-up is a lot tougher.

    To me the bosu is all about stabilizing and that is more than simply abdominal “core”. I’ve found lots of great uses for mine and I won’t be giving it up any time soon.

  3. The article was very useful to me, although, I never use this ball. I have never planned on buying one myself, but perhaps my wife has considered it. The Military gyms i attend don’t usually have them, so i never run into them. Again, i would like to let you know that i appreciate your blog.

  4. I think you are missing a point: the balance one. The bosu DOES improve one’s balance, so that’s a plus.


  5. I am sure that there are lots of applications of the Bosu that are effective for different aspects of physical fitness. In fact, I use the bosu from time to time with my clients.

    I just want people to realize that a lot of the hype surrounding fitness tools like the bosu is just that – HYPE.

    The guy who created the bosu makes a ton of money selling the bosu because of the claims made about it. I felt this study was important because it used fact to contradict one of the marketing claims (strength – core activation) made by Mr. Bosu.

    Now, balance is another story altogether.

    Time for another study

  6. Excellent article Doug. I loath watching people waste energy of “devices” that server no real benefit.

  7. Hey all,

    So the fact is that if you are trying to build balance, the ball is good… but if you are simply going for core strength, it offers no advantage over traditional core workouts.

    I’ve never been a big fan of the balls and have always had to get past the feeling of looking silly while using them.

    Good to know that, aside from balance, I can dump the chain and “ball” and work my core in a manly way! ( :

  8. I’m surprised. I like the Bosu Ball. I use it at brief points during my workout for squat jumps on the soft surface (for warm-up), and raised push-ups, medicine ball squats, and medicine ball thrusts on the hard surface. I certainly don’t use it throughout my workout but I enjoy it.

    I don’t think I look silly at all.

  9. The Bosu is a tool just like all the other tools in the gym – barbells, resistance tubing, exercise machines, ellipticals, etc…

    And all of them have their benefits & drawbacks.

    In my opinion, the bosu is one of the more over-hyped pieces of fitness equipment. Too much sizzle, not enough steak

  10. I use the Bosu ball with my PT. Personally I don’t care for it but it has increased my sense of balance so the tool is not a complete waste.

  11. Hey HH

    You are so correct! I see trainers doing downright dangerous stuff with their clients at the gym all the time. It’s scary to watch.

    The bosu definitely has it’s uses. I use it with hikers, tennis players, for spinal rehab, or to help clients break free from machine training mentality but never for core activation.

    I can think of at least 100 bodyweight exercises that are more effective for that. You should tackle those vibrating platforms next : )

  12. Ok, I’m confused. You said in the RESULTS that “Significant differences were noted between the stable 75% of 1-RM and BOSU 50% of 1-RM conditions for the rectus abdominis during the overhead press and transversus abdominis/internal oblique abdominis during the overhead press and curl.”

    You then say later on that there are “NO significant differences….”

    Which is it? Is the rectus abdominis the only muscle affected? But then you say “no difference across all muscles and lifts.”

    Like I said, I’m obviously missing something. I agree the the Bosu Ball is kind of gimmicky but I don’t think you’ve 100% busted the myth.

  13. After reading the actual summary of the study (duh!), I see where you’re headed.

    The Bosu is a tool for developing balance – not for building strength or activating your core (or any other muscle group). In fact, lifting weights on an unstable platform is a recipe for injury.

    We’re cool!


  14. Just noticed this site.
    I’m going to help the author out here.

    The Bosu ball for a normal functioning individual is totally useless. Yes you heard it useless. It will not improve your balance. Balance is an “ability” not a “skill”. There is a big difference between the two. Abilities are pre-programmed traits. I.e (they are controlled by genetics and cannot be improved upon. That’s why only some people have the balance needed to become world class athletes. These athletes show the balance at a very young age, with little or no training i.e there are blessed with fantastic balance).

    Skills however can be improved upon( to a certain degree) so long as you train for the specific skill. Standing and walking for example are specifics skills.
    If you want to improve walking skill, then you practice walking. Waling on the Bosu ball will never make you a better walker. Only walking will improve walking.
    What people notice when training on the Bosu ball is skill acquisition, meaning they get better at the skill of doing work on the bosu. This leads them to believe that they have improved their overall balance but rather its the skill of balancing on the bosu that has improved and nothing else.

    Unfortunately these skills will never transfer to other non-related skills. Skills don’t transfer( contrary to popular belief).

    If skills transfered then a skier or figure skater ( who have excellent balance to begin with) should have no problem getting on a Bosu ball or stability ball the very first time with a pair of 20lbs dumbbells in each hand and do one legged squats. Unfortunately they will not be able to do this, until they practiced that specific skill. ***please don’t try this either as you can be seriously injured) I’m using it merely to make a point.
    So in this instance the skill acquired from skating or skiing didn’t transfer to the above activity, then why would the opposite be true?

    Its too bad that exercise science and motor learning are not taught by Certification curriculums in Canada.
    Of course there is a reason for this. If the trainer would figure out the truth about movement patterns then most of those courses offered by those same companies would be rather useless and the big profits involved with them would be gone too. Without those profits most of these so-called certification companies would go out of business. This is why everyone is being brainwashed into this type of training.

    Bosu and stability balls may still have use in the rehab arena,( no surprise since that is what they were originally developed for) , but for normal functioning individuals its a waste of time.
    Of course if you enjoy using the tool and it helps you get your exercise in, then by all means keep using it, as some exercise is better than none. But if your doing it to improve core strength or balance then your wasting your valuable time.


  15. Great reply RealPT.
    Just what I was thinking. If you want to get better at something, anything, then it’s always better to practice that specific movement, pattern or whatever. It’s like all these bits of crap laying about the the gym, I give them all a wide berth.
    Great blog by the way!!!

  16. for pure core work no . but as the study said it was fit men they made the trials on. not ppl like me
    when i started working out i had just come out of a wheel chair and had two total knee replacemnets was 300 pounds and could barely walk with a cane. for the first year i worked on a bosu ball and it made huge diffences in my stability and strenthning my legs and hips. i think becouse of the work i have done on the bosu , i am now able to walk jump run bouce and cycle and i sit at 152 pounds. i still change up my work outs quite a bit , but i always use the bosu in one form or another. i dont use it for sit ups or crunches though, i find that to be a waste of time

  17. Hi

    I agree with the author about the Bosu just being hype which is pretty much the same with all this type of gym equipment although I do like the stability ball for certain ab exercises and I have the TRX suspension bands which are excellent.
    I work as a PT and sometimes use the bosu but really this is just for variety and to give my clients a feeling of achievement. I have worked with people who are extremely uncoordinated and for them to progress from struggling to do a stationary lunge to doing one legged bent over rows on a bosu is a great indicator to them on how well they are doing. Physically this type of equipment may be useless but from a mental and motivational angle they can be great help.


  18. I think there’s a time and place for just about anything, and I’m a big fan of using things like stability balls for working the core and stretching out… but was never really sure about the Bosu balls…

    I’d love to see the full study when you get a hold of it.


  19. Why are you comparing activation of core muscles on a balance trainer whilst doing traditional strength based exercises? This study completely misses the point of the BOSU. BOSU stands for both sides up…were both sides tested? I expect not! Why not make the test relevant to core training and test traditional core exercises bs BOSU core exercises. It’s simply not possible that the BOSU being an unstable surface fails to recruit more muscle fibres for control of more planes of movement. Testing core activation during traditional strength exercises on a BOSU misses 98% of the reasons why people use the BOSU. the BOSU is meant for stability training or higher reps…strength training is done at 4-6 reps to failure…totally different to what the BOSU rep ranges should be. I teach other trainers to use the BOSU properly and teach plyometrics and athletic performance for running and triathlon, tennis golf and lots of other sports.
    I absolutely guarantee all of you that by doing a relevant workout on the BOSU you could all get stronger on every part of your body no question. What about joint stability and proprioception, why weren’t these tested??? Because taking something into a university and asking men in White coats to test something they don’t understand how to utilise properly is stupid! This is absolutely the best way to Rehab for joint replacements and to rebuild neural pathways from injury and to train the joint support muscles that limit your bench press getting better or your squat getting heavier or becomming a faster athlete or a quicker tennis player who has faster reaction times through faster neural communication with muscles.
    I bet The people doing these tests were not fitness qualified or BOSU certified?!?
    Next time these tests are done please ask someone qualified or better yet ask me and il demonstrate! You weight lifting boys who want to tighten their weight lifting belts every 1 more notch every time you lift a heavy squat, please just keep ding that and you will forever make the BOSU a more valuable asset to the people who donn care how much you can lift because you are getting slower and less functional with every rep!
    Myth buster…..sorry but on this one you got it wrong buddy!!!!!

  20. Awesome post. There is definitely a whole lot of hype around the Bosu Ball. I’ve used this with my clients a few times and that was it.

    Most regular people are just not worried about their balance. They just want to look good. Again, thanks for the article.

  21. lol reading this reminded me of one of my bosses at the beach who always stands on a bosu with some kind of wobbly stick in his hands, he looks ridiculous, like some kind of jedi. It is a running joke between my co-workers and I.

    As far as the bosu ball, I feel like it could benefit your fitness in some ways, but I don’t personally use one. My workout are effective enough!

  22. Interesting study and I appreciate many of the replies as well. Just my 2 cents – I do V sit-ups on the Bosu (sitting on the flat side) and it is so much harder than simply doing the same on the ground. In this instance, it’s great for focus and sensitivity, and although it works my core stabilizers, I do recognize that there are other exercises that are much better at strengthening the core (TRX have mercy!). However, I still use it because I think it’s fun! Beyond that, I like it as a unique tool for doing unusual things like over-splits and chest-stand back bends.

  23. Great points Kaelyn – even if the science behind the Bosu doesn’t match the marketing claims, that doesn’t mean that the device doesn’t have a myriad of uses.

    And making an exercise more fun is a great reason to use the Bosu

  24. (Summary first)
    * great for learning balance
    * great for leg stabilizer strength
    * great for ankle strength
    * great for precisions
    * great for increasing plank difficulty

    * not worth the price for single users
    * once you’ve moved on to harder things, it becomes useless

    The BOSU has it’s uses, but the extra muscle activation is primarily in the legs. It’s great for learning balance quickly (and if you think you’ve mastered balance close your eyes while you do it).

    As for the study, I wouldn’t expect that what they did would show a difference. Back squats, dead lifts, overhead presses, and bicep curl lifts are, when done properly (like by a “trained” athlete), are by their very nature, core stable.

    Personally I use them for balance and precision jumping practice. I only use weights when I’m trying to throw my balance off further. I used it to get used to balancing while doing planks. Since, I’ve moved up to using a medicine ball for my feet and a large exercise ball for my arms (break a sweat in 45 seconds without a warm-up 8o).

    The only reason I use the thing is because my gym has one. Once I found out what they cost I made the decision that it isn’t and will never be worth it to actually purchase one. Maybe if they were like 20-25 bucks I’d think about it but other than that nope (especially now that I have good enough balance to do pole balancing).

  25. @RealPT:

    What do you consider a “normal functioning individual”? Most of the population (~1.2 billion) of western society (Europe and North America) is not normally functioning if you compare to the 6.9 billion est world population.

    [I will bring up your issue with semantics at the end] As for skill specific training, yes, walking will improve walking, but walking in water will improve walking faster despite the slight change in muscle activation. A BOSU is not ideal for developing a motive skill but enhanced balance will improve your ability to walk on different surfaces (rough, poles, ropes, slick, etc). You somehow try to hint that if you learn to balance on a BOSU, you will not be able to better balance anywhere else. That’s like saying that if you drive a car you will be no more apt at learning to drive a semi than if you never drove before. True, a van driver is better off than a car driver in the matter but to say there’s no difference is ludicrous. If we had to train every little aspect of every little skill we wouldn’t exist as a species [and if you use weights when you work out you are being a hypocrite in regards to your own theory].

    Skill transfer, if you’ve ever studied developmental psychology or watched a baby grow up, is fundamental to how we learn as well as how we are able to improve as a group. Do you really think that we have things like computers because a a handful of people? We learn by watching. We learn faster by doing. How can you practice something you can’t do unless you practice? That’s the theory you’re posing. If skills didn’t transfer you’d have to relearn, from scratch, how to walk on each new surface configuration (tile, marble, grass, wood chips, etc) do to their different configurations. Do you really think someone who has never walked could learn to walk on skates just as easily as on feet? Or even just as easily on rocks?

    Jumping on a soft rubber ball for the first time is MUCH different than balancing on a hard surface such as ice. A figure skater wouldn’t have much of a problem until you add the 40lbs, but then you’re talking about a much different balancing skill as the center of gravity is shifted quite a bit.

    You do realize that what you call “exercise science” takes an advanced medical degree right? You have to learn biology, psychology, kinematics, and applied mechanics to name a few. Even then, the ancient Greeks were damn good athletes without science! It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just that our culture is too deluded (and diseased) to listen to their own bodies.

    You say that BOSUs and stability balls (which I guess you also think are useless) may still have use in rehab? Well why would they? According to your opinion if you learn ‘BOSU skill’ that won’t transfer to other skills. So if you retrain your muscles on a BOSU then wouldn’t you not get rehabilitated?

    “Of course if you enjoy using the tool and it helps you get your exercise in, then by all means keep using it, as some exercise is better than none.” I thought it was “totally useless”? My guess is that you’ve never used one.

    Now, as for your semantics of ‘skill’ v. ‘ability’…you should pick up an unabridged English dictionary (likely OED or MW as they define British and American English). The only time the definitions are as you say is in the subtle case that you are using them in a tight context like . Other than that they are, aside from some nuances, synonymous. Any other comparisons do not compare as they no longer talk about the same fundamental. The difference you are speaking of is the difference between ‘potential’ and ‘capacity’ (i.e. you increase your capacity to your potential [note “full potential” is only realistic in a developmental sense and is mostly misused]).

    K…well I’m tired of typing. Off to the park for a good workout!

  26. @RealPT:

    And no I wasn’t trying to be a donkey, I’ve had a long day and your long comment had a big bulls-eye written on it. Of course if I *wanted* to be an donkey I’d have concluded with…

    Hah hah, mine was longer!! 9o)

    Live in peace dude!

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