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“Hey, the Circus is in town and YOU are the STAR OF THE SHOW!” or when exercise becomes a F.A.D (Forthcoming Anatomical Dysfunction) June 13, 2010

Posted by fitmontclair in Abdominal Training, Fitness, Health & Exercise, Injury Prevention, Montclair.
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I hope you all had a GREAT week!

For those of you following the 2010 World Cup it was a very interesting opening for team USA vs. England (Thanks Green! – the check is in the mail…) AND WE BEAT SLOVENIA!! Many of you have asked me who I am rooting for since Scotland did not qualify. Of course I am rooting for the USA and once they are eliminated  I am cheering on A.B.E. – “Anyone but England!” (Dad wouldn’t have it any other way!)

A.B.E 2010!

I know I am really late in posting but I have been busy because of a fantastic opportunity! I have been selected out of 500 applicants to present a training seminar as one of the top 100 trainers in the U.S. at Ryan Lee’s Fitcomxpo 2010!  This is the world’s largest online training symposium with an incredible line-up.

Ryan Lee

Fitness entrepreneur extraordinaire  Ryan Lee has again gathered over 100 of the top national & international: Trainers, Coaches, Sports Physicians, Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Scientists, and Nutrition Experts for a 3 day summit of epic information!

Fitcomxpo in 2008 was the first event of its kind and allowed over 2,000 people from all over the world to participate without having to travel due to its unique web based format; they are predicting over 6,000 attendees for this years event! I am honored to be chosen to be part of the second ever Fitcomxpo. I will be presenting my information alongside many of the Health & Fitness Industry’s biggest names; many of whom I consider my mentors and inspiration for choosing to pursue a career in the Fitness Industry.

Fitcomxpo 2010 is scheduled for July 13-15th and I will post more information and how you can attend as soon as it becomes available.

On to this week’s post: “Hey, the circus is in town and you are the star of the show!” or when exercise becomes F.A.D – Forthcoming Anatomical Dysfunction!”

Stability ball, Physioball, or Swiss ball – whatever you want to call it, they have become a fixture in almost every gym in the country if not the world! Almost every exercise imaginable has a variation for a ball but are they really beneficial? Usually accompanying the big, bright colored balls are an assortment of various size inflatable discs, half-balls, rollers etc. The theory was that the instability of the ball and associated objects would force greater recruitment of the core muscles and improve: balance, and stability. In turn there would be a subsequent increase in an individuals overall strength, power, and  sports performance. This was the theory but the published research and empirical evidence shows a MUCH different outcome!

When we read the published scientific literature on training with a ball or unstable surfaces the results in multiple studies show that when measuring increases in strength and athletic performance training on a solid surface i.e. floor, ground, or turf produces superior results! As always I don’t expect you to take my word for it, here are the abstracts & results from some these published studies:

National Strength & conditioning Association: Strength & Conditioning Journal:

Willardson, Jeffrey M. The Effectiveness of Resistance Exercises Performed on Unstable Equipment , Volume 26 (5)  Oct 2004.

Abstract Summary: The performance of resistance exercises on unstable equipment has increased in popularity, despite the lack of research supporting their effectiveness. Resistance exercise performed on unstable equipment may not be effective in developing the type of balance, proprioception, and core stability required for successful sports performance. Free weight exercises performed while standing on a stable surface have been proven most effective for enhancing sports related skills.

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:

Anderson, K G.; Behm, David G. Maintenance of EMG Activity and Loss of Force Output With Instability, Vol 18 (3) Aug 2004.

Abstract Summary: Swiss Balls used as a platform for training provide an unstable environment for force production. The objective of this study was to measure differences in force output and electromyographic (EMG) activity of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps, latissimus dorsi, and rectus abdominus for isometric and dynamic contractions under stable and unstable conditions. Ten healthy male subjects performed a chest press while supported on a bench or a ball. Unstable isometric maximum force output was 59.6% less than under stable conditions. However, there were no significant differences in overall EMG activity between the stable and unstable protocols. Greater EMG activity was detected with concentric vs. eccentric or isometric contractions. The decreased balance associated with resistance training on an unstable surface may force limb musculature to play a greater role in joint stability. The diminished force output suggests that the overload stresses required for strength training necessitate the inclusion of resistance training on stable surfaces.

E. Cressey et al. The Effects of Ten Weeks of Lower-body Unstable Surface Training on Markers of Athletic Performance Vol 21 (2) May 2007.

Abstract Summary: Initially reserved for rehabilitation programs, unstable surface training (UST) has recently grown in popularity in strength and conditioning and general exercise scenarios. Nonetheless, no studies to date have examined the effects of UST on performance in healthy, trained individuals. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of 10 weeks of lower-body UST on performance in elite athletes. Nineteen healthy, trained members (ages 18-23 years) of a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I collegiate men’s soccer team participated. The experimental (US) group (n= 10) supplemented their normal conditioning program with lower-body exercises on inflatable rubber discs; the control (ST) group (n = 9) 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- (US = -1.8%, ST = -3.9%) and 10-yard sprint times (US = -4.0%, ST = -7.6%). The ST group improved significantly more than the US group in 40-yard sprint time; a trend toward greater improvement in the ST group was apparent on the 10-yard sprint time. Both groups improved significantly (US = 2.9%, ST = -4.4%) on T-test performance; no statistically significant changes were apparent between the groups. These results indicate that UST using inflatable rubber discs attenuates performance improvements in healthy, trained athletes. Such implements have proved valuable in rehabilitation, but caution should be exercised when applying UST to athletic performance and general exercise scenarios.

Empirically many top strength coaches and trainers also noticed when using an unstable apparatus for strength work that performance of their athletes declined so much that they had fewer victories and medal counts at various games were DECREASING!

You CAN'T do this on a ball!

The remedy to this was to return “good old fashioned” strength training on a solid surface. This is evident in their writings, for after the ball craze of the late 90’s the articles written by many experts were no longer emphasizing using a ball or unstable object. They learned first-hand what the above cited research shows; you will NEVER develop your true maximal strength and athletic potential training on unstable surfaces!

Now this does NOT mean to totally abandon balls and unstable apparatuses. They are a tool, used correctly at the right time for the right reasons (stability, coordination, and balance) they are still effective. The problems arise when gyms and training studios begin to resemble circuses with lots of colored balls, rings, discs, and odd objects all with clowns & animals being taught new tricks by trainers to amaze the audience – EXCEPT YOU DIDN’T REALIZE YOU ARE THE CLOWNS & ANIMALS i.e. THE STAR OF THE SHOW!!

Notice any similarities with picture on the right?

It has gotten so bad in some clubs that I think the trainers make up stuff on the spot to either try to impress potential new clients with weird exercises or they have no clue how to make people stronger, faster, and more athletic so they try to invent movements to prevent boredom in their clients. What they forget is that the number one thing clients want are RESULTS! Results that improve their activities in the real world, not the circus-like world of most health clubs and gyms.

Does this look like your last workout?

Great tool for rehab!

SERIOUS Core Training!

The use of unstable surface training is best used for rehabilitation & post-rehabilitation (by qualified professionals who are licensed and or certified in those areas); it can also be an effective warm up tool, and there may be some benefit to a few core exercises but remember the most important time you need your core to fire properly is standing upright on your feet (this allows you to transfer power from the lower body to the torso, stabilize the spine, and dampen vibration & ground reaction forces).

The best core exercises  are:  Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges, Step -ups, Presses, Pullups, Rows and although it is horizontal on the ground,  Push-ups -Why are these the best, because they teach you to simultaneously stabilize you spine while transferring force from the ground up to your torso when standing upright- the TRUE function of your core! (sit-ups, crunches etc. have NOTHING to do with core training, they are abdominal muscle exercises , THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING!) The motions listed above are also the basis for all upright bi-pedal movements regardless if they are sports movements or activities of daily living.

The physioball may also have a role in training specific weak stabilizer muscles to help protect joints as a prelude to heavier strength training on a stable surface; however the stabilizer exercises should only need to be performed for several weeks (not months or years!). Also you can never make a stabilizer stronger than a prime mover and if you don’t have an assessment and muscle testing you cannot determine if there is a stabilizer weakness. If you are put on ball, disc or similar object by a trainer with NO ASSESSMENT, watch out you are a PRIME CANDIDATE for a F.A.D – Forthcoming Anatomical Dysfunction!! If a trainer is NOT assessing, they are GUESSING! – Guessing with your health & SAFETY!

Other situations where an unstable surface might have a role: training elite athletes who perform on unstable surfaces ex. surfers, acrobats & members of Cirque Du Soleil, as well as Firefighters, Police Officers, and Special Forces; all of whom may encounter unstable conditions . But even if you are one of the FEW cases that need to work with unstable surfaces the proper progression taught by top training institutes like The National Academy of Sports Medicine, The American Association of Fitness & Rehabilitation Professionals, and The C.H.E.K Institute, is always to begin on a stable service i.e solid ground BEFORE progressing to unstable. If you can’t perform an exercise correctly with good form on solid ground – YOU NEVER TRY IT ON AN UNSTABLE SURFACE!

Some cases where a person should NOT train on an unstable surface (I have personally witnessed these on multiple occasions):

  • A timid & cautious senior being told to exercise on unstable surfaces to improve balance – Useless because they can’t even properly exercise on a stable surface. You activate different reflexes based on the surface you are standing on i.e. stable surfaces activate the righting reflex – it works when the ground is not moving. (Read: Motor Learning & Performance by Dr . Richard A. Schmidt) This is what the MAJORITY of the population including athletes needs, not the tilting reflex which helps right the body when the surface moves beneath you ex. surfing. Also your balance skills are completely developed by approx. age 12 and you cannot progress beyond the balance you had at that age.

Does NOT need balancing on a ball, Bosu or dyna-disc!

Last, maintaining balance requires proper posture & head alignment. The relationship of your: eyes, ears & jaw to the horizon has a MAJOR impact on balance & equilibrium. YOU CANNOT IMPROVE BALANCE IF THE PERSON HAS FORWARD HEAD POSTURE AND KYPHOTIC (ROUNDED) UPPER BACK!! – YOU MUST CORRECT THE POSTURE FIRST!

  • Another ridiculous use of unstable surfaces is combing it with  something extremely stable – like a 2D “Smith” Machine and a 3D physioball – they cancel each other out and are a ridiculous combination for ANY exercise (if you see someone being given an exercise combining both – stay away , they are being trained by  a MORON!).

Talk about a stupid & USELESS exercise!

  • My personal pet peeve is the overweight, middle-aged woman doing dumbbell curls standing on discs or a BOSU ballWHY??, This is absurd & totally useless!! The calorie expenditure is very low (no body fat is lost!), the load is very low (so no strength is developed), and the woman can’t even stand on the thing for more than 3 reps without falling off (totally embarrassing & unmotivating for her!)

All 3 of the above  situations are a F.A.D. in the making!

The studies and empirical results extolling the benefits of exercise and strength training are vast, and when you check the research methodology the majority were all done with real exercises (Squats, Lunges, Presses, Pull-ups, etc) done on a STABLE surface –Why?, because that is what we spend the majority of our time on!

Now even if you are a professional athlete or performer there are risks involved. Regardless of the situation, trying to develop maximum strength & power  on a physioball is a HIGH RISK activity where the risk often is greater than the reward with season (possibly career) ending results! Don’t believe me Ask the Sacramento Kings about their starting forward Francisco Garcia, who is out for at least 4 months with a broken wrist due to a weight-lifting accident. He was exercising with 90 pound dumbbells on a physioball and IT BURST! – Here’s the article from ESPN Sports

In closing, unstable apparatuses like Physioballs, balance discs, wobble boards and BOSU balls are tools and they need to be used correctly.  Ask yourself these questions to see if the you might need & qualify for unstable surface training.

  • Was I given an assessment or is the trainer guessing?
  • Was a stabilizer weakness identified?
  • Do I work or play a sport on an unstable surface?
  • Am I an elite athlete, performer, or work in a high risk job? (Firefighter, Police etc.)
  • What are my goals ?Fat loss, Strength gain, Muscle gain, Increase bone density – If any of these are your goal, training on balls, discs, etc is NEXT TO USELESS!
  • Can I: walk, stand on 1 leg, Squat, Lunge, Step, Press, Pull on SOLID ground  PAIN FREE, WITH GOOD FORM & FULL RANGE OF MOTION? (If the answer is NO – there is no reason for unstable surface training; it is a F.A.D!!)

So is your workout truly functional or is it FICTIONAL…

Well that’s all for now, I gotta go to the circus – I mean gym….

Have a great week!



Using Science to Maximize Health  & Performance

P.S. Watch for information on my NEW 4 week class & The 1 year Anniversary Specials – COMING SOON!



1. Nick Outlaw - May 14, 2011

Very thorough and useful information! Glad I found your blog.

fitmontclair - May 14, 2011

Thanks Nick!

Glad you like the info, I promise MORE is on the way, had some MAJOR tech issues with my computer etc also I have been re-doing my website & getting more of the magazine articles converted to PDFs for everyone. I have also personally replied to all reader questions and comments and provided additional info when needed or asked; if I missed anyone’s question, comment, or phone call PLEASE try again.

Please feel free to forward the blog to anyone it might help, you can also post links to it (just please give me the credit – recently another fitness professional liked my Spinning post, so he cut out a major portion of the post and placed it in his blog BUT HE WILL NOT credit me or my blog for the info….)

I have also been fixing the videos, links, & pictures on all the blog posts – so if you come across a broken link, missing video etc. PLEASE LET ME KNOW and I will fix it ASAP!

If you have any other questions, thoughts, ideas or subjects you would like me to cover feel free to e-mail or call me.

Thanks again and HAVE A GREAT DAY!


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