Balance Equipment: The Essential Guide

Balance Training, as part of a functional fitness program, has been identified as one of hottest fitness trends of 2016 by the American College of Sports Medicine. It should come as no surprise, then, to see a proliferation of balance related training equipment establishing itself in the fitness marketplace. To many people, much of this gear appears to be a strange mash-up between a child’s toy and a yoga trainer. It’s new and a little bit scary.

Yet, balance training equipment has found its place into the market because it has proven health giving benefits. If you are at all concerned with your overall fitness, then you need to get to grips with the fundamentals of balance training. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the range of balance equipment that is on offer, their features and the pros and cons of each. We’ll also identify the ideal user profile for each piece of equipment.

Your Essential Balance Training Equipment Guide

BOSU Balls

If you’ve stepped into a gym lately, it’s quite likely that you’ve seen one of these being used in the cross training area. It resembles a fitness ball that’s been cut in half, consisting of a dome-shaped half sphere with a flat cross section.

BOSU is actually the brand name of the product. It stands for Both Sides Utilized and is the brainchild of David Weck, who first developed it in 1999. The dome of the Bosu is filled with air and, as the name suggests, you can train on both sides in order to improve your balance.

Having the flat side on the ground provides an easier workout than using it with the dome side down. The former will provide a static workout while the latter will challenge you with a dynamic program that will work through a 360-degree range of motion.

You can kneel, sit, stand and walk on the Bosu to enhance your balance skills. A standard Bosu Ball is 26” in diameter and 10” in height.

Bosu Balls and accessory products are manufactured by Hedstrom Fitness, at their factory in Ashland, Ohio.

BOSU Balls at a Glance

Pros

  • Accessible and Progressive - The ability to start with the flat side face down until you are confident and then progress to the spherical provides a progression of your training that builds confidence as your stability increases.
  • Compatible with other exercises – When used with the flat side down, you are able to perform many of your standard gym type exercises in order to intensify the effect of these movements.
  • Affordable and easy to use

Cons

  • Durability – There have been problems with the platform becoming unglued from the spherical dome. It would pay to keep your warranty papers handy just in case.
  • Bosu Balls have a max weight capacity that you need to take into account when doing exercises with extra weights in your hand. If you exceed the max weight, you could damage the ball.

Who is it best suited for?

The Bosu Ball is a great introductory balance trainer as it allows beginners to gain confidence by using the ball with the flat side down first. It is also a good option for people who already have an established routine that they would like to transfer to a balance training environment.

Great BOSU Balls available on the market

BOSU Balance Trainer

Titan Fitness Balance Ball

Balance Boards

The Balance Board is a generic category with five different types of boards under its umbrella. Balance Boards pivot on an axis, moving in different planes of movement to challenge you more than a Bosu Ball does.

The different types of boards offer different levels of balance challenge. The variation in difficulty depends upon the range of movement that the board allows.

The five types of Balance Board are:

Balance Board Type

Fulcrum

Directions

Rocker Board

Attached

Bi-directional

Wobble Board

Attached

Multi-directional

Rocker-Roller Board

Unattached

Bi-directional

Sphere and Ring Board

Unattached

Multi-directional

Spring Board

Attached

Multi-directional

Let’s consider them one at a time:

Rocker Boards

The Rocker Board comprises a circular flat board with an attached fulcrum below it. Of the five board types, it is the least difficult board to use. It will only allow you to tilt from front to back.

Rocker Boards at a Glance

Pros

  • Offers bi-polar movement from left to right
  • Easier to use  it's the least challenging of the Balance Boards

Cons

  • Only provide one degree of movement
  • Does not provide dynamic balance training

Who is it best suited for?

The Rocker board is an ideal step up from the Bosu Ball for the person who has been training their balance for about a month and is looking for the next challenge.

Great Rocker Boards available on the market

Fitter First 20" Pro Rocker Board

Thera-Band Rocker Board

Rocker-Roller Boards

The Rocker-Roller Board features a flat board which is positioned on top of a cylindrical wheel. This board is able to move in relation to the board, giving it the ability to not just move up and down but also to slide sideways. This added twisting function gives the Rocker Roller Board 3 degrees of movement.

Rocker-Roller Boards are available in a range of board shapes and roller designs.

Rocker-Roller Boards at a Glance

Pros

  • ​More challenging than the Rocker Board
  • ​Provides 3 degrees of movement
  • Provides dynamic balance training

Cons

  • Does not allow for 360 degrees of movement

Who is it best suited for?

A person who has been engaged in balance training for about 3 months, and has progressed from static exercises to dynamic multi-directional movements.

Great Rocker-Roller Boards available on the market

Indo Board Balance Board Original

Revolution 101 Balance Board Trainer

Wobble Boards

The Wobble Board has a semi-spherical fulcrum with the flat side connected to the board. This provides 360-degree movement. This provides a greater challenge than standing on a board that only provides two-directional movement. Because the wobble board fulcrum is attached to the flat base, it does not offer dynamic movement, limiting itself to static exercises.

The most common and basic movement on the Wobble Board involves standing with feet spread on the board and tilting in opposite directions without having the edges of the board touch the ground. A full range of calisthenic exercises, such as push ups with the feet on the ground, are also popular and more effective when done on the wobble board.

Wobble Boards at a Glance

Pros

  • Provides full rotation around a vertical axis
  • Is compatible with a full range of auxiliary moves, such as calisthenics

Cons

  • Does not offer dynamic movement exercise options

Who is it best suited for?

The ideal user for the Wobble Board is a person who has been training on a balance board for a few months using a rocker or Bosu board and is ready for a slightly harder challenge.

Great Wobble Boards available on the market

Fitter First 20" Wobble Board

Isokinetics Deluxe Balance Board

Sphere and Ring Boards

A Sphere and Ring Board consists of a small inflatable ball that is placed under a board that resembles a skateboard without the wheels. On the underside of the board is a ring that keeps the ball from rolling away. The ball used in sphere and ring boards are typically made of solid polyurethane or inflatable rubber. By balancing on the board the user is able to recruit muscles that are not used in bi-directional boards.

Because the board is unattached to the fulcrum, the sphere and ring board is the most difficult of all the boards to use. The board user has the freedom to move the board in all directions simply by redistributing his weight.

Sphere and Ring Boards at a Glance

Pros

  • Unattached fulcrum to provide the user with a greater challenge
  • This type of board is able to activate and engage synergistic muscles that are not reached with other boards.

Cons

  • Not suitable for beginners
  • More expensive type of balance boards

Who is it best suited for?

People who have built up their confidence and consider themselves experienced Balance Board users.

Great Sphere and Ring Board available on the market

Balance Pads

A Balance Pad consists of a foam pad that is placed on the floor to provide an unstable surface on which to balance and move. The pads come in a range of firmnesses for differing degrees of instability. This allows the user to train the hips, ankles and glutes in a safe, joint-friendly environment when undergoing rehabilitative training.

Balance Pads at a Glance

Pros

  • Joint-friendly exercise
  • Ideal for rehabilitative work

Cons

  • Not challenging enough for many users

Who is it best suited for?

The Balance Pad is ideally suited to a person who is rehabilitating from an injury.

Great Balance Pads available on the market

Airex Balance Pad

Yes4All Balance Pad

Balance Discs

A Balance Disc is a small air-filled disc that is designed for one hand or foot to rest on. They are generally used in pairs. You can, however, balance both feet on one disc or kneel on a disc.

Balance Discs are alternatively known as balance cushions. The main uses of the balance disc are to improve proprioception following injury, increase core strength and help children to develop proper seating habits.

Balance Discs can be used to improve sitting posture, thus alleviating lower back pain. The disc is placed in the seat of a chair. When the person sits down, they have an unstable surface under them. In order to correct its balance, the body is forced to make constant adjustments, strengthening the core muscles in the process.

Balance Discs at a Glance

Pros

  • Provides unilateral exercise options
  • Can be used in a sitting position
  • Ideal for rehabilitative work

Cons

  • Does not provide a challenging workout for experienced balance trainers

Who is it best suited for?

The Balance Disc is a great exercise choice for a person who is rehabilitating from injury, a sufferer from arthritis or a person with lower back issues.

Great Balance Discs available on the market

Bintiva Balance Disc

Isokinetics Balance Cushion

Foam Rollers

A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of foam that is used to perform self-myofascial release. Rollers come in a variety of lengths from 1 to 3 ft (30—90 cm) long and on average are about 6 in (15 cm) in diameter. The ideal length is about 18 in (45 cm) because these rollers are easier to store, but you may want a longer one if you are planning a lot of back exercises.

Most foam rollers are color-coded according to firmness. White rollers are the softest, blue or green rollers tend to be medium density, and black rollers are the hardest. Rollers with a smaller diameter, and/or a ridged surface can be used to increase the pressure applied to the muscles and progress the exercises.

Foam Rollers at a Glance

Pros

  • Corrects muscular imbalance
  • Increases flexibility and range of motion
  • ​Improves posture
  • Enhances strength and athletic performance
  • Relieves muscle soreness

Cons

  • Foam rollers will not directly improve your balance. They will, however, correct muscular imbalances to allow you to train more effectively on balance equipment.

Who is it best suited for?

All exercisers will benefit from 5 minutes of foam rolling prior to their balance training.

Great Foam Rollers available on the market

TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller

OPTP Pro-Roller Soft

Fitness Balls

The fitness ball, alternatively known as the Swiss ball or the Stability Ball, is the familiar large balls that have been around since the mid-60’s. Balls are normally constructed of soft elastic. They are filled with air. The size of balls ranges from 14 inches to 35 inches. Unlike medicine balls, fitness balls do not contain any unnatural weight.

Fitness balls are the original instability exerciser. Due to this instability, the muscles of the body are required to do extra work to keep the muscles of the body stable during exercise movements. The delicate, small stabilizing muscles of the body are forced to make instant reflex adjustments mid exercise in order to maintain balance.

Fitness Balls at a Glance

Pros

  • ​Has a wide range of exercise applications
  • ​Directly trains the core
  • ​Can be used as a seat while exercising and throughout the day

Cons

  • Does not provide the advanced level of balance training that Balance Boards do

Who is it best suited for?

Fitness Balls are an excellent addition to your balance equipment roster, allowing you to transition some of your flat bench exercises to the fitness ball.

Great Fitness Balls available on the market

Black Mountain Stability Ball

BalanceFrom Balance Ball

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