Once you've mastered the basic moves of strength training — like squats, lunges, and planks — gym time can become a little dull. Workouts creep by slowly due to boredom, and if you don't push yourself to the next level, you may find your fitness level stalling as you coast onto a plateau. When the going gets boring, it's time to get unstable.
Performing seemingly simple exercises on an unstable surface creates a whole new set of challenges for you to master. Fitness tools like the BOSU, balance pads (sponge-like pads, two to three inches thick), rocker boards, and exercise balls can help you work out harder by disrupting your sense of balance. If you're ready to experiment with instability, here are a few exercises my Equinox trainer has recently taught me.
- Plank on the rocker board: There are a wide variety of rocker boards, but for this move the one we use looks like an over-sized skateboard with a cylindrical piece attached in the middle. I place my hands equidistant from the center and hold a plank, trying not to dip to either side. When that becomes somewhat easy, add alternating leg lifts. This move seemed impossible to me at first, but once you find the zone on the third set you feel a core master.
Hold the plank for 30 seconds; do 10 lifts on each leg.
Learn two more moves after the break.
- Side lunge onto a BOSU: Side lunges are always a challenge for me, but when my trainer added the BOSU into the mix, I had to really pay attention to my form. Stand with the BOSU three feet to your right, and perform a side lunge with your right foot landing in the center of the BOSU. Push yourself back to upright, bringing your right foot to your left knee. Pause here before lunging again. Increase the difficulty of this move by holding a 10-pound dumbbell on your shoulder as you lunge.
Do 10 to 12 reps each side.
- Single-leg deadlift on balance pad: Standing on one leg is always hard (at least for me). Put me on a spongy pad and watch me wobble! This move is great for building balance, strengthening your ankles, and challenging your core. With a 10-pound weight in your right hand, stand on the balance pad (or a thick, squishy mat will work too) and lift your right knee up until it's even with your hip. Hinge forward at the hip, keeping your back neutral, and bring the weight toward the left foot. Return to standing, without lowering the right foot to the floor . . . unless you have to (which I did the first couple of times I tried this move).
Do 10 reps on each leg for three sets.
Once you start playing around on unstable surfaces, you'll realize the variations on basic moves are endless and the benefits are huge. Making the exercises more challenging will only work you harder, burn more calories, and strengthen your core.