You could be forgiven if you felt exercise should involve accessories such as vision altering goggles, balance boards, color coded objects, and other unstable surfaces after watching national sports highlight shows playing videos of professional athletes going through their pre season training. It seemed to be the theme of the year for one professional athlete to challenge another with an even more over the top exercise performance. Despite their impressiveness, given these athletes are competing on the field or court and not a nationally touring circus act, the risk far outweighs the benefit. In fact, case law is filled with lawsuits against practitioners who clients sustained injuries while using these accessories and activities instead of safer and more effective exercises.
Part of this year’s transformation likely was due to non descriptive terms such as corrective or functional exercises where creativity using accessories sacrificed the benefits (intensity) of the exercise. In some patient groups, such as those recovering from ankle sprains, unstable platforms may help recover lost balance and reduce injury recurrence, but in others these accessories prevent individuals from the beneficial physiologic adaptations of exercise. For example, squatting on an unstable platform adds little physiologic or performance benefit but sacrifices the amount of weight a participant can perform safely. Utilizing less weight leads to lower strength and performance benefits compared to a more challenging set of repetitions. In addition, reaction times on unstable surfaces are longer than the rapid responses required in sport decreasing their transference onto the field or court. In short, if you are not recovering from a specific injury requiring accessories you are better off focusing on the exercise prescription (weight, reps, sets, frequency) of a traditional weight room exercise.