BOSU® Cardio Express


by: Shannon Fable

Fitness professionals should attempt to integrate balance training into all components of fitness. Participants are more inclined to try balance training when combined with core work or strength training as our strategies tend to be more methodical, easily progressed and regressed and slower moving. One area that is often overlooked, or thought to be so challenging that only athletes or skilled participants will partake, is taking cardio training to the BOSU® Balance Trainer (BT).

Cardio training offers new ways to challenge balance due to its dynamic nature. Movements are performed on and off of the dome, as well as using a combination of both surfaces. The benefits of performing cardio on the BT are far reaching. For example:
1. Exercising on the BT facilitates an increase in physical intensity because more muscles are engaged to keep the exerciser balanced while moving on and off the unstable surface. 
2. The height of BT dome increases calorie expenditure when moving to and from the dome. 
3. Additional success may be found when adding propulsive movements into the workout due to the pliable dome surface. Participants tend to be less skeptical and more secure when participating in jumping exercises if the "stick" on the dome is turned into a game. Furthermore, participants know that the pliable surface will support and lessen impact upon landing. 
4. The circular design of the BT lends itself to multiple direction training. New territory is easily explored by approaching and exiting the dome from a variety of directions, which creates a fun, multi-directional training program.

The challenge to adding cardio on the BT is making the program appealing to all levels of exercisers and resisting the urge to create a mini-step class. Cardio training on the BT should be approached with simplicity, a drill-based focus and options for instantaneous progressions and regressions throughout the workout. To address these challenges, we (the BOSU® development team) have created a system called the STAR System.

Base Movement / Approach + Add On + STAR = BOSU® Cardio Drill


The system is simple; begin with a BASE MOVEMENT. To get started, brainstorm easy, straightforward step movements from the early days! For non-steppers, here is a list to get started:

  • Basic Step (up, up, down, down)
  • Up & Over (up, up, and step over the dome for the down, down)
  • Alternating Single Taps ("old school" corner to corner knees, but the shape can vary)
    Facing the dome, step into the center with the right foot as the left foot taps the edge or does a knee lift. Step down, and repeat on opposite side.
  • Alternating Multiple Taps ("repeaters"; usually executed 3 times before switching legs; shape can vary) 
    Facing the dome, step into the center with the right foot as the left foot taps the edge, taps the floor without stepping off, taps the edge again, and so on for desired number of repetitions. Step down, and repeat on opposite side.
  • Repeat Single Taps (similar to alternating single taps, but stay on the same lead leg)
  • Repeat Multiple Taps (similar to alternating multiple taps, but stay on the same lead leg)
  • Squat

Yes, the "base movements" are extremely simple with a common, built-in APPROACH. But, think about where each movement can go when layering with the STAR System. It is worthwhile to explore initiating the movement from a different location. A variety of BT "approaches" includes:

  • Front (dome is in front of participant)
  • Side (dome is to the side of participant)
  • Diagonal (dome is diagonally in front of participant)
  • Top (participant is on top of the dome and stays there for the drill)

The next step is optional; it is time to ADD ON. The "add on" can be another "base movement," or something simple on the floor. During the "add on" process, it is best to stay away from creating overly complex or choreographed movements. Examples of "add on" floor movements include:

  • Step Touch
  • Marching Out and In
  • Walking Forward and Backward
  • Shuffling
  • Lunges
  • Carioca
  • Jumping Jacks

In addition to either a short (one "base movement") or long combination (two "base movements," or one "base movement" combined with a floor pattern), the next piece is where the system gets its name. Spice up one or more of the movements with the STAR FACTOR! STAR is an acronym that references four ways to manipulate a movement to make it more exciting and unique to achieve a cardio focus on the BT.

  • S = Speed (change speed of the movement to tempo, ½ tempo or double time)
  • = Timing (change rhythm of the movement, alter number of repetitions, or use reaction)
  • A = Air (change distance from ground to feet)
  • R = Range of Motion (change length of limbs, levers or amount of ground covered during movement)

One or more variables may be used to influence the combination. However, be careful not to use too many! Not only does the "STAR Factor" help increase the number of ways a "base movement" or "add on" can be used, but it also provides a fail proof system to set up and cue a drill. An example is to perform a basic step on and off the dome with a step touch on the floor (up, up, down, down, 2 step touches), but use "range of motion" on the step touch. How far away from the dome can the participant get and still make it back for the basic step? When cueing the entire combination, start the same way the formula starts. Introduce the "base movement" and direction, layer on the "add on," and provide the "STAR Factor" which becomes the main focus to make the exercise fit a participant's needs. One participant may choose to move farther away to increase intensity and another may choose to use a smaller range of motion to decrease intensity. It is a quick fix for teaching cardio to a multi-level class and having everyone feel successful!

When constructing BOSU® Cardio classes, the instructor should consider scheduling a 30-minute express session versus a full hour. If you must use an hour time slot, be sure to combine cardio with another integrated balance challenge section (i.e. 30 minutes of cardio and then 30 minutes of strength). For many participants, 60 minutes of straight cardio on a BT may be a tad too long to feeling good after finishing the workout. A 30-minute class may be structured in the following way:

  • Warm Up (3-5 minutes)
  • Drills (12 drills total at 1.5 minutes each, or 6 drills repeated 2 times each; there is no need to do 12 unique drills)
  • Recovery (15-30 seconds in between each drill; either prep for the next drill, or perform balance drills)
  • Cool Down (3-5 minutes)

Several factors should be taken into consideration when choosing and organizing drills. First, think about exercise order. Use a variety of "base movements," "approaches" and right/left leg leads to keep muscular focus varied throughout. Next, cycle through the "STAR Factor," changing the variables for each "base movement" or movement combination. Also, vary whether or not an "add on" is used in combinations. Lastly, take into account the unique fatigue factors participants experience when exercising on the BT. Moving on and off the dome is challenging for most people because the dome height may cause fatigue to occur more quickly than normal. Also, the central nervous system may become even more fatigued, depending on how complex the patterns and integrated balance challenges become.

Using the BOSU® Balance Trainer for cardio training is a great way to sneak balance training into workouts. By using the STAR System, fitness professionals can easily transform basic movements into drills that challenge all participants, while maintaining the ability to progress and regress movement patterns to meet individual needs.

About the Author:
Shannon Fable, 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, is founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources, a fitness consulting firm experienced in providing services for instructors, aspiring presenters, fitness manufacturers and managers, and owner of Balletone. A Power Bar sponsored athlete, she is an international presenter for several well known companies including the Nautilus Institute, BOSU, Power Systems and ACE. As a program developer and educator for more than a decade, Shannon provides continuing education worldwide and runs the group fitness department at Life Time Fitness outside of Boulder, CO.

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