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Blended Barefoot BOSU®: Integrating the BOSU® Balance Trainer

 

by: Lawrence Biscontini, MA

One of the most exciting trends in balance training today occurs by combining the versatile BOSU® Balance Trainer (BT) with barefoot mind-body disciplines. While wearing shoes for traditional core and upright conditioning applications still proves popular and appropriate, barefoot movement on the BT challenges the lower body extremities in new ways (Kavounoudias). Among the mind-body disciplines that easily lend themselves to the application of barefoot mindful core engagement are Feldenkrais, T'ai Chi, yoga, and Pilates. Here we will explore some new applications using a couple of these disciplines with the added benefit of different stabilization requirements while exercising barefoot on the labile BT.

Barefoot training is not new to fitness, rehabilitation or sport training. Anyone who was around in the 1980's will remember Jane Fonda's first barefoot workouts. Barefoot training is back in the mainstream with a focus on balance, awareness of foot dynamics, and an appreciation of the foot's role in overall standing core integration. When we wear shoes with lateral, arch, and ankle support, the intrinsic stabilizers of the foot and ankles tend to turn off in the presence of artificial, external stabilization (Hatzitaki, et. al. 2003).

However, removing shoes requires immediate internal, active stabilization when the proprioceptors of the foot and ankle automatically turn on, connecting our human kinetic chain of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles and proprioceptors. After the spine, the feet have the largest number of kinesthetic proprioceptors of the body. Therefore, training barefoot trains stability and helps diminish propensity towards falling in different populations (Fuzhong, et. al. 2005).

When training barefoot on the BT using slow, meditative movements, the brain begins interpreting proprioceptive messages that are sent continuously from the foot and ankle complex, inducing autonomic reflexive active stabilization from head-to-toe for a full-body, functional integrative approach to training. Of course, some participants should avoid barefoot training based on existing foot and/or ankle injury or other medical situations. Also, some clubs do not allow barefoot training because of hygiene or other legal concerns.

When working barefoot on the BT, we train the "foot triangle" (Shakoor). Imagine a triangle connecting the transversus arch (located on the foot heel) with the areas below the big toe and the pinkie toe. The longitudinal arch runs from below the middle toe to the heel, and the muscles in this area under the arch also assist with balance. When training barefoot on the BT, these muscles work together to foster intrinsic, active muscular stabilization. As a result of this training, when we return to wearing shoes on stable flooring, we have become more stable.

The following exercise samples on the BT fuse the mind-body barefoot disciplines of Feldenkrais and T'ai Chi. Notice how the disciplines have an emphasis that starts with stability, flows into mobility, and repeats that cycle. Remember that in mind-body fitness we emphasize quality of movement over quantity of repetitions. Furthermore, since we believe that movements are made for people and not the other way around, we encourage participants to choose only those suggestions that feel appropriate.

Discipline: Feldenkrais
Emphasis: Stability
Origin: Moshe Feldenkrais from Israel (1904-1984)
Where: Feldenkrais "awareness through movement" lessons take place both on the floor and standing.
How: Feldenkrais taught that closing the eyes made any slow movement more conscious because taking away the ability to rely on sight forces us to respond with more muscular activation. Furthermore, Feldenkrais advocated taking full "body scans" with eyes closed to connect with the body in different positions to learn more about ourselves.
Samples: 1) Tall Scan: Stand on top of the BT with legs adducted, gazing forward. Close your eyes and notice how proprioception becomes more difficult. Ask your body if it feels differently on one side, especially drawing attention to the mobility at the ankles as they stabilize. 
Progression: Keeping your eyes closed, raise your chin as if to look upward and take the arms overhead. Try to maintain balance and keep taking a full body scan to note any differences between sides.
Proprioceptive Variation: Close your eyes during any movement on the BT to increase the proprioceptive challenge of the particular movement.

 

Discipline: T'ai Chi
Emphasis: Stability
Origin: China, thousands of years ago
Where: Bilateral or unilateral standing
How: T'ai Chi works the body through super-slow deceleration isotonic training, and utilizes weight shifts, often while standing on one leg.
Samples:
1) Galloping: Stand with the feet hip distance apart, hands at the sides. Bend the elbows and relax the wrists. Start bouncing gently with soft knees on top of the BTto create a total body warm-up and increase overall body awareness for about fifteen compressions. Repeat twice. 
Progression: Lift the heels and add more intense bouncing, keeping the toes in contact with the surface; invoke Feldenkrais and close your eyes.
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2) Holding the Moon and Petting the Horse's Mane: Stand on top of theBT with arms "holding the ball or moon" in front of the chest. Place the top hand just below the nose and the bottom hand just in front of the belly button. Position the feet perpendicular to each other with the left foot pointing left, and on top of the bull's eye of the dome center. "Pet the horse's mane" with the arms as you step off the BT to the left and simultaneously take a lunge step to the left, onto the floor. Return to the top of the BT "low and slow" and reposition the feet to the right side. Repeat several times to each side. 
Progression: Invoke Feldenkrais and practice lunging to the floor with the eyes closed. Notice the difference between the foot that is on the BT and the foot on the stable floor.
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3) T'ai Chi Wu Shu Power Pose: Cross arms in front of the chest and step off to the side of the BT, leaning towards the BT with the heel on top close to the bull's eye; feel the hamstring of the lifted leg stretch. Raise one arm overhead and bring wrist of the lower arm just over the knee area. Hinge the hips in the direction of the BT with an extended spine. Repeat on the other side.
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  4) Carry the Lantern + Rooster Stands on One Leg: Stand on top of the BT with legs adducted. Flex the right shoulder and lunge with the left foot to the left as you "carry the lantern" in front of the body, finishing with feet parallel. Lunge back onto the BT, "carrying the lantern" to the right. Try to bring up the left knee with the right foot close to the bull's eye, and try to balance on the BT as the "rooster stands on one leg." Lower the lifted leg and arm. Repeat to the other side.
 
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About the Author:
Lawrence Biscontini, M.A, moved to Puerto Rico in January of 1998 to open the Golden Door Spa which went on to receive the Conde Nast Award tenth place in the world for programs under his leadership. He is a spa consultant and trainer for leading international spas including Cavo Tagoo Mykonos, Greece (2008), Canyon Ranch (2007, 2008), and Greenbrier, among others. As nutritional counselor, Lawrence has created complete nutritional menus for spas from Manhattan to Mykonos. As a movement specialist, Lawrence makes fitness history with the following awards: Best International Program Chosen for Japan for "Shakti" (2007), Best Mind-Body Presenter (ECA, 2005), Specialty Presenter of the Year Award (Can Fit Pro, 2004), and Instructor of the Year Awards from IDEA (2004) & ACE (2002). Lawrence has celebrity clients like cast members of ABC TV's soap opera "General Hospital," and appears on news (CNN Headline News) and television ("LIVE! With Regis and Kelly"). His upcoming television show, "PurposeFit," airs in 2009. He is contributing author to industry magazines like AFAA's American Fitness, IDEA's Fitness Journal, and Spa Asia. His books include Morning Cardiovascular Workouts by Human Kinetics and most recently, Running the Show: Excellence in Customer Service and Cream Rises. In the USA, he has created aquatic, yoga, and T'ai Chi programming enjoyed at fitness chains and spas, including Equinox, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold's Gym International, Bally, and Golden Door Spas. A percentage of all of his website sales goes to charity, and to inspire career wellness development, he has instituted several Biscontini Scholarships for the fitness and spa community. Find Lawrence at www.findlawrence.com.

Works Cited:
Kavounoudias A, Roll R, Roll JP., "The plantar sole is a 'dynamometric map' for human balance control," Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Humaine, UMR 6562, CNRS-Universitá de Provence, Marseille, France. Neuroreport: 1998 Oct 5;9 (14): 3247-52.

Fuzhong, Li PhD, Fisher, John, PhD, and Harmer, Peter, PhD, "Improving Physical Function and Blood Pressure in Older Adults Through Cobblestone Mat Walking: A Randomized Trial," Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2005) 53 (8), 1305-1312.

Shakoor, N, and Block, J, "Going Barefoot Decreases Loads on Lower Extremity Joints in Osteoarthritis," Arthritis Today Magazine: Rheumatic Diseases (2006); 54:2923-2927.

Hatzitaki, V, Pavlou, M, and Bronstein AM, "The integration of multiple proprioceptive information: effect of ankle tendon vibration on postural responses to platform tilt," Experimental Brain Research, Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece: (Feb 2003);154(3):345-54.


Other recommended reading on barefoot trends:
References:

American College of Sports Medicine and American Diabetes Association (1997). Diabetes mellitus and exercise: joint position statement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 29(12), i-vi

American College of Sports Medicine (2000). ACSM position stand on exercise and Type 2 diabetes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32, 1345-1360
Anthony RJ (1987). The functional anatomy of the running training shoe. Chiropodist, December, 451-459

Bergmann G, Kniggendorf H, Graichen F, Rohlmann A (1995). Influence of shoes and heel strike on the loading of the hip joint. Journal of Biomechanics 28, 817-827

Burkett LN, Kohrt M, Buchbinder R (1985). Effects of shoes and foot orthotics on VO2 and selected frontal plane kinematics. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 17, 158-163

Clarke TE, Frederick EC, Cooper LB (1983). Effects of shoe cushioning upon ground reaction forces in running. International Journal of Sports Medicine 4, 247-251.

Flaherty RF (1994). Running economy and kinematic differences among running with the foot shod, with the foot bare, and with the bare foot equated for weight. Microform Publications, International Institute for Sport and Human Performance, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon

Frederick EC (1986). Kinematically mediated effects of sports shoe design: a review. Journal of Sports Sciences 4, 169-184

Hafner J, Burg G (1999). Dermatological aspects in prevention and treatment of the diabetic foot syndrome. Schweizerische Rundschau fur Medizin Praxis 88, 1170-1177

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ (1990). Athletic footwear and chronic overloading: a brief review. Sports Medicine 9, 76-85

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ (1991). Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 23, 217-224

Robbins S, Gouw G, McClaran J, Waked E (1993). Protective sensation of the plantar aspect of the foot. Foot and Ankle 14, 347-352

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ, Hanna AM (1989). Running-related injury prevention through innate impact-moderating behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 21, 130-139

Robbins SE, Hanna AM (1987). Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 19, 148-156

Robbins SE, Waked E, Rappel R (1995). Ankle taping improves proprioception before and after exercise in young men. British Journal of Sports Medicine 29, 242-247

Robbins S, Waked E (1997). Hazards of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear. British Journal of Sports Medicine 31, 299-303

Siff MC, Verkhoshansky YV (1999). Supertraining (4th ed.). Denver, Colorado. Supertraining International 

Stacoff A, Steger J, Stussi E, Reinschmidt C (1996). Lateral stability in sideward cutting movements. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28, 350-358

Stefanyshyn DJ, Nigg BM (2000). Influence of midsole bending stiffness on joint energy and jump height performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32, 471-476

Webb P, Saris WH, Schoffelen PF, Van Ingen Schenau GJ, Ten Hoor F (1988). The work of walking: A calorimetric study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 20, 331-337

Yessis M (2000). Explosive running. Illinois, USA. Contemporary Books


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