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Pacific Northwest | November 28, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 28, home Home delivery

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Sphere Of Influence
Either way you look at it, this gadget promises better balance

Doing a sit-up on a BOSU half-sphere adds a new challenge to workouts aimed at improving balance and agility.

WHAT DO YOU make of the BOSU Balance Trainer? It's a lump, a mushroom. A semicircle that exists somewhere between those big inflatable exercise balls and pancake-flat wobble boards.

BOSU stands for "Both Sides Up," because you can use either side. Both challenge your balance, leg strength and core muscles. When used as a stair-stepper, it can also be a cardiovascular challenge. It is a relatively new product that costs about $130, but is making headway in health-club fitness classes.

Finding strength
for knees

Q: A reader wrote with this query: "I've been experiencing sporadic knee pain for about six months. I would like to try some knee-strengthening exercises at home before I go to the trouble of seeing a doctor about it. Do you know of a good book or Web site where I might find some of these types of exercises?

A: Dr. Seth Leopold, of the University of Washington Orthopedics and Sports Medicine faculty, offers this advice:

"Though it may seem like a small ache, the length of time that you've been experiencing the pain is potentially concerning. All of us get aches and pains, but most don't persist for six months. Pain of such long duration warrants evaluation to make sure there is nothing serious or structural causing the problem.

If your doctor determines the source of the pain would be responsive to exercises, she or he will guide you through a reasonable rehabilitation, exercise or physical-therapy program.

To learn more about bone and joint conditions, including knee problems, check out the UW's online health-knowledge database called UW ORTHOSOURCE. It is written in plain English, and you can use it for free at

Seattle trainer Linda Ross has incorporated the device into a recent exercise video, "Zen Fusion," using movements from yoga and tai chi. This fall, she taught her techniques to trainers and teachers at clubs around town. I caught a class taught by Heather Parsons, one of her pupils, at Seattle Fitness.

After a warm-up, Parsons led 13 students of various shapes, sizes and fitness levels through an energetic workout. They did lunges and a series of stepping and jumping movements designed to get heart rates high. (One participant who wore a heart-rate monitor reported an average 150 beats per minute.) They did push-ups on each side of the BOSU. Working on the domed side isolated different muscles than those activated while working the flat but teetering side. Some of the maneuvers involved barbells, hand-held weights and exercise bands. The devices are stable on hardwood floors like the one at Seattle Fitness, but club owner Tija Petrovich said the flat side can slip on carpeting. She also suggests not working out on the BOSU while wearing running shoes.

Another move you can do on the device is simply jumping. Stand with both feet on the domed side, squat and jump, lifting your arms above your head as you reach peak. Land with your feet evenly spaced back on the dome and proceed until you're back in a squat. Your body must quickly find center when it lands, and the maneuver works the quads, calves and hamstrings.

I've also seen people standing with one foot, balancing atop the dome, or using it to do crunches or back strengthening, or lying backward over the dome to stretch the lower back. You can also do push-ups with your feet instead of your hands atop the dome. As versatile as the BOSU is, I could imagine this getting old, which is why a creative instructor is important.

Ross, who usually teaches the class at Seattle Fitness, at the edge of Pioneer Square, also offers a class at Rain Fitness in the Queen Anne neighborhood.

The thinking behind the BOSU or any other balance and stabilization tool is that opposing forces equalize one another. Because muscles on each side are working against each other, you build symmetrical strength. The BOSU ( boasts that simply standing on the dome can engage and develop the central nervous system and that the body intuitively finds its most efficient neurological path. The BOSU is used in some schools and programs that cater to children with sensory-integration issues.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at Alan Berner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.


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