Why I Never Have Hockey Players Stand On A Stability Ball…

I am sure you have heard me say it before – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. 

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So simple, even I can do it.

Although it looks quite impressive, anyone can stand on a stability ball with a little practice.

When I worked at the sport med clinic I mastered in one particularly slow Friday afternoon. It was not that hard.

Then I did squats on it, then squats with dumbbells (even back then I wasn’t silly enough to try squatting a barbell). I even used a picture of myself squatting on a stability ball as a promotional shot for my new personal training business I had just started – because it looked cool (see…isn’t that cool==>).

I did a lot of silly things when I was younger – this was just one of them.

But then I grew up…

I started asking myself the question I repeatedly ask when designing training programs for any athlete – “What am I trying to train here?” and “What is the safest and most effective way to do that?”

And that is when I stopped standing on a stability ball.

What Is It Training?

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So simple even an elephant can do it 😉

Are coaches trying to train balance when they put an athlete on the stability ball? If so, I don’t fancy it all that much, because in order to keep your balance initially you need to keep even pressure on both feet with your ankles in an inverted position (to follow the contour of the ball), that is not really all that helpful on the ice.

Even when a player gets good at balancing on the ball and can perform weight shifts for a more dynamic balance; these are often executed slowly, because who wants to fall of a stability ball? Whether you are a goalie or a skater, you need to dynamically stabilize quickly and powerfully. For most athletes trying to do this on a stability ball carries more risk than potential reward.

There are a lot of tools we can use to train balance such as the Extreme Balance Board, DynaDisc, IndoBoard, Bongo Board and even the round wobble board – all with much less risk and equal reward (maybe not equal in the ‘cool factor’, but equal where it counts).

Then I saw coaches adding external load like dumbbells, medicine balls or even barbells. So are they trying to build strength?

Well, building max strength requires heavy loads and although seeing a player squat 135lbs while standing on a ball is indeed impressive. If that same player were squatting 135 in a power rack at the gym, you would not be taking a second look – in fact you might think he was doing a warm up set.

So it is not max strength they are trying to train.

Maybe it is strength in the stabilizers – this could be. Doing multiple reps with a submaximal load, building some muscular endurance in the stabilizers. I can see that, but again, is there an equally or more effective method with less risk?

Yes. See: Extreme Balance Board, DynaDisc, IndoBoard, Bongo Board and round wobble board.

Here Are Some Examples Of Other Options…

If you cannot see the video above, click here

Some have said it is great way to strengthen the core.

Think of a time you have seen an athlete stand on a ball – are they doing all that much with their ‘core’. I usually see them holding their torso fairly rigid (so stabilizing in that sense) as they do their movements and were I to really throw a medicine ball at them and have them really whip it back – – well, I don’t think it would end very well.

Yes, you can probably find a video of someone catching and passing a medicine ball while standing on a ball – I am sure it is out there somewhere. I am not talking about playing patty-cake with a med ball, I am talking about generating power and using the torso to stabilize while that power is transferred from the legs to the upper extremities – just like on the ice.

I Choose Not To…

I have heard the argument that standing on the ball is safe because “I have never had a player fall off the ball”. I have two thoughts on that. My first thought is that this sentence should end with the word “YET”. My second thought is that if they are not getting out of balance from time to time, that they are not truly expanding their envelope of stability. The exercise demands that they stay within the confines of their competency.

Anyway, for those reasons I choose not to. I think I can do it better and safer using other methods.

Were I training Cirque du Soleil acrobats, I would likely look for a safe way to use it. If I had a foam pit or something I might use it with my downhill ski racers, but I still don’t like the ankle position, so probably not.

Do I have athletes kneeling on the ball? Yes, sometimes, I think it can have value with much less risk.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Happy Training.

Cheers,
M

PS – no standing on a ball required for this goalie training program or this detailed off-season program for skaters.

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M Mountain

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