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Unstable Trainers, Irresponsible Recommendations

Written on October 13, 2008 at 6:00 am, by Eric Cressey

I received this email from an online consulting client of mine last week. This gentlemen is a guy who came to me with some pretty significant back pain, and we’ve diligently worked to address those issues with great success while maintaining an overall training effect. However, this email really set me off:

“With the launch of your new unstable training surfaces e-book, I thought you might like to hear about an incident that happened yesterday a the gym.

“As I have said before, I train at a commercial gym. It isn’t an ideal situation, but I can keep my head down and get my work done. Like most large gyms, there are a stable of bad trainers dressed in matching uniforms.

“Yesterday, I was finishing up with the single-leg squat to a box. I had my headphones on and was working alone. One of the trainers went out of his way to try and give me a foam pad for the exercise during one of my sets. I just shook my head and continued without interruption.

“I know misinformation is rampart in the industry but I thought you might like the anecdote.


This scares me. Seriously.

In unstable training surfaces, we have an implement that has been scientifically proven only in the rehabilitation of ankle sprains. However, without consideration of whether it’s a safe and effective training approach for health individuals, it’s become ingrained in the training world today.

Here is an individual with some significant motor pattern alterations that are finally headed in the right direction from a correction standpoint, yet this trainer saw fit to recommend an unproven implement to someone he knew nothing about. This isn’t like showing someone how to use a treadmill. Ask Stuart McGill and he’ll tell you that stability balls aren’t ideal for early-stage back rehabilitation patients because they actually double spine load.

Many people might think that my intention in writing this recent e-book was to say that it was “foo-foo” garbage and vilify these initiatives. The reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. These implements DEFINITELY have a place in the training world.

We put a ton of time into our training intervention and research, so it would be really shortsighted and ignorant to just say “always use it” or “never use it.” I firmly believe that there are specific applications for UST in healthy athletes, but they must be used in the context of one’s training age, goals, and injury status.

So, as with almost anything in the fitness industry, the answer is “maybe” or “it depends.” If it was just “always” or “never,” I wouldn’t have had to write a book!

With that in mind, at risk of sounding over-confident, I really think that any trainer and strength coach reading this blog needs to pick up a copy of The Truth About Unstable Surface Training.

3 Responses to “Unstable Trainers, Irresponsible Recommendations”

  1. www.neilmct.com Says:

    Excellent book. Lots of good points to back up my argument that heavy deadlifts spank the bum of one arm curls on an unstable gimmicky thingy.

    Top marks

  2. jennifer Says:

    I’m thinking about getting the e-book– my husband may already have it. What do you say to sand pit training? I know, not “never” or “always” but does the book address this? Do you have sand pit training in your facilities? I understand sand pit training is in some of the top sports training facilities… it just seems to me it slows you down. Train slow, be slow I always say…

  3. Newsletter130 | EricCressey.com Says:

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