Lower Back Pain

eevaluate Your Use of Unstable Surfaces.
I've spent a good chunk of the last five years studying unstable surface training (UST). In fact, the results of my master's thesis were published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2007, and I've written an entire e-book about the topic.

My main impression that's come about from all this research and experimentation is that UST is like the food guide pyramid of the exercise world. There are certain people in certain scenarios (e.g., ankle sprain rehabilitation, upper extremity proprioception drills) who need to use it, whereas it's remarkably inappropriate for others. Standing on an unstable surface is different than sitting on an unstable surface, which is also different than doing a push-up on an unstable surface.

I could go in a hundred different directions with this, but for the sake of brevity — and to avoid the guaranteed Internet pissing match that would ensue — I'll simply highlight one obvious perspective and back it up with a bit of research. Classic "core" work on unstable surfaces doesn't really carry over to anything.

Stability balls might increase fiber recruitment on these exercises (and double the spine load, according to Dr. McGill, but that's another story). The bigger issue is that the core stability improvements may not carry over to functional tasks.

A 2004 study from Stanton et al. is a great example of the divide between testing proficiency and performance. Researchers found that six weeks of stability ball training improved core stability in young athletes — as it was measured (in a manner consistent with the training itself).(1)

In other words, this is like saying that bench press training will make you better at bench pressing. Well, duh! The more important question, though, is whether or not that bench press performance will carry over to athletic performance.

While their measure of "core stability" improved, it did not effect favorable changes in running...