Using a Balance Disk for Exercise and Active Sitting

You Can Sit on It or Exercise on It

Balance Wobble Cushion for Exercise

BSIP/UIG/Getty Images 

A balance disk is a cushion can be used in fitness training as the base for core, balance, and stretching exercises. It is also known as a stability disc, wobble disc, and balance cushion. These inflated disks are also used in rehabilitation exercises to help people regain their sense of movement and position, known as proprioception, and exercises for seniors who want to maintain or improve their balance. The third use for a balance disk is as a seat cushion for active sitting, similar to using an exercise ball as a chair.

Features of a Balance Disk

A balance disc is an inflated cushion 13 to 14 inches in diameter. They are typically made either of plastic or rubber. The disks often have one smooth side and one knobbly side, or one side may have dimples and the other side have small knobs. You can choose either side when standing or sitting on the disk. An air pump is included so you can add more air as desired.

Be sure to check the weight limit for the balance cushion. Most will have a weight limit over 350 pounds, and some will support 450 pounds.

As compared with other items that provide instability for exercise or sitting (such as a BOSU balance trainer, wobble board, or exercise ball), a balance disc is inexpensive and portable. It is easy to clean and store whether you are using it for exercise or for seating.

Benefits of a Balance Disk for Exercise

Many athletic trainers and physical therapists direct their clients to do exercises on a balance disk or a similar unstable surface. As they are inexpensive and portable, they can be perfect for doing exercises at home.

When you perform exercises on the balance disc both your core muscles and your limb muscles will have to work harder than when you do the same exercises on a stable surface. You might get the same muscle activation with a lower load (lifting a lighter weight or doing fewer reps). Plus, you will be challenging your muscles in new ways, which can help re-energize a stale exercise routine.

The drawback is that research shows you won't be able to get the same power, speed, or range of motion as you can when doing the exercise from a stable surface. Don't expect to be able to lift the same weight when standing on a wobble cushion as you can when standing on the solid floor.

Rehabilitation exercises using a balance disk might be recommended for arthritis, sprained ankle, and after knee surgery or joint replacement. This helps improve your proprioception as your brain and joints regain a sense of where your body is in space.

Exercise Routine on a Balance Disk

Before you do any exercises on the disc, you should be able to do the same exercise with proper form when standing or sitting on a stable surface. A typical progression for people new to an exercise or in rehabilitation would be to be able to do the exercise sitting, then standing, then standing on an unstable surface.

Levels of challenge:

  • You can inflate the disk more to get an increased challenge for balance.
  • Standing with a disk under each foot is the least challenging.
  • Standing with two feet on one disk is a greater challenge.
  • Standing one-legged on the disk gives the biggest challenge.

Exercises:

  • Balance: Stand on one foot on the balance disc for 30 seconds, then switch feet and repeat. Work up to 60 seconds. For an added challenge, close your eyes.
  • Arm strengthening exercises: Use dumbbells to perform a typical set of arm exercises while standing on the balance disc. Suggested exercises: overhead press, biceps arm curl, triceps extension, and front raise.
  • Squats: Standing on the disc, bend your knees and lower your body into the squat position until your knees are bent about 90 degrees. You can hold the squat for 15 or 30 seconds or raise and lower yourself into the squat for 20 repetitions. Add increased intensity by doing weighted squats with dumbbells or a barbell.
  • Reverse lunges: With both feet on the disk, lunge back with one leg. Return to standing position. Repeat with the same leg or alternate legs, 8 to 10 repetitions per leg.
  • Pushups: With both hands on the balance disk (or on two separate disks), perform pushups with good form.
  • Crunches: Sit with the cushion under your buttocks and lower back, knees bent with feet on the floor. Lower your torso to the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles and bring your torso up towards your knees. Lower your torso back to the floor. Do 20 repetitions. Once you have mastered those, you can do crunches that start with your legs extended and feet off the floor, bringing your knees into your chest as you bring your upper body forward in a crunch.
  • V-Sit: Sit on the disk with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift one leg at a time until they are about at 90 degrees (knees still bent). You can extend your arms to help maintain balance. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat twice. For a more advanced version, extend your legs so the knees are straight and the legs are at about a 45-degree angle from the floor.
  • Forearm Plank: Kneel in front of the disk and lower your body so your forearms are braced on the disk with your elbows under your shoulders. Extend your legs so your back is straight and your legs are supported only by your toes. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat twice.

Using a Balance Disk as a Seat Cushion

You may be concerned about the health risks of sitting for long periods. It is attractive to think that sitting on an unstable surface might activate your core muscles constantly as your position shifts and needs correction. Using an exercise ball as a chair was a tactic adopted by many people, especially physical therapists. Switching to a stability cushion is a less obtrusive way of adding this balance challenge while seated.

However, it is controversial as to whether there is any measurable benefit. A review of studies finds that most show no increased trunk muscle activation when seated on an unstable surface. Instead, you would get the same results seated on a stable stool that had no backrest.

If you decide you would like to use a balance disc as a seat cushion, be sure to build up your time seated on it gradually. Start with just 10 or 15 minutes at a time. If you experience any low back pain, consult your medical provider and consider not using it as a seat cushion.

A stability disk comes already inflated to a point that is good to use for a seat cushion. You can inflate it further to provide your desired level of instability.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources