Imagine coming to the gym, and every so often, this image confronts you, somebody (i.e., Jes) doing pushups with her feet on one medicine ball and her hands on another. It’s not every day, but it’s a few times a month, and it seems effortless. After a while, you begin to wonder if you’ll see a demonstration of this “two ball pushup” every time you go to the gym.
You sort of want to because you think you could figure it out.
So, I decided to take on Jes in the two ball pushup, her one impressive exercise I thought I actually had a chance of doing.
I didn’t know what I was getting into….(JES: Finally he admits it!)
Something I thought would take a few weeks wound up taking six months. And, I never suspected how surprisingly honored I’d feel to have had the experience.
I guess what I most learned is that it’s really just one surpriseafter another with Jes!
Surprisingly, training to try to do this exercise became one of my favorite past times, particularly when Jes wasn’t around, and I could think I was getting a leg up on her. Surprisingly, I made progress after what felt like a fairly dim initial prognosis.
Surprisingly, in the course of just over two years now…I became one of Jes’ “surprisingly favorite clients”.
Here are some of the secrets Jes taught me about the two ball pushup that I’ve carried with me all this time:
Core conditioning is the central component of the two ball pushup. You need to have control of your core to stabilize your body, and it takes a lot of work:
Jes started me just trying to hold a plank with my feet balanced on one ball, and I couldn’t do it, until with lots of practice on my own, eventually I could.
Simultaneously, I worked on doing the plank with my hands on the ball. This is not as hard, but it’s amazingly taxing to do for any length of time.
Balance strategies are important but only secondary to core control. You can balance with so-so strategies, but balance is impossible without core control. Once you have core control though, the following will help:
Lock your shoulder blades down and back using your lats. The shoulder is the least stable joint in the body. You will be tempted to hunch your shoulders in an effort to concentrate power there to control the ball. That’s the kiss of death. Don’t do it.
For the ball at your foot, put one foot on, balance it, put weight on it. Then, lift up the other foot gently.
The trick to getting up on two balls is to stabilize the arms and shoulders first on one ball, then move the feet onto the second, like I just described. If you don’t have adequate core control, you’ll find this IMPOSSIBLE.
Once you can hold yourself on two balls for a minute, the pushup is nothing. Just go slow. I knew pushups already though. If you can’t do pushups, tackle that first on the way to doing this.
Those are the technical secrets. If someone had told them to me back when I started, it would not have made a difference. I needed Jes’ insight and coaching. She had to diagnose the core strength issue and prescribe a plan to fix it. She had to suggest the balance strategies, repeating often with patience. She had to put up with and manage my impatience.
Jes was right when she said we both shared a passion for performance and excellence. I couldn’t have asked for more. Jes is the best fitness professional I’ve ever known, and I hope to continue working with her for some time to come whether in person or remotely through one of her training plans. This is someone I want to stay connected to. She is a personal and professional resource without peer.
Note: This post was written by Jes and Bud intermittently adds his two cents throughout.
While most of us consider what people appear to be on the outside the determining factor in their physical ability, I’m very aware that the mental determination within an individual far outweighs anything that may appear on the outside. Such is the case of one of my long-time and surprisingly favorite clients, Bud Gibson.
(Bud: Jes wanted to make this a dialog with me throwing in remarks. Well, Remark #1, it’s nice to be referred to as surprisingly favorite)
Sure, most of you probably see us as a mismatched pair. But actually if you take away the layers, Bud and I are both fierce perfectionists who share a passion for personal achievement. It’s through this shared mental approach that includes tenacity, confidence and focus to the point some would consider obsession (Bud: some!? I’d say most), that Bud was able to not only perform, but master the two ball push-up.
When I first began training Bud, like most people he was afraid of me (Bud: I’m not sure I was so much afraid of Jes as dying from the workout). Rightfully so…I’m not sure, I guess you guys can be the judge of that. But the feeling of nausea throughout the entire first workout seems to be a theme with many of my trainees. Bud was not excluded from this right of passage (at least the way he tells it he’s not).
In terms of physical ability, while Bud was strong, (and by strong I mean capable of performing most lifts well and with decent form) he had little or no ability to transfer his strength into movement or functionality (Bud: This is why I sought Jes out and why I still work with her). His core was extremely weak, as he was unable to hold a basic plank for more than 30 seconds.
From the beginning of our working together, Bud insisted upon being able to beat me at everything. It didn’t matter if we were talking about running, jumping, lifting, stretching, or whatever…Bud proclaimed that he would reign supreme…at least in some capacity. I personally thought he was nuts (just being honest) and I’m a little surprised he didn’t join my volleyball league just so he could beat me at that too (Bud: Had I known of this league, I probably would have. Jes kind of kept it from me … hmmm).
One of the tasks Bud insisted (vehemently) that we work on was the 2 ball push-up. From a trainers perspective, I thought it was a fantastic goal. Something challenging that had a lot of mini steps he could use to encourage him along the path to achieving it. So the journey began…
First on the list was the basic plank. We worked on this a few times a week until it came quite easy for him to hold for at minimum one minute. Next was something Bud was already very proficient at, the basic push-up. We didn’t spend much time on that other than to incorporate it into different aspects of his training regimen. Third was the one and two ball plank (Bud: This is actually the part I remember. The first time at the one ball plank, Jes had to hold the ball between her feet to stabilize it for me. That’s when I realized beating her at anything would not be so easy. I still haven’t given up though. It’s a long term goal. It will happen). This took more time for him to master and was incorporated into workouts quite often (every week) as we worked up to the 2 ball push-up. Last was the actual two ball push-up. After a period of time, dedication, and obsessive focus Bud was able to easily perform the push-up and still can to this day.
As his trainer, I will say that watching Bud progress from hardly being able to do a plank to being able to easily incorporate the two ball push-up into workouts was very rewarding. It was an honor to guide him towards one of his own personal fitness goals. I also would like to reiterate, that it wasn’t Bud’s physical ability that caused him to reach his goal, he started with almost no ability to do the most basic component of this exercise (Bud: Such the flatterer). It was his mental tenacity, will, focus, and persistence that caused him to master this movement and all the skills necessary to achieve it. GOOD JOB BUD!
(Bud: Jes has actually asked me to write my own post next week, telling my side of the story. Quite brave, if you ask me. Suffice it to say, for now, that the honor has been all mine)
As I’ve said before, functional training, balance & stability are a crucial to my fitness routine. Utilizing various exercises that require balance, stability, and core strength are how I keep my workouts fun & challenging. Setting mini-goals such as standing on the stability ball and the 2 ball push-up allow me to continually change what I do throughout the year while consistently working toward my broader fitness goals.
In this post, I plan to discuss both my technique and motivation for doing the 2 ball push-up. Over the course of two more posts, I’ll discuss it further by showing how I took a client from being unable to hold a basic plank for an extended period of time all the way to achieving the two ball push-up.
When it comes to the two ball push-up, I love the demand it places upon not only my physical abilities, but also my mental concentration & focus. Mastering this exercise and incorporating it into specific workouts has allowed me to push myself further both mentally and physically.
What does it take to do the 2 ball push-up?
While this task seems difficult at first, all it takes to complete it is the knowledge of how to do it and the discipline to practice doing it. You can easily develop all the skills necessary to perform this task if you use the right workout regimen. If adding the two ball push-up to your workout routine is one of your fitness goals you should focus daily on the following:
Upper body strength
Balance & Stability
Why would anyone want to do the 2 ball push-up? Learning this exercise and the elements required to perform it is challenging and fun. And while mastering this movement isn’t critical for an effective weight loss plan or a body building routine, one derives an undeniable element of personal satisfaction once able to do it.
As I said previously, the 2 ball push-up can be considered a mini-goal you could set, one that would fit in with your broader fitness goals. The two ball push-up could be used in the following ways:
Chest Super-Set Challenge
Core Strength Training
Total Body Workouts
What would it take for YOU to master the 2 ball push-up?
Basic Push-up: First and foremost, you must be able to perform a body weight push-up with proper form, control, and range of motion. Practicing a push-up with the appropriate form will allow you to have the necessary strength and control needed to perform the ball push-up correctly. I recommend being able to perform at least 10 perfect push-ups before attempting the 2 ball push-up.
Basic Plank: You must also be capable of holding a basic plank before attempting the two ball push-up. You can find instructions on how to perform this basic core strength training exercise here.
2 Ball Plank: The two ball plank is a milestone you can work towards on your way to doing the two ball pushup. It’s obvious that the 2 ball plank is a necessary precursor to the two ball push-up, but this exercise alone could also be considered a mini-fitness goal. I would consider it to be on the difficult side for most individuals. Practice the two ball plank first and once you can hold it for approximately 60 seconds is when I would attempt performing the two ball pushup.
As an athletic and performance oriented person, I’ve always got my eye on new athletic challenges that would be fun to achieve. I’ve had a fascination with fitness, especially functional training, balance, stability, and athletic performance for years. I also get a lot of personal satisfaction out of achieving personal triumphs even if I am the only one who understands why I set the goals I do ;).
My progression to being able to go from the floor to standing on the stability ball started back when I was learning to be a trainer. It’s not like I decided one day long ago that I would eventually be able to stand on the ball. It’s more like I just knew some day I would do it…and then eventually I did.
Meeting the Challenge Just like any goal, there are elements to it that seem hard, and elements to it that seem kind of easy. Standing on the ball with no assistance is a step-by-step process that takes patience, focus, core strength training, and some talent (at least a little anyway). The core strength training program I’ve used for years is what allowed me to develop the balance, stability, and focus necessary to achieve this personal goal.
Core Strength Training
I use a core strength training program that includes using the stability ball.
I progressed myself from the most basic sit-up to advanced sit ups, push-ups, and weight training movements that include the ball.
My workout program trained my nervous system to activate all the muscles necessary to allow me to stand on the ball.
In the thesaurus, synonyms for patience include: endurance, staying power, tolerance, persistence & fortitude. These are all elements of the mental attitude required to achieve any personal goal. I applied these over the long term and it allowed me to progress toward standing on the ball.
Of course I didn’t stand on the ball on my first attempt, but I knew how to train over time to give myself the opportunity to achieve it.
Achieving this goal required long term focus. I had to allow myself to be ready to do it. I had to be open to recognizing when the time was right to try it.
Focus is also required during the movement. I trained myself to block out other gym members and mental distractions that could cause me to fall.
When I felt ready I began standing on the ball with assistance very close by and the option to grab something in case I fell.
The main challenge was going from kneeling with hands on the ball to having both feet on the ball in the position that would allow me to stand up.
I tried going from the floor to standing position on the ball a number of times. The first few tries I was very timid and I didn’t make it. Then, one day while a client went to get a drink I had the thought to try it. He walked away and I just did it without even thinking.
In fact, when he came back I decided I needed to do it again to make sure that I didn’t imagine the entire scene. I didn’t.
Now I can just do it and it’s not really that difficult.
What purpose does it serve?
As I have said in many previous posts, if you want to achieve fitness results, you should have a goal. You can have general purposes such as being healthy and looking good, and within those general purposes (goals) you can also have more specific challenges such as completing a 5K, racing a marathon, or mastering a certain sport.
One of my personal fitness goals is improved athletic performance. I know that improving athletic performance requires challenging balance, stability, and core strength so I choose incremental goals that correlate with that. Teaching myself to stand on the stability ball was an achievable aim that I can take pride in as I progress towards reaching my personal fitness goals.
When I work with clients I use the same approach to help them achieve their personal fitness goals. For example, when I began training Bud Gibson, his goal was to master the two ball push-up (another difficult core strength movement). I designed a step-by-step plan that allowed him to progress towards achieving his goal.
Everyone might not be capable of standing on a stability ball, but anyone can create a plan that allows you to set and achieve personal goals. This is the key to staying motivated and excited about your fitness plan.
Medicine balls are commonplace at most gyms and workout facilities these days. They are used for anything from push-ups and overhead throws to functional swings and twists. For such a simple piece of equipment they are extremely versatile and there are a number of different types of medicine balls to choose from.
Most med balls come in various weights and diameters. And depending on the type, some are made from soft mushy leather while others are hollow with a hard rubber surface. Some even have handles to facilitate a better grip. With so much variety available, sometimes I wonder if people know what a medicine ball is really for but are unsure of how to incorporate them in their own workout routine.
Medicine Balls & Core Strength Training
Similar to the BOSU ball, a medicine ball can provide an unstable surface that challenges both balance and stability. By knowing how to perform movements properly, one can easily torture clients capitalize on the challenge provided by the unstable surface and use it to challenge the core during push-ups, abdominal movements, shoulder movements, and hamstring movements (and more). Learning how to stabilize the body when an unstable surface is present is one of the main components of core strength training.
Medicine Balls & Sports Performance Training
Medicine balls are used a lot in functional training and sports specific training such as MMA and boxing. Med balls are also used regularly in cross-fit style workouts. Having various diameters and weights available allows the exerciser to perform resistance oriented exercises that would be awkward if attempted with a dumbbell.
Working with a variety of diameters and weights also helps to improve grip and forearm strength, mimic coordinated movements, and provide resistance for explosive movements. The various weights allow you to progressively increase difficulty, strengthen target muscles, and increase overall demand on the body.
When using a medicine ball as part of a sports specific training regimen, exercises are most effective when they mirror movements you perform in your sport.
Do Medicine Balls Really Fit into A Strength Training Workout?
When I work with clients, one of the things I teach them is to create a circuit of strength training movements and medicine ball exercises. By choosing the right combination of exercises, I use this method to effectively challenge both the core and the target muscle groups while increasing overall demand on the body and creating a more intense strength training workout.
If you want to learn how to use a medicine ball correctly, check out this video below. The video is a little dry, but also informative. It’s created by one of my favorite online companies, Perform Better.
A bosu ball is one of those half-balls with a flat platform on one side and a dome that looks like half a stability ball on the other side. The word BOSU is an acronym that stands for “both sides up”. Both sides up means you can use this piece of core strength training equipment with either side up or down.
I enjoy using the BOSU for this very reason. The fact that you can use “both sides up” allows me to introduce a lot of variety and creativity into workouts for both myself and clients.
Depending on the exercise you choose, using the BOSU will challenge your balance, total body strength, and improve proprioception. In order for movements to be effective, all exercises should be performed while maintaining a neutral spine and proper body mechanics.
Remember: The most important element of core strength training is using proper body position during all movements.
The ability to maintain the neutral spine during movement and exercise is paramount to safe and effective core strength training and functional movement. The neutral posture can be summarized by this: avoid extreme postural positions such as a curved or hunched upper back or an exaggerated arch of the lower spine (lordosis).
To get the most out of training with a BOSU, you should maintain a neutral spine at all times. This also causes you to strengthen muscles of the core and improve overall mobility, functionality, and athleticism.
The understanding of proper body mechanics is another important aspect of effective core strength training with a BOSU. Simply stated, using proper body mechanics protects joints from extreme and potentially damaging movements and allows you to activate target muscle groups.
If you experience joint or back pain while using the BOSU, you should check to see if you are maintaining the neutral spine or if one or more of your joints are in an extreme or unnatural position. If either is true, you should discontinue the exercise or decrease the level of difficulty immediately.
The term proprioception means having a sense of your body and joint position in space. Prioprioception is important for athletic performance, injury prevention, and even daily functional activities. Having good proprioception can save someone from damaging their hip during a slip and fall or prevent pulling a muscle when sprinting down the field.
Working with a BOSU can improve proprioception because it provides a method for practicing dynamic joint stability. In effect, the BOSU introduces an unstable surface and then teaches the user to stabilize the surface using a variety of different muscles and joints.
A real world example where dynamic joint stability would be necessary is slipping and falling on a wet or icy sidewalk. Your legs can move in two different directions. Having the ability to control them individually can easily prevent an injury.
Balance and Coordination
Using either side of the BOSU will allow you to challenge and improve both balance and coordination. Whether face up or face down, the unstable surface created by the rounded part of the BOSU forces the user to balance their own body weight at all times. For example, if the user is performing a stationary exercise such as standing on one foot, then their balance will be challenged. If the user is performing a movement oriented exercise such as a lunge, then both balance and coordination will be challenged.
If you are using curious about using a BOSU ball, I recommend giving it a try. It will be a new and fun addition to your current workout routine and by using it you can add variety to your workout plan.
While core strength training includes movements for all muscle groups, when I use a bosu ball I generally focus on using it to develop leg strength, challenge balance, improve posture, and to strengthen the rectus and transverse abdominus. I find the bosu to be a lot of fun and I recommend anyone adding it into their workout routine.
1. Integraged Balance Training by Douglas Brooks M.S.