The role of instability with resistance training

J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Aug;20(3):716-22. doi: 10.1519/R-18475.1.


There are many instances in daily life and sport in which force must be exerted when an individual performing the task is in an unstable condition. Instability can decrease the externally-measured force output of a muscle while maintaining high muscle activation. The high muscle activation of limbs and trunk when unstable can be attributed to the increased stabilization functions. The increased stress associated with instability has been postulated to promote greater neuromuscular adaptations, such as decreased co-contractions, improved coordination, and confidence in performing a skill. In addition, high muscle activation with less stress on joints and muscles could also be beneficial for general musculoskeletal health and rehabilitation. However, the lower force output may be detrimental to absolute strength gains when resistance training. Furthermore, other studies have reported increased co-contractions with unstable training. The positive effects of instability resistance training on sports performance have yet to be quantified. The examination of the literature suggests that when implementing a resistance training program for musculoskeletal health or rehabilitation, both stable and unstable exercises should be included to ensure an emphasis on both higher force (stable) and balance (unstable) stressors to the neuromuscular system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability / physiopathology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Physical Education and Training / methods*
  • Proprioception / physiology