NBA legend LeBron James has shaken up social media with new videos posted on Instagram of his pregame routine. It's not James' dribbling or dunking that has caused a stir. In fact, he seems to be standing still while working through a number of exercises. It's what James is standing on that has sparked interest. The small, clear plastic pillows have been dubbed "yoga bubbles," and they look like something you might find in a kid's room.
Called Waff Mini Elites, they're a training tool originally marketed on the yoga scene to help improve balance and core function. Balance tools aren't new. Balance balls, BOSU balls and similar squishy products that promise to engage dormant muscle groups and improve core function and balance have been around for years. Many physical therapists use these products when working with patients. But the video of James has convinced many athletes that balance tools aren't just for battling injuries.
"While a very expensive product, it is a valuable product for athletes as it can help with neuromuscular firing, core strength, balance and stability," Marni Sumbal, Ironman athlete and owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition said in an interview with MNN. "We use something similar at the gym to help with balance."
It was a sprained ankle suffered in October that led James to using the Waff Mini Elites. His longtime trainer, Mike Mancias, introduced him to the balance tools both as a way to pinpoint inefficiencies in James' ankle movements and to help address these weaknesses by making sure that all of the tendons and ligaments in the lower legs are working together.
"If his weak spots are already back to 100 percent, it is most likely a light strengthening exercise as more of a preventative measure to decrease the likelihood of having problems with that area again," Tyler Spraul, head trainer at Exercise.com told MNN. "He also is getting the benefit of revving up his core and nervous system to prepare for the intensity of his games."
Don't be fooled — this takes effort
As you can see in the videos of James, above, and this video posted by Fabrice Gautier — the French physical therapist credited with introducing the Mini Elites on this side of the ocean — athletes struggle to perform seemingly simple exercises while balancing on these "yoga bubbles." That tells you how much effort it takes to stay balanced while utilizing muscle groups that are often dormant.
That's why many trainers and therapists consider balance tools like these to be lie detector tests, because you can't fake it — and your body can't override weak muscles — to get the job done. If you're shaking, or your ankles are turning while you're trying to stay balanced, it means that there's a weakness that needs to be addressed to prevent a potential injury.
It's too soon to tell how these "yoga bubbles" will affect Lebron James' basketball season. But likely more athletes will be adding these new balance tools to their workout routines.
According to Spraul, balance tools can be the "icing on the cake" as long as an athlete is already doing everything else needed to stay fit. "It's important to keep in mind that LeBron is a professional athlete, and he's an extraordinary one at that," says Spraul. "He continually checks the boxes by working on strength, agility, explosiveness, etc. day after day. Most of us would benefit more by sticking with the fundamentals of strength training, cardiovascular fitness, mobility work, etc. before putting much time into something like this."