Tutorial Thursday #43 – Unstable weights

Is unstable the direct opposite of stable? Or does it mean something different maybe?

This Tutorial Thursday will address this question. Because we are convinced that training with unstable weights has major advantages for your training!

Crt blackPack Training

What are unstable weights?

The term ‘unstable’ derives from ‘instability’, which in turn stems from the latin word ‘instabilis’, meaning ‘unsteady’ or ‘shaky’. Since common prefixes such as un-, in- or de- often denote the exact opposite of a word, unstable is the direct opposite of stable, which means ‘firmly fixed or not likely to move or change’ according to the dictionary.

Now, this definition is obviously more aimed at your stand, the ground or your position. But a training weight or some kind of equipment can also be unstable. In comparison to a smith machine or a even guided machine, a barbell is much more unstable. Or is it more labile?

Yes, the aforementioned dichotomy of stable and unstable is not quite correct, there is another form of ‘not stable’, namely ‘labile’.

If I throw a medicine ball while squatting on a gymnastic ball my body is placed on an unstable ground. I could fall at any moment. ‘Labile’, however, denotes more of a in-between state. My body would be easier to destabilize than in a stable stance, but it is not critic. Standing on one foot (barefoot) I would have a labile position but I still have a stable enough contact area to keep my body in a perpendicular position. If I would add running shoes (with a rubber, foam or gel sole), a balance pad etc. I would have less control and my stance would become more labile-critic up until the point that my position is unstable. Thus, you can think of stable and unstable as points on a scale that starts with stable, goes over to labile and ends somewhere around unstable.

aeroSling Dips Training Sequence

If we transfer these thoughts to weights and training equipment we could call barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, med balls, etc. labile training weights. Sandbags and especially aquabags would land on the end of the scale, at ‘unstable’, since their filling moves all the time! Even if you have the weight in a supposedly stable position the form and the balance point might still change.

So what are the advantages for me?

Training with unstable weights has enormous effects on the muscular activation and the inter and intra muscular coordination. WHich means that the central nervous system, the data line between brain and executing organs, learns to function faster and more efficiently. It also improves the communication between single muscle fibers and between single muscles. Especially the joint-surrounding musculature and the stabilizing musculature of the core will significantly improve. In the end, all of this works towards a better posture and more movement quality, and it can help preventing unequal loads and falls. Thus, the most important structure, the spine, is protected in the long term.

A little booster for your training, so to speak. No repetition equals the one before and you are constantly creating new impulses. All in the spirit of ‘Variation is King‘.

Nives blackPack Training

You could also differentiate between stable, labile, and unstable training equipment. A two-dimensional rowing machine which guides your movements would be an example for stable training equipment. Bent-over rowing with a barbell, for example, would be more labile, and rowing with the aeroSling or bent-over rows with the blackPack ESY L Set AQUA is very much unstable. All of this has its place in the fitness world. It all depends – as always – on your goals. If you want to become better in a sport, become more fit in daily activities, or build up general fitness, training with free weights and using labile to unstable weights would be reasonable. If your focus is more on bodybuilding or rebuilding musculature after an accident you would turn your attention towards guided machines with stable resistances. So, there you have it. A quick overview of stable and unstable training weights. What do you use for your training? What do you use more, stable, labile or unstable weights? What is your favorite exercise and into which category would it fall? Let us know in the comment section!

get functional!
Your Fabien

Author: Fabien Mpouma

Fabien is bachelor of arts sportscience (DSHS) and since his studies he is working in the sector of health- and rehabilitation sports. He was course instructor for several institutions in the field of rehabilitation and mental and physical disease. He has a lot of experience in prevention with adults, youths, and children. He worked as regional manager for Outdoor Gym and now as a Personal Trainer and Foodcoach. Since 2014 he is Manager for Training & Education and Head Coach for aerobis. In 2016 he opened his own facility for Personal- and Grouptraining in his hometown Siegburg. Stay in contact with Fabien by sending him an email

Leave a Reply