Runners tend to focus on building strength, endurance, and flexibility, often forgetting–until we’re about to take a tumble–that running also demands balance. Balance exercises for runners are huge. It may not seem like it while you are doing it, but running is essentially hopping on one leg over and over again–but a little more gracefully. To build your balance, you need to start from the ground up; the foot and ankle are your foundation. When you have a strong ankle, you are less likely to be injured and much more likely to keep your balance under uneven surfaces.
So let us pause for a second and know few basics about these balancing and stability exercises before you jump to search an ocean of these videos online. I have referred few exercises to give you an idea but this is not all out there.
How it works?
Though it might not cross your mind, you need good balance to do just about everything, including walking, getting out of a chair, and leaning over to tie your shoes. Strong muscles and being able to keep yourself steady make all the difference in those and many other things you do every day.
Balance training involves doing exercises that strengthen the muscles that help keep you upright, including your legs and core. These kinds of exercises can improve stability and help prevent falls.
The training is performing an exercise in, what they call in the fitness industry, a proprioceptively enriched environment. To put it in layman’s terms: an unstable environment. This can be performing an exercise while balancing on one leg, standing on a pillow, BOSU ball or even a rolled up yoga mat. This type of training demands a lot of core activation and attention
Where to focus?
To run strong and balanced, a runner should ideally focus on single leg exercises for strength training or balance work. Even if you are doing an upper body exercise, like a dumbbell shoulder press, stand on one foot to work on proprioception. It may seem like you aren’t doing much of anything, but those little things add up. As a runner, being steady on your feet enables you to more efficiently transfer forces and absorb the impact to the spine of each footstrike. And being able to right a misstep is an important skill to have out on the road, considering that many injuries are caused by falls.
Runners tend to lack stability because we fail to work our muscles in multiple planes of motion. Muscles work in three different planes to accelerate, decelerate, and stabilize motion. These three planes are sagittal (forward/back), frontal (side/side), and transverse (rotational). If we only perform exercises in the sagittal plane (sit, run, cycle, etc), the muscle fibers will start to lose their ability to operate in the other planes, thus causing instability.
Balance and stability are a complex interplay between having proper muscle strength and coordinating the muscles to do their job at the right time (timing of contractions). While there are many underlying physiological attributes to make this interplay successful, it is relatively simple to improve your balance.
How often should you incorporate this type of training?
Doing balance exercises can be intense, like some very challenging Yoga poses. Others are as simple as standing on one leg for a few seconds. Or you can use equipment that forces your body to stabilize itself, like a BOSU half-circle stability ball or a balance board you use along with a video game.
You can do balance exercises as often as you’d like, even every day. Aim for at least one to two balance and stability exercise workouts per week. This goes for beginners all the way up to advanced athletes. Add in few strength & core exercises with them to increase the result in favor.
Some Exercises to begin with
There are plenty of online videos and how-to instructions on the exercises that focus on improving the balance and stability for runners. Credit goes to those who take effort and put them for the benefit of the whole running community. Here are some to begin with,