As a runner, you might spend a lot of time building endurance, strength, and, flexibility, often neglecting—or simply forgetting—that running also demands balance.
It takes a few episodes of stumbling and tumbling and a visit to the doctor to convince most runners of the importance of balance training.
Here’s a fact.
Running is a complicated one-footed balancing act.
When pounding the pavement (or trails), you’re continually dealing with pedestrians, traffic, oncoming cars, uneven surfaces and a host of other obstacles that force you to change gears, shift your weight suddenly, or stop on the spot altogether.
All of these actions require a fine-tuned level of balance.
Enter Balance Training
Hearing the words balance training may conjure up an image of a pro athlete doing crazy balance exercises on soft foam pads, wobble boards, Bosu balls, and other types of unstable surfaces. But that’s not always true.
You don’t have to become a yogi or Olympic gymnast to benefit from regular balance training.
Adding a few balance exercises to your workout program should help you drastically improve both your balance and stability. But before we get to that, let’s define what balance is as well as why you need more of it.
First things first, what is a balance?
Balance is one of the basic six skills that make up fitness. The other skills are endurance, strength, flexibility, agility, and speed. Again these are key skills for us runners.
Balance refers to your ability to stay in control of or stabilize your body movements when you’re standing still or moving. Technically, it’s a mix of proprioception and kinesthetic awareness that’s determined by knowing where your body is in space.
Even though you might have not thought about it, but you need good balance to perform just about everything, including getting out of a chair, sitting down, walking, tying your shoes, and, of course, running.
Having adequate balance will help you to keep proper joint alignment and center of gravity throughout any functional movement pattern, exercise-related or not.
The Importance Of Balance Training For Runners
Improving your balance can positively affect your biomechanics, proprioception, and overall coordination.
Balance is a key skill in athletic performance. It enforces your center of gravity, improves efficiency, allowing you to generate greater power and strength and perform more precise movements.
You’ll have a hard time running in a straight line when your balance is off. You’ll also find it hard to catch your equilibrium when you lose your footing, picking up items you drop on the floor, or simply changing gears or shifting your bodyweight while exercising.
For instance, when you have a better awareness of your ankle’s position relative to the surroundings, as well as a stronger muscle supporting the ankle, you’ll reduce your risks of suffering an ankle sprain. You’re protecting your ankles against injuries.
Don’t believe me?
Check the following studies
Researchers out of the Netherlands followed pro volleyball players throughout a season, splitting the players into an experimental group that did a balanced training routine, and a control group which did no balance training.
In the end, the researchers found drastically fewer ankle sprains in the balance training group.
Further research also suggests that balance training can also make you a better athlete. A study published in Sports Medicine, trainees who had a high level of balance, had improved performance markers than their less balance proficient peers.
I’m not saying that lack of balance causes these injuries, but lack of will contribute to the onset of these conditions. However, balance is something many runners take for granted, yet everyone can benefit from improving it.
Find Your Baseline
Before you jump on the balance exercises below, let’s first find your baseline. Testing your balance provides you a reference point of your current balance and stability skill.
The single-leg balance test is one of the best and easiest ways to achieve this goal.
Try to balance on each leg for 15 to 30 seconds, preferably with your eyes closed. Engage your core, keep your hips tucked underneath you, and bring the non-balance knee up to 90 degrees’ angle, so your elevated thigh is parallel to the floor.
How shaky are you?
How wobbly you feel?
That shakiness feeling is your body working hard on making balance changes and adjustment based on feedback from your muscles, joints, and tendons.
If you can’t hold this for 15 seconds on each leg, you have a lot of work to do.
Even if you pulled it off, you might not be out of trouble. We all need some balance training in our lives, regardless of our starting point and background.
The 5 Balance Exercises You Need
Warm-up first before you try any of these exercises. In most cases, 10 minutes of cardio is enough. Move through the routine, performing each exercise for the indicated number of reps or periods.
Repeat the routine twice. Keep in mind that are various versions of each exercise; go through the YouTube tutorials provided if any level is too easy or too hard but for you.
Begin by standing barefoot on a stable surface.
Lift your right leg and bring the bent knee toward your chest while keeping an upright stance. Keep your hips in place.
Then balance on your left leg for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.
You can make this drill more challenging by closing your eyes, standing on an unstable surface, or slowly raising your arms and/or moving them in circles.
2. Single-Leg Reach
This move not only improves your balance on the stable leg, but it also strengthens your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
Begin by placing a cone or tennis ball or another prop roughly two-three feet in front of you.
Next, while balancing on your right leg, bend from the hips as you reach toward the cone.
Then balance on your right leg, lift your left leg behind you.
Lean forward, and reach your right hand to the cone. Return to an upright stance, staying on the right leg.
Perform eight reps on each leg. Build it to 16. Then add more sets.
3. Single-Leg Balance
This is the basic drill, but you”re going to be surprised by how challenging it can be.
Stand on a stable ground, then stand on one foot, eyes closed, for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
4. Balance Walk
Get a two-by-four from a hardware store (or make your own), then set it on the ground.
Start walking forward on it without stepping off to the side, with hands relaxed at your side, pausing for a moment each time you lift your foot off the ground.
Hold your arms straight from your sides, making sure they’re parallel to the ground.
To keep your balance, focus on a spot in the distance.
To make it more challenging, raise your heels up, and walk on the balls of your feet. Move back and forth for one minute.
5. Leg Swings
This drill is essential for improving body control.
Stand tall in a doorway with your feet flat on the floor, and one hand against the frame of the door for balance.
Next, stand on your right leg, and swing the left ten degrees forward and backward without compromising your posture.
Make sure to control the swinging leg and work up to 30 degrees of swing front to back.
Once you get the hangs of this, step away from the doorframe and perform the swings without holding on to anything for balance.
Avoid any inward or outward rotation of your knees during the exercise.
For an extra challenge, swing the opposing arms to tap the swinging leg in its forward position.
There you have it.
The above balance exercises and drills are all you need to incorporate into your workout routine to improve your overall coordination, stability, body awareness, and of course, balance. Just make sure to add them ASAP. The rest is just detail.
Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.
Keep running strong.