Balance Training for Runners: Complete Guide!
Ask runners what they think are the top things they need to focus on to be successful at their craft, and some standard answers will come as replies. Take a second to think about what you think are important practices to implement. Did you include working on balance?
If not, that is not surprising.
Balancing exercises for runners can help you improve your running and help with injury prevention.
Does Balance Help With Running?
Balance is fundamentally the skill of keeping the body aligned and upright by reacting to changes in our center of mass at all times.
Taking this definition into consideration, it seems balance should also be a primary focus during training since, after all, running is a one-legged balancing act.
Most people will think of running as an activity involving a push-off phase, forward propulsion, and a landing. These are all parts of the running cycle, but about 50% of running is an act of falling forward.
Luckily, we all develop the ability to stabilize ourselves against falling while running fairly early. This natural reaction gets harder to control as we run longer and faster since the muscles in charge of this action get fatigued.
It stands to reason that if running straight with no disruptions gets harder to control when we are tired, then the task of maintaining our balance is that much more difficult when having to make a sharp turn, stepping over uneven surface, or having to make a sudden stop to avoid a collision with a person or object.
Why Do I Lose My Balance When I Run?
Many things can cause balance loss when running, which can be internal and external factors. Since runners can lose up to 75% of their ability to maintain balance between the ages of 25 and 75, it is something that needs attention and focus.
Factors that lead to balance difficulties include poor motor patterns or core strength weaknesses. If you take some time to improve these, a better balance will likely result.
Two other considerations are inner ear or vision problems. Runners experiencing balance issues should look into those things on their daily jaunt.
The terrain you are running on also comes into consideration and can cause you to lose your balance. If you struggle with staying upright when trail running, it just might not be for you.
If you can’t give up technical trail running, be sure to always focus on your footing and to avoid distractions such as music.
What Are Three Types of Balance Exercises?
The three main balance exercises are bodyweight exercises, resistance band training, and static balance exercises.
Simple bodyweight exercises and strength training include things like single-leg squats, step-ups, lunges, and heel raises. There are also stabilizing exercises that can be done both with or without bands, such as clamshells, bridges, standing legs lifts, and lateral squat walks.
Static balancing exercises are also a good tool. single-leg exercises are also useful, especially if you have experienced a one-sided running injury or low back pain in the past. Single leg balance exercises seem super simple, but it is a great starting point. You can then graduate to a standing single leg lift.
If you are like most runners, balance is something you do not pay enough attention to. Incorporating a handful of stability exercises before or after runs is the easiest way to make sure to get them in.
How Can I Improve My Athletic Balance?
Balance is controlled by proprioceptors in our muscles and joints, which are basically tiny sensory nerves that can anticipate changes in our body’s center of mass.
If you step on a pebble that causes a loss of balance, the proprioception muscles fire this sensation to our muscles so that they can react as quickly as possible to stabilize our joints and avoid a fall.
For the case of running, the main proprioceptors to focus on when working on balance training are the ones located in the feet, ankles, and hips.
It is always best to start working from the ground up as the feet and ankles are the first to sense any position changes from running on an uneven surface.
1. Exercise and Run Barefoot
Running barefoot can help you strengthen and work muscles differently than wearing running shoes. One theory why Kenyans are among the fastest, most efficient runners is that they grow up walking and running barefoot on uneven terrain. This enables these runners to devote most of their energy to forward propulsion while running.
Unlike the Kenyans, most of us have grown up running in shoes with support and cushioning. In addition, we opt for road running when training for a marathon. This means we leave our proprioceptors pretty quiet during our entire run.
The only time those nerve receptors are active is when there is a sudden change in our position for which the body is not prepared.
2. Strengthen Balance Muscles
Every runner’s strengthening program should include core, hip, ankle, and foot exercises. While most runners incorporate upper leg strengthening at least occasionally, making a concerted effort to strengthen the joints and muscles on the lower leg is often neglected.
The foot and ankle joint are probably one of the most important body parts for runners, as they carry the entire body’s weight at all times. The feet absorb the initial impact of striking the ground, making them extremely vulnerable to injury.
Easy exercises to work the ankle stabilizers can be done with resistance bands, strengthening the four main movements of the joint.
For the intrinsic muscles of the feet, towel curls are an effective strengthening exercise. Place a small towel on the floor and try to pick it up with your toes for 10 to 15 repetitions at a time.
How Long Does It Take to Improve Balance?
There is no simple answer to this question because it really does depend on your situation. If your imbalance is due to a physical problem such as an inner ear or vision problem, fixing that can bring you back into balance in no time.
If you are trying to halt the normal balance problems that come with age, that is a more difficult task.
If you are vigilant about incorporating balance exercises into your regimen for at least a few days each week, you should see improvement in a couple of months.
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