Tips on How to Become a Balanced Runner
You take thousands of strides when you run. When you break the movement down into its simplest form, each stride taken is a tiny hop from one leg to the other, and for a very brief moment, you are balancing on one leg. This repetitive motion can lead to tight, fatigued muscles in runners. Left untreated, other muscles in the body will overcompensate for the weaker muscles, which increases the level of stress that the skeletal system is under. This imbalance can catch up to you, setting you up for chronic pain and making you susceptible to injury. To recover more efficiently from injury and improve your running, developing balance and stability is critical. It is also key to preventing future running injuries – And who doesn’t want to avoid being sidelined?!
Think you are a stable, balanced runner? Test yourself with the movements below.
Balance on your right leg and lift your left leg up, pulling your knee in toward your chest. Balance for 30 seconds, without putting your left leg down. Switch legs, balancing on your left leg for 30 seconds. If you become shaky before the 30 seconds is up on either leg or have to put a leg down completely, you may have some instabilities that need to be addressed!
Balance on your left leg and hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand. Keep the weight in front of your thigh at arm’s length, holding your left arm out to the side for balance if necessary. Stretch your right leg back behind you so you are only standing on your left leg. Flex your foot to keep the muscles of the back leg activated.
Lower the weight to the floor in a straight line by hinging at your hips, and lower your torso until it is almost parallel to the floor. During this movement, maintain a flat back, with the standing knee slightly bent. Tap your weight to the ground, and stand back up while pulling your right leg in as if you are going to return to standing upright. Stop before you put your foot down, and let it hover a few inches above the floor. If possible, repeat this movement. If you can’t repeat the movement or failed to get through one round completely, this is a good indication that you have imbalance issues!
To Find Your Balance, Lose It!
From stress fractures to IT band syndrome, imbalance issues and poor stability in the body are repeatedly linked to overuse injuries in runners. Fortunately, these can be avoided by cross training and incorporating a few beneficial movements into your training!
Hit the Trails
You can actually improve your balance and stability while running if you are willing to get off the beaten path. Try incorporating trail running into your training by swapping out your track workout or tempo run once a week for a run on the trails to enhance balance and strength. As you hurdle roots and change direction quickly to accommodate turns and unexpected barriers, you may find yourself wondering “How the heck is putting myself in an environment that throws me off balance going to actually help my balance?!”
But when you hop from rock to rock, climb and descend hills, and slide around on uneven terrain, your body will recruit muscles to keep you upright that isn’t always utilized in road running. You’ll establish your coordination, endurance, and stability while activating core muscles, small stabilizing muscles, and other balancing muscles. Your arms will get a workout as you rely on them for balance. And as an added benefit, you’ll likely emerge from the trails with a little more tenacity!
Yoga will develop stability in the body, which allows runners to stay free of injury. By practicing yoga a few times a week you can prevent injuries related to running by resolving muscle imbalances. The balance and strength that yoga develops will enable you to adapt to varying surfaces, so you can easily transition from the road or treadmill one day to the track or trails the next. And as we’ve mentioned, getting off the road regularly is a smart idea!
A consistent yoga practice will reap performance gains beyond injury prevention, helping you run with increased efficiency by extending your breath control. Yoga can propel you toward your running goals by building stabilization in the body through strengthening your core and can correct poor running form through strengthening your abdominal muscles and lower back.
Typically, runners move in one forward direction, with movement occurring in the sagittal plane alone. By only moving forward, muscle imbalance is probable. Certain muscles become fatigued while others never fire! Runners who practice yoga will train their bodies to move along the other planes as well. The lateral or side-to-side movement will happen on the frontal plane, while rotation of your torso occurs on the transverse plane. Poses such as Ardha savasana, or boat pose, are ideal frontal plane yoga movements, while parivrtta trikonasana, also known as revolved triangle pose, is a popular transverse plane movement. No matter what plane a pose occurs in, every pose is helpful because it utilizes the major muscle groups, along with any corresponding muscles.
As runners, we can get so focused on hitting our desired pace for a workout or covering a certain distance, and then rushing off to work, home, and life outside of running that we fail to stretch thoroughly or give weak spots the attention they deserve. Yoga can help us tune into the spots that are weak or tight, so we can care for them before they escalate into an injury.
Runners are prone to chronic shortening of tissues, making yoga invaluable in reducing the risk of running injuries, as it will lengthen those tissues, as well as strengthen and stabilize the hips and core. Runners are also notorious for having a limited range of motion and inflexibility, making us more susceptible to strained muscles. Yoga can expand the range of motion, improving the muscles’ and joints’ quality of movement and the potential to move further in one direction.
For those recovering from an existing injury, yoga can keep you active during recovery, and offer a solid foundation for you to build on when you return to running. And like running, yoga can be practiced almost anywhere, making it a convenient practice for runners.
Bosu Ball Exercises
Take your stability and balance to the next level by taking your workout to the gym, where you will likely find a bosu ball! You can make your squats and planks more challenging by performing them on this dome-shaped gym accessory since its unstable surface will demand balance.
Bosu Ball Squat
Squats performed on a bosu ball will give your legs and core a quality workout and decrease imbalances in runners. Turn the bosu ball over so the dome-side is touching the floor.
To start, stand on the flat platform, assuring proper positioning of the spine by looking straight ahead while maintaining a raised chest.
To lower down into a squat, bend at the hips and knees, with your feet, hips, and knees in alignment.
Squat as low as you can comfortably, without letting your knees cave in.
Pause for a few seconds a the bottom of the squat, then press through the feet and extend at the hips to return to standing.
Perform 6 to 8 repetitions initially, with the goal of working up to 15 reps.
Bosu Ball Plank
Planks performed on the bosu ball will increase your core stability.
With the bosu ball still turned over, start in a push-up position.
Lower your body down, placing your elbows underneath your shoulders on each side of the flat platform.
Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels.
With your core contracted and hips level, hold this position for 30 seconds.
Work up to being able to hold for 90 seconds by alternating 30 seconds of holding the position with 30 seconds of rest.
Squats and plants not challenging enough? Grab a board. A paddleboard that is! If you live in a warm climate with a river, ocean, or lake nearby, consider paddleboarding the next time you have a cross-training day on your training plan! Like trail running and yoga, paddleboarding requires that you balance to stay upright. The minute you put that board into the water, climb on and attempt to stand up, your core muscles will engage as your body adapt to the water’s constant movement.
You will rely heavily on your abdominals, calves, and quads to paddle board, but every major muscle group, including the glutes, lats, and lower back will get a workout. This is good news for runners since we depend on all these muscles to propel us forward and provide us with balance and stability with each step we run. To maximize your paddle boarding and further increase that core strength you need for stability, try performing squats and planks on the board!
Reducing imbalance and improving stability is key for runners who want to avoid injury and remain healthy. With so many options for creating a strong foundation to build your running on, you can easily incorporate a few of these workouts and movements into your training week, and train yourself to be a stable, balanced runner!