Why Improving Balance will Boost Your Runs

Ask five different runners what’s their key to faster times and fewer injuries, and you’re likely to get five different answers. It’s the nature of the sport: because people run differently, different training tips and tricks will have different effects on their individual training regimen. Want to run longer and with less pain? Try working on your balance!

Some people think your shoes can help you stave off running injuries; others think it has more to do with how much you stretch, how often you rest or how carefully you log your weekly miles. But did you know there’s one easy way you can lower your risk of injury and decrease your risk of falls later in life?

According to research, improving your balance can lower your risk of getting a runner’s injury like an ankle sprain. Why?

Top Four Benefits of Balance Training for Runners:

  1. Balance exercises that have you stand on one foot increase your ankle strength
  2. Balancing on one leg mimics a runners stride (you pick up one leg in each stride) so this kind of training can even out imbalances in your stride
  3. It increases your awareness of surroundings, making you less likely to have a misstep on a run
  4. It’s free, quick and requires almost no equipment so you have no excuse not to get started!

Balance Exercises for Runners

Are you still with me? If I’ve managed to get you on board with the idea that balance training will help you become a stronger, safer runner, then half of my job is complete. Now, I just need to teach you some ways to improve your balance. Below are a few exercises, courtesy of Active.com, that will help you work on your balance and, ultimately, pave the way for you to enjoy injury-free running.

1. One-Legged Balance

This first exercise is a great jumping off point for beginners. If you’re new to balance training, be sure to stay within reach of a stable chair or the wall. With feet together, pick up one foot with the knee facing forward or to the side. Hold the position with eyes open, then closed. Switch feet and repeat for four reps on each foot. Once you’ve mastered this training move, you’re ready to move through the other exercises. Be warned—these are progressively more difficult, so if any move is too challenging, or if you experience any discomfort while training, return to an earlier exercise and check with your doctor for potential contra-indications.

2. Leg Swings

Stand on your right leg and raise the left leg three to six inches off the floor. With arms at your sides, swing your left leg forward and backward, touching the floor for balance, while keeping your torso erect. Now, repeat the moves, but don't allow your foot to touch the ground. And finally, swing the left foot to the left side, holding the right arm out. Switch legs and repeat.

3. One-Legged Clock With Arms

Balance on one leg, with the torso straight, head up and hands on the hips. Visualize a clock and point your arm straight overhead to 12, then to the side at three, and then circle low and around to nine without losing your balance.

Increase the challenge by having a partner call out the different times to you. Switch to the opposite arm and leg and repeat.

4. Clock on an Unstable Surface

Once you master balance moves on solid ground, try them on an unstable surface such as a BOSU platform. Stand near a wall or other support, for safety. Start in the middle of the board on two feet. When you feel comfortable, carefully give the one-legged clocks a try. Be warned: it's harder than it looks.

5. One-Legged Squat   Improving your balance will also improve your running abilities

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Point your left foot out front, just barely touching the floor for balance, and push your hips back and down into this challenging one-legged squat position. Your right knee should be bent, chest upright, eyes forward and your arms out front. Slowly push up to return to starting position. Switch feet. Be sure the knee doesn't push in front of the toes.

6. Single-Leg Dead Lift

Balance on your left foot, engage the abs and bend forward at the hips while reaching toward the ground with your right hand. Hold on to a 5- to 10-pound weight and raise your right leg behind you for counterbalance. Tighten the buttocks as you return to the starting position. Keep your knee relaxed and your back flat throughout the movement. Switch legs.

Balance training is of utmost importance to runners, but it is equally important to incorporate weight training and other forms of cardiovascular exercise into your regular workout routines. If all you do to train for a big race is run, chances are, you’ll sustain an injury and have your progress get derailed. If you want to run faster, longer and without pain, schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrew Schneider for a comprehensive runner’s evaluation.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.