Finding Balance: Stabilization Training for Runners

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You’ve been working hard to strengthen your core and have been diligently stretching after your runs. Now you’re ready to take your training to the next level, which means it’s time to start incorporating some balance training into your routine.

Balance training focuses on the body’s ability to maintain proper posture and alignment in varying situations. While you may not have any ambitions to wow your friends with unicycle rides or juggling high wire acts, balance training actually serves an important purpose in the world of running.

If you think about it, running is essentially a one-legged exercise that involves transitioning efficiently from one leg to the other. Runners tend to have very powerful quads, hamstrings, and calves, but disproportionately weak stabilizer muscles. The resulting strong but unstable joints, combined with the repetitive motion of running, can lead to a lot of stress being absorbed in the wrong ways as the body forms patterns of compensation. In fact, many common running injuries can be traced back to instability in the hips. Remember: Everything in your body is connected, and small patterns of misalignment can have a domino effect throughout the system.

Balance training targets smaller stabilization muscles in order to build strength, prevent injury, and increase athletic efficiency. Basically, you can think of balance training as a small investment that will yield high returns later down the road (or trail).

Just like you wouldn’t begin a marathon training program by going out and running 26 miles, balance also needs to be developed progressively. This balance training sequence has been divided into three progressive phases: Balance Stabilization, Balance Strength, and Balance Power. Each phase should last about four to six weeks. Today, we’ll begin the Balance Stabilization phase.

Guidelines for Balance Training

  • Reps should be relatively high (about 12 to 20 total), but it’s a good idea to start a bit lower for the first week or two as your body adjusts to this type of training.
  • Complete the exercises two or three times per week.
  • As with all exercises, proper form is key. Form is more important than how many reps you complete or how long you are able to hold a position. Proper form is your foundation.

Phase 1: Balance Stabilization 
First four to six weeks of Balance Training

These exercises involve little joint motion. They are designed to increase joint stability.

Note: As you progress through this phase, you may find that you’d like the exercises to become more challenging. If that’s the case, you may try to incorporate the use of a balance pad, balance board, or BOSU ball.

Single Leg Balance

  • Stand tall with your shoulders back and feet pointing straight forward.
  • Lift your left leg and lightly hug it into your chest, maintaining a tall, stable posture.
  • Hold the position. If you lose your balance and need to touch your foot down, just do your best to regain your balance and continue the hold.
  • Slowly bring your left leg down to the floor and repeat the exercise by raising your right leg.

Single Leg Reach

  • Stand tall with your shoulders, back, and feet pointing straight forward.
  • Keeping a straight spine, bend at the hips and simultaneously extend your left leg straight out behind you while reaching straight forward with your right arm.
  • Hold the position. If you lose your balance and need to touch your foot down, just do your best to regain your balance and continue the hold.
  • Slowly bring your left leg down to the floor and regain a standing position. Repeat the exercise by extending your right leg behind you and reaching your left arm forward.

Single Leg Throw and Catch

  • Stand facing a workout buddy roughly 6 feet apart.
  • Lift your left leg off the floor so that you are firmly balanced on your right leg.
  • Toss a ball back and forth with your buddy. You may choose to begin with a light, soft ball and gradually progress to a medicine ball as you move through the phase.
  • After several passes, switch legs so that you are balanced on the left and repeat the exercise.

Note: If you are exercising alone, there are several ways you can modify this exercise. Any upper body motion that will challenge stability is an option, such as tossing a smaller ball back and forth from one hand to the other.

Plank Reaches

  • Begin in high plank position, with your arms straight below your shoulders and your back completely flat.
  • Simultaneously lift your left leg and extend it straight back while lifting your right arm and reaching it straight forward.
  • Hold the position steady for three to five seconds, then come back into high plank position. Repeat the exercise by lifting your right leg and left arm, and continue alternating.

Happy training, and stay tuned for Phase 2: Balance Strength for Runners.

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Tracie is a former teacher and a lifelong learner who loves exploring. Most at home in the mountains, she enjoys tearing up and down the trails on her mountain bike, and occasionally leaves the wheels at home for a run through the trees. Having recently earned her personal trainer certification, Tracie thrives on helping others reach their athletic goals.

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