Running is a delicate balance of many moving parts. It is a complex system of dozens of muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments working together. It is a desirable strain on the cardiovascular system. The brain recognizes it as an agonizingly painful but uniquely addictive experience. Running is many things, and it can take on many forms; but at its core, running is a series of single leg landings, one after the other.
Balance Is Often Neglected
The difference between running and walking is that during running, an individual never has more than one foot on the ground at any given moment. The inherent significance of this is the importance of single leg balance and stability in regards to training. An often neglected component of many training regimens is incorporating single leg balance activities and doing them correctly. Most runners perform a series of stretches, some core and leg strengthening exercises, and maybe even a little foam rolling. However, many runners have poor control of their single leg balance; consequently, they’re forced to compensate for this over the course of their running. A runner performs roughly six thousand single leg landings over the course of a three mile run. These steps add up when the miles are piled on, and if a runners’ single leg landing is not controlled or balanced, it can contribute to injury.
There are many exercises a runner can perform to target their balance, but a good starting place is to just stand on one leg for 30 seconds. This can be progressed to standing on foam, and standing on one leg with eyes closed. From there, a runner could incorporate some single leg squatting into their strength training regimen. However, with single leg squatting, it is extremely important to focus on controlling the knee as the squat is performed. The knee should remain steady, and should not move out to one side or the other. Single leg calf raises without hand-held assist can also help improve balance and strength. Additionally, practicing a controlled single leg landing can help a runner re-educate their body to land and run with stability.
Get There with Balance
Runners who want to continue to run and prevent injury should recognize the importance of maximizing their strength, flexibility, and balance/stability. While training correctly is important for fitness level, runners have to remain injury-free in order to train on a weekly basis. Sometimes getting to the starting line of a race can be more difficult than the race itself. Take the time to perform weekly balance exercises to help get there.