I’ve spent A LOT of time in physical therapy over the years for various injuries. A huge part of my rehab always focused on single leg exercises that focused on building up my ankle stability, core strength and balance.
Balance exercises for runners are huge. It may not seem like it while you are doing it, but running is essentially hopping on one leg over and over again. But it’s a little more graceful…hopefully. To build on your balance, you need to start from the ground up. The foot and ankle are your foundation. When you have a strong ankle you are less likely to be injured and much more likely to keep your balance under uneven surfaces. You want to be able to maintain your balance as you change directions or make a quick change movement in running, especially in trail running.
Now that I’m spending more time on the trails, my balance training is more important than ever. I may have to bounce from rock to rock, navigate over roots, or run on unstable fields. Single leg exercises are always the focus for strength training. Even if I’m doing an upper body exercise, like a DB shoulder press, I’ll stand on one foot to work on my proprioception. It may seem like you aren’t doing much of anything, but those little things add up. My ankles have never felt stronger on the trails.I don’t feel the stiffness and ache that I used to get the day after a hard or long run – on road or trails.
Your ankle never relaxes in running. It’s constantly working so you need it to be in tip top shape. Here’s 4 balance exercises for runners that will help you run strong and hopefully, injury free.
Disclaimer – While I am an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, I am not your personal trainer. Please consult your physician before trying any new exercise program.
Single Leg Balance
The bare bones basics of stability training. This is an exercise that should be done at every age, especially as we get older.
To do: Stand tall with your shoulders back and feet pointing straight forward. Lift your left leg and raise it to about 90 degrees. Maintain a tall, stable posture. Hold the position, aiming for 30 seconds. Bring your left leg down to the floor and repeat the exercise by raising your right leg.
If that is too easy, close your eyes. It just got 10x harder.
Single Leg Balance on BOSU
The BOSU is great for building balance. If you don’t have a BOSU, any unstable surface will work. A pillow or couch cushion works great.
To do: Stand on the center of the BOSU and raise the other leg off the ground. Be sure to not let your hip sink – they should be even. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds.
If that’s too easy, close your eyes. No peeking!
Single Leg Ball Toss and Catch
This is a great drill to do with a workout buddy or if you have a rebounder trampoline. If either of those are unavailable, use a ball that can be bounced off a wall.
To do: Stand facing a workout buddy, rebounder trampoline or wall. 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, while maintaining single leg balance. After 10 passes, switch to the right leg.
Single Leg Squat and Reach
If you are looking for an exercise that works your balance and fires up the hip and glutes, look no further. My PT had me to do this exercise with small cones to my left and right sides and one to the front.
To do: Stand on one leg. Squat down and touch the floor (or cone if using) to your left side. Repeat the squat/touch sequence to the front and right side. Return to the left side repeating squat/touch.
Traditionally, the opposite hand from the leg that is squatting down is used to touch the ground. However, my PT had me do it both ways. I think the same hand, same leg is much harder especially when you have to cross over.
If this becomes to easy, you can progress to an unstable surface like a BOSU or foam pad.
Note: I like to do all of these exercise without shoes to really make my feet work. With shoes, it’s way to easy to get “comfy” and not have my whole foot/ankle doing the work.
Do you incorporate balance exercises into your training?
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