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Cross Training For Runners

Boost Your Running Performance with These 9 Essential Balance Exercises

8 Mins read

Attention, fellow runners! While you’re busy building your endurance, strength, and flexibility, there’s one crucial element you might be neglecting—balance. Yes, that’s right, balance! It’s time to stop those stumbling episodes and surprise visits to the doctor.

Let me share a little secret with you.

Picture this: running is like a high-wire act but with just one foot! As you hit the pavement or conquer those trails, you’re not just battling pedestrians, traffic, and uneven surfaces. Oh no, you’re also engaged in a constant battle to shift gears, adjust your weight, and come to a sudden stop when obstacles pop up. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires finesse and control.

Now, let’s dive into the world of balance training. You might envision elite athletes performing jaw-dropping stunts on foam pads, wobble boards, or Bosu balls. While those images can be awe-inspiring, balance training isn’t reserved for yogis or Olympic gymnasts alone. It’s for all of us! By incorporating a few balance exercises into your workout routine, you’ll witness remarkable improvements in both your balance and stability.

But wait, what exactly is the balance? And why do you need more of it? Let’s unravel the mystery and discover the incredible benefits that balance training has in store for us. Get ready to unlock a new level of running prowess!

Balance Defined

Let’s start by unraveling the mystery of balance. It’s one of the fundamental skills that make up our overall fitness, alongside endurance, strength, flexibility, agility, and speed.

And guess what? As runners, these skills are our bread and butter.

So, what exactly is the balance? Well, it’s your secret weapon for staying in control and stabilizing your body, whether you’re standing still or on the move. Think of it as a harmonious dance between proprioception and kinesthetic awareness, where you have a keen sense of where your body is in space.

Here’s the kicker: balance isn’t just about fancy yoga poses or acrobatic feats. It’s an essential skill for everyday life. You need it to gracefully rise from a chair, effortlessly sit down, confidently walk, and even tie your shoes. And when it comes to running, good balance is your steadfast companion, ensuring proper joint alignment and a solid center of gravity throughout any movement, whether it’s pounding the pavement or tackling any other physical challenge.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Studies have shown that balance training can have a profound impact on our overall well-being. Researchers have discovered that incorporating balance exercises into our routines not only improves our physical performance but also reduces the risk of injuries. It’s like adding a supercharger to your running engine, making you more efficient, stable, and resilient.

Let’s dive into some of the studies.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research titled “Effects of Balance Training on Running Economy, Vertical Jump, and Muscle Strength: A Randomized Controlled Study” found that balance training improved running economy, vertical jump performance, and muscle strength in recreational runners.

Another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports titled “Effects of Balance Training on Postural Stability in Older Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” showed that balance training significantly improved postural stability in older individuals, which is crucial for injury prevention and maintaining overall functional ability.

What’s more?

A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training titled “Balance Training for Persons with Functionally Unstable Ankles” concluded that balance training significantly reduced the risk of ankle sprains in individuals with functionally unstable ankles.

I can go on and but you the picture – BALANCE IS KEY.

The Importance Of Balance Training For Runners

Let’s start with the basics. Balance training goes way beyond preventing embarrassing stumbles and falls. It has a profound impact on our biomechanics, proprioception (that internal sense of where our body is in space), and overall coordination. Picture it as the secret ingredient that fine-tunes our center of gravity unleashes hidden efficiency, and unlocks our true athletic potential.

Just imagine running in a world where your balance is on point. Your movements become precise and fluid, each step a testament to your newfound stability. But beware, my friends, for when your balance is off-kilter; things can go haywire. You’ll find yourself zigzagging instead of running in a straight line, struggling to regain your equilibrium after a near trip, or fumbling to pick up that water bottle you dropped mid-stride. Trust me; I’ve been there.

Now, here’s where things get really interesting. Studies have shown a direct link between balance training and injury prevention. Imagine protecting your precious ankles from sprains, ITBS, and a runner’s knee by honing your balance skills. When you develop a heightened awareness of your ankle’s position and strengthen the supporting muscles, you’re giving those injuries a run for their money. And hey, if you’re a trail runner like me, balance training becomes even more crucial. Those uneven terrains won’t stand a chance against your newfound stability.

But don’t just take my word for it. Let me hit you with some jaw-dropping research. Picture a group of pro volleyball players being split into two: one group embarking on a balanced training routine, and the other…well, not so much. The result? Drumroll, please. The balance training group experienced drastically fewer ankle sprains. That’s solid evidence right there, folks.

And there’s more. Another study published in Sports Medicine revealed that athletes with high levels of balance showcased improved performance markers compared to their less balance-savvy counterparts. It’s like having an ace up your sleeve that gives you that extra edge on the track or trail.

Now, I’m not saying that a lack of balance is the sole culprit behind these injuries and performance gaps. But let’s face it,  neglecting our balance is a recipe for trouble. It’s time to stop taking it for granted and start embracing the transformative power of balance training.

Find Your Baseline

Before we dive into the exciting world of balance exercises, let’s take a moment to find our baseline. Consider it a starting point on our journey to mastering stability and coordination.

Trust me; you’ll thank me later.

Now, there’s a simple test that can give us a glimpse into our current balance and stability skills: the almighty single-leg balance test. It’s like walking on a tightrope but without the high stakes and circus music. Here’s how it goes: stand on one leg, ideally with your eyes closed (don’t worry, I won’t judge if you peek). Engage that core, tuck those hips underneath you, and lift your non-balancing knee up to a proud 90-degree angle parallel to the floor. Are you with me so far?

Now comes the fun part. How long can you hold this pose without wobbling like a jellyfish in a storm? Pay close attention to those shaky sensations coursing through your body. That’s your internal GPS recalibrating, making lightning-fast adjustments based on feedback from your hardworking muscles, joints, and tendons. It’s a symphony of balance in action.

Now, be honest with yourself. Could you maintain this pose for a solid 15 seconds on each leg? If not, fear not! You’re in good company. We all have room to improve when it comes to balance, regardless of our starting point. Even if you managed to conquer the test with flying colors, consider this a friendly reminder that balance training is an essential ingredient in our fitness recipe.

The 5 Balance Exercises You Need

Before we dive into the realm of these amazing balance exercises, let’s make sure we’re properly warmed up. Think of it as priming your balance muscles for action. A quick 10-minute cardio session should do the trick. Get that heart pumping and those muscles warm up. We want to be ready to conquer these exercises like balance warriors!

Now, get ready to move and groove through this routine. Each exercise has its own set of reps or time periods to follow, so pay close attention. Don’t worry if you find some exercises too easy or too challenging for your current level.

I’ve got your back with handy YouTube tutorials to guide you along the way. Think of them as your trusty companions, helping you navigate the balance maze.

Repeat this routine twice. Consistency is key, my friends. Embrace the journey, celebrate small victories, and watch as your balance prowess blossoms.

Without further ado, let’s unveil the five balance exercises you need in your life. These exercises will test your stability, challenge your body, and awaken those dormant balance superpowers within you.

1.     Stork Stand

Begin by standing barefoot on a stable surface.

Lift your right leg and bring the bent knee toward your chest while keeping an upright stance.

Keep your hips in place.

Then balance on your left leg for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.

You can make this drill more challenging by closing your eyes, standing on an unstable surface, or slowly raising your arms and/or moving them in circles.

2. Single-Leg Reach

This move not only improves your balance on the stable leg but it also strengthens your core, glutes, and hamstrings.

Begin by placing a cone or tennis ball, or another prop roughly two-three feet in front of you.

Next, while balancing on your right leg, bend from the hips as you reach toward the cone.

Then balance on your right leg, and lift your left leg behind you.

Lean forward and reach your right hand to the cone.

Return to an upright stance, staying on the right leg.

Perform eight reps on each leg.

Build it to 16.

Then add more sets.

3. Single-Leg Balance

This is the basic drill, but you’re going to be surprised by how challenging it can be.

Stand on stable ground, then stand on one foot, eyes closed, for 30 seconds.

Repeat on the other side.

4. Balance Walk

Get a two-by-four from a hardware store (or make your own), then set it on the ground.

Start walking forward on it without stepping off to the side, with hands relaxed at your side, pausing for a moment each time you lift your foot off the ground.

Hold your arms straight from your sides, making sure they’re parallel to the ground.

To keep your balance, focus on a spot in the distance.

To make it more challenging, raise your heels up, and walk on the balls of your feet.

Move back and forth for one minute.

5. Leg Swings

This drill is essential for improving body control.

Stand tall in a doorway with your feet flat on the floor and one hand against the frame of the door for balance.

Next, stand on your right leg, and swing the left ten degrees forward and backward without compromising your posture.

Make sure to control the swinging leg and work up to 30 degrees of swing front to back.

Once you get the hang of this, step away from the doorframe and perform the swings without holding on to anything for balance.

Avoid any inward or outward rotation of your knees during the exercise.

For an extra challenge, swing the opposing arms to tap the swinging leg in its forward position.

6. One-Legged Reach:

Stand tall on one leg, like a majestic flamingo standing on a single leg.

Now, reach forward with your opposite hand and try to touch the floor while maintaining your balance. Feel those muscles in your standing leg working hard to keep you steady.

7. Bosu Ball Squats:

Picture yourself conquering the wobbly surface of a Bosu ball, like a fearless adventurer braving uncertain terrain.

Place the Bosu ball flat side up and carefully perform squats on its unstable surface. Your leg muscles and stabilizers will thank you for this thrilling challenge.

8. Single-Leg Deadlifts:

Channel your inner yogi as you gracefully perform single-leg deadlifts. Stand on one leg, extend the other leg behind you, and hinge forward at the hips while reaching your hands toward the ground.

Feel the burn in your glutes and hamstrings as you maintain your balance and control.

9. Yoga Tree Pose:

Embrace your inner Zen and find your balance oasis with the classic Yoga Tree Pose.

Stand tall, bring one foot to rest against the inner thigh of your opposite leg, and raise your hands above your head like the branches of a mighty tree. Feel your body rooted to the ground while your upper body reaches for the sky.

Balance Exercises For Runners – The Conclusion

There you have it.

The above balance exercises and drills are all you need to incorporate into your workout routine to improve your overall coordination, stability, body awareness, and of course, balance.

Just make sure to add them ASAP.

The rest is just detail.

Here are more  strength exercises for runners.

Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep running strong.

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