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 a little more gracefully. To build 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.
To run strong and balanced, a runner should ideally focus on single leg exercises for strength training or balance work. Even if you are doing an upper body exercise, like a dumbbell shoulder press, stand on one foot to work on proprioception. It may seem like you aren't doing much of anything, but those little things add up.
Your ankle never relaxes in running. It's constantly working, so you need it to be in tip top shape. Here are four balance exercises for runners that will help you run strong and, hopefully, injury free.
Single Leg Balance
This exercise is the bare bones basic of stability training. It is an exercise that should be done at every age, especially as we get older.
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 10 times 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.
Stand on the center of the BOSU and raise the other leg off the ground. Be sure to not let your hip sink--both sides should be even. Hold for 30 to 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.
Stand facing your buddy, 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 other 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. Do this exercise with small cones to your left and right sides and one to the front.
Stand on one leg. Squat down and touch the floor (or cone) to your left side. Repeat the squat/touch sequence to the front and right side. Return to the left side, repeating the squat/touch.
Traditionally, the opposite hand from the leg that is squatting down is used to touch the ground. However, try doing it both ways. When using the same hand and same leg, you may find it much harder especially when you have to cross over.
If this becomes too easy, you can progress to an unstable surface like a BOSU or foam pad.
Note: Try to do these exercises without shoes to really make your feet work. With shoes, it's way too easy to get "comfy" and not have the whole foot/ankle doing the work.
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