Most runners understand the importance of completing strength training exercises. We schedule in weekly sessions filled with squats, lunges, clamshells, stretches, foam rolling and so much more. But most runners unknowingly overlook balance exercises when planning their weekly workouts.
Balance training is important for athletes of all kinds, including runners.
While it may not seem to have as much of an effect on our performance compared to other athletes, such as dancers – balance does in fact affect our running abilities and potential.
Promoting stability on the run is important when trying to remain injury free. Physical therapists incorporate a great deal of balance exercises in their rehabilitation routines for runners, and confidently support the fact that balance training greatly plays into the sport of running.
Balance exercises are a great way to isolate individual muscles or sides of the body and strengthen muscles that can often lie dormant without us even being aware.
So how do we complete balance training?
Balance training is as simple as finding a set of exercises that force your body to stabilize itself in various unbalanced positions. These exercises strengthen individual muscles more effectively than strength training itself.
It’s easy to become immune to muscle imbalances, or simply wind up unaware that they might be occurring. Remaining strong and injury free as a runner relies a great deal on the fact that our muscles are equally engaged and participating throughout each workout.
Incorporating balance training into your weekly schedule is as simple as adding a few repetitions of these simple balance exercises just one time each week. Whether you are prone to muscle imbalances or simply trying to stay injury free and avoid them all together – these 6 balance exercises are a great place to begin.
6 Full Body Balance Exercises for Runners
Single Leg Squats
While this exercise might sound simple, it certainly feels challenging enough. Single leg squats involve completing a squat exercise with one leg elevated. You’ll send your hips back and bend at the knee to lower your center of gravity, just as in a regular squat – but completing this exercise on one isolated leg is a true test of strength.
Focus on keeping your back straight and upper body elevated as you lower towards the floor. The position of your elevated foot has little effect on the overall exercise as long as it remains off the floor at all times.
Single Leg Deadlifts
This balance exercise is really eye opening, as it highlights muscular imbalances right off the bat. You’ll be able to tell quickly whether one side of your body is stronger and more balanced than the other.
You can complete this exercise with or without added weights. Begin in a standing position, and the bend at the hips to lower your upper body to a 90 degree angle, while extending one leg directly back behind you. While doing so, reach the opposite hand down to touch the floor or grab hold of your weight.
Next, bring your elevated foot back towards the floor as you straighten your body back to standing. If you are using weights, lift the weight off the floor with the opposite hand and hold it down at your side while you return to standing.
Full Body Heel Raises
This exercise is a great way to practice stability and balance in your lower legs, heels and ankles. Begin by kneeling on the floor, lowering to sit on top of your heels. Curl your toes under so you are in the “toes pose” yoga position and foot stretch. Bring your hands in toward your heart as if in prayer.
Using your quads, gently lift your body from the ground by straightening your legs – focusing on balancing on your toes without ever touching your heels to the floor. Raise your arms above your head as you extend all the way into a standing position, elevated on your toes. Next, lower back down to the original, kneeling position and repeat.
Sumo Squats with Heel Raises
This simple variation of the sumo squat exercise adds an element of balance to each repetition. Begin by standing with your feel slightly wider than hip width apart. Send your hips back and lower into a squat position, aiming for your quads to become parallel to the ground.
While remaining in the squatting position, raise up on to your toes and hold. This extra movement forces your calves to engage as they help stabilize your body and balance.
Side Plank with Leg Extension
This is another exercise that can be modified slightly to incorporate an element of balance. Begin by lying on the floor on your side, and then rise up onto your elbow. Your body will form an angle with the floor and you should focus on maintaining a straight board position.
Lift your top leg so it creates an approximate 45 degree angle between itself and the floor. This modification engages your core and lower leg as they are forced to stabilize your body. Hold your leg in the air for the duration of the plank or lower it and continue to lift and lower throughout the duration of the plank.
Knee to Chest Reverse Lunge
This simple variation on the reverse lunge is another great way to challenge your legs and incorporate an element of balance throughout the exercise. Begin by bringing one knee up to your chest while balancing on a single foot.
Next, swing your raised foot back behind you as you extend your leg and drop your knee to lower into a lunge. Once in the lunge, bring your knee back up to your chest to repeat the exercise.
These simple balance exercises are a great way to maintain equal strength between both sides of your body. Including just a few simple exercises each week will help you remain stable and strong on the run.
Injury prevention doesn’t have to require a ton of time – just a few extra minutes each week will keep you healthy for the long run.