As bi-pedal creatures we often think we are on “two feet.” While it aptly describes our upright movement, it doesn’t really nail down the fact that we are actually only on one foot while moving. When we walk or run we never have a moment when both feet are on the ground at the same time. Slowed down, that shows a lot of repetitive balancing. Running is a series of single leg exercises, repeated again and again. (Queue Kate Bush Running Up that Hill….) This is a main reason why you will want to work on balance to improve your running.
Why Is Single Leg Balance Work Important?
With most running injuries, the injured leg is the leg, or side, that requires some additional strength and balance work. As many runners will tell you, they know exactly which leg is the weakest link, so to speak. This is why single leg balance work is so important in reducing injuries and improving strength. Balance work also improves coordination and proprioception (a big word for how we sense our body moving through spaces).
When we do exercises that utilize both legs, for example, squats, the stronger leg will typically compensate. This creates more of an imbalance and it’s not as noticeable as one would think. The balance issue doesn’t come up until it’s too late. And where does a runner go to correct this? Physical therapy.
Physical therapy is outstanding. It’s a great way to heal and gain strength. It will teach you new exercises and pinpoint your areas of weakness. It can, however, become expensive. If runners would simply apply these exercises year-round, they’d not only save money, they’d save the heartache of missing runs and races.
As mentioned above, it’s not always just the one leg that needs strengthening. The leg is a part of the kinetic chain. The kinetic chain is the idea that joints and segments of the body have an effect on one another during movement. (Queue the song about the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone…) That said, it could be a weakness in your core that is the culprit. The good news is that single leg balance work can address these issues simultaneously. These exercises will force your body to recruit core muscles in your lower back and abdominals.
Balance Improves Running And Life Longevity
As we age, our balance becomes even more important than just helping us in performance.
In addition to improving our runs, balance seems to hold a key in improving our lives. A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, had participants do a 10 second one legged stance to find a correlation between balance and life expectancy. The study concluded that the ability to balance on one foot does point to longer life expectancy. It also found that you’re twice as likely to die in the next decade if you can’t stand on one foot for 10 seconds.
Having good balance also prevents falls common in older adults and stroke patients. The good news is that balance is trainable. And like everything else, consistency is key. Gentle yoga and tai chi are great for older adults wanting to improve their balance.
Best Exercises For Improving Balance
So, what are some of the best exercises for single leg balance work? The single leg deadlift, single leg squat, single leg glute bridge are great places to start. The simple single leg hold sounds easy, but try it for 30 seconds with your eyes closed. Adding yoga into your regular routine will also aid in balance. Performing these exercises barefoot is an even better way to isolate muscle movement. By removing the heel drop on running shoes, we can better strengthen the connective tissue and muscles in our feet – highly needed for balance!