Balance Slow to Run Fast

Post by Ryan Balmes, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT

Have you ever taken the time to look at how you run? It’s an amazingly efficient combination of movements in the human body. If you take a closer look you’ll notice a few key elements:

  • It’s a controlled fall. When both feet are in the air you are momentarily floating in air as your body prepares to land.
  • When you land, it is not a giant disaster. You load and absorb your weight while also storing energy to bounce right back. Studies show that you absorb between 1.5 to 3 times your body weight upon impact, yet you hardly feel it!
  • During your stance phase, when your foot is on the ground, your body is literally performing a tightrope routine, balancing perfectly for a short amount of time.

You’re likely aware of some strengthening and flexibility exercises to improve running, but have you thought about your balance? Specifically, when is the last time you tested your single leg balance?

Your single leg balance is vital to your overall body stability. If you have a shaky leg during stance phase, what do you think happens to your upper body? All sorts of compensation movements can occur.

Leg stability also impacts running efficiency. If your body has to control unnecessary leg motion due to poor balance, it expends more energy during the landing and push-off phases of your mechanics. The extra work required to control an unstable leg can limit your overall endurance with a run. With improved single leg balance, the body does not have to expend this extra energy, and your efforts can focus on running faster and longer!

So let’s test that single leg balance. Most importantly, be safe. If you have any doubt of your ability to do balance on one leg, don’t do it. This would include anyone currently injured or with a history of falls. You’re likely better off seeing a physical therapist to test it safely.

  1. Stand in front of a kitchen counter or in the corner of a wall.
  2. Cross your arms, and then stand on one leg. Don’t allow your leg to lock.
  3. Time yourself until you lose balance or have uncontrolled truck motion.
  4. Repeat for your other leg to see if any side-to-side differences exist.

How did you do? Compare your results with these findings from a University of Missouri study:

Age Group Average Stance Time
18-39 44.7s
40-49 41.9s
50-59 41.2s
60-69 32.1s
70-79 21.5s

If you lasted longer than these times, you’re solid as a rock! Go ahead and utilize these exercises in your next cross training session. If you stood less than these times, you have some work to do.

The best exercise for you is to simply practice your single leg balance. You can practice in front of a mirror to easily check for any excessive body motion. Try practicing at least once a day. With frequent practice, your time should improve.

Single Leg Balance Variations

  • Standing on one leg, swing your arms forward and back as if you’re running
  • Standing on one leg, rotate your head left and right slowly
  • Standing on one leg, slowly reach forward with one hand

Here are other tips for the single leg balance exercise:

  • Practice your single leg balance at the end of a run. This is a quick check to see how much you have left in your tank and a great way to build upon your balance when you’re tired. This way you can ensure stable balance late into your runs.
  • Practice with and without your shoes. Shoes oftentimes serve like a soft pillow for your feet, making practicing balance a little more difficult. Barefoot practice exercises the four layers of your foot. Your foot muscles will thank you for the attention.
  • As your balance improves, try the single leg balance test while turning your head slowly side-to-side. This will challenge your ability to stabilize your entire body while turning just your head. It’s specific to running because as you run, you’re always scanning your area, waving to a fellow Atlanta Track Club member or looking to avoid that nasty dog in the neighborhood.
Medical Disclaimer: Motion Stability has created and compiled the content on its websites for your information and use. This information is not intended to replace or modify the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. Please remember that the information and content, in the absence of a visit with a health care professional, must be considered as an informational/educational service only and is not designed to replace a physician’s independent judgment about the appropriateness of risks of a procedure or condition for a given patient. 

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