Ok, maybe not all about balance but a good component of running is. As I was out running at Blue Mountain the other day I caught my toe on rock, stumbled a bit but luckily, did not fall (it would have been a downhill tumble). I thanked my good luck that I caught myself and, for not eating a mouthful of dirt, but then I got to thinking as I continued down the trail… “How much have I been training my balance? Do I feel steady and solid on my feet?”
Balance is an important part of running (and life for that matter), but I am not here to get philosophical with you, come into the clinic for that. Anyway, with running you have phases of single leg contact followed by phases flight (no foot contact). Without good balance and stability that time on single leg can be dangerous pending the terrain, your fatigue level or if you have your mind on other things, (like the meaning of life or why the sky is blue). Balance is a component of what allows your foot to land steady, absorb the impact of landing, make finite corrections to keep centered and let you take the next step.
If you have not been working on your balance it is time to start. If you had a few tumbles on the trails or notice your balance is not what it used to be, (which in fact happens a lot as we get older), you are past due. Improving balance can bump your running game up a notch by helping you literally get your feet under you. Everyone will have different levels to start at so I will list a few options and different ways to challenge yourself. Even if you are an elite runner or a super fit person, if you have not been training balance it can be surprising how much of it you have.
Start with your feet together. Take your right foot away by bending at the hip and knee. If you have good balance you should have minimal shift to the right side, your left side should not drop or hike. Basically you should hardly move….if your feet are under you then why should you? This is basic single leg balance. Check out both sides.
If you can do that easily try closing your eyes. If you have problems with balance standing in front of a counter is a good idea. Go for 30 seconds. Or you could try looking side to side, bring your knee up and down.
Being on an uneven surface is good added challenge as well. Try standing on a foam pad or if you are really advanced a BOSU.
There are infinite ways to improve and challenge your balance. Eyes closed, uneven ground, adding in movement at arms of legs, doing a ball toss just to name a few. Going for 3 sets of 30-60 seconds is good time frame and 2-4 times a week.
If you have questions or concerns about your balance Alpine Physical Therapy has free 15 minute consults and one of our physical therapists can answer your questions or give you some ideas on how to improve your balance.
Enjoy the fall and happy trails!
Matt Schweitzer, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Alpine Physical Therapy Downtown, Located in the Peak Health and Wellness Center
150 E. Spruce St. Ste. A
Missoula, MT 59802