Running is often described as controlled falling, and this is for a good reason since the body uses almost half of its energy to prevent you from falling. With each step there are forces acting from different directions, forcing your body to collapse. To prevent that, the body relies on specific muscles that stabilize your joints and allow prime movers and antagonists to do their work.
When thinking about balance training, often the first thing that comes to mind is doing squats on BOSU balls and other unstable surfaces like a stability ball, balance pad, and inflated disks. Unless you have an injury that you are trying to rehabilitate, research has repeatedly shown that this is not a good way to improve your running-specific balance and running performance. Even worse, this kind of training has been shown to decrease performance and lead to injuries.
The problem with training on unstable surfaces stems from the fact that this kind of training ignores one of the most important principles in strength and conditioning- specificity. The principle of specificity states that to become better at particular exercise or skill, you must perform that skill. So if your goal is to get better at balancing on unstable surfaces, then you need to perform exercises on unstable surfaces. However, if your goal is to get better on stable surfaces, get better at running and moving on stable ground, then you are better off performing exercise on a stable ground like running track, asphalt, concrete, etc.
Aside from just running, doing a progressive strength training program that focuses on stabilizers and major muscles groups is the best way to improve balance and increase your running efficiency. One of the most important stabilizers muscles are ankle stabilizers (e.g. peroneus longus and brevis, tibialis anterior) and hip stabilizers (gluteus medius). When these muscles are weak or not working properly, they contribute to inefficient movement patterns (e.g. pelvis drop, excessive ankle inward rotation) and overuse injuries. Focusing more on single-leg exercise will increase activation of these stabilizers and hence balance, while at the same time increasing the strength of your prime movers. However, in order to switch to single-leg exercises, you need to adequately prepare your body to handle increased intensity from doing single leg exercises.
NEM - NEMANJA SAMBAHER
Nem is the owner and head coach at TO Kinesiology. He is a certified Personal Trainer and Registered Kinesiologist with a Master of Science degree in Kinesiology. Nem is a published author with a strong science background with some of his papers appearing in journals like Neuroscience, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. He's also been featured for online publications like Stack.com, Running Room, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, etc. You can read more about Nem here.
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