You may not have thought of it like this before, but running is a one-legged sport. At any given time, only one foot is in contact with the ground—which makes the ability to maintain your balance and stability extremely important.
“Balance and stability are what keep you from falling and help prevent injury as you propel your body from one leg to the other,” says Michelle Shafiro, PT, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS, a physical therapist and sports performance specialist at HSS.
You can think of balance as an even distribution of weight throughout the body. Good balance enables someone to remain upright and steady, Shafiro says. “In runners, poor balance can cause excessive motion from the foot all the way up to the torso. This can put you at risk for either a traumatic injury like rolling your ankle or an overuse injury as your body tries to compensate and control that excessive motion.”
Stability describes your body’s ability to maintain alignment and goes hand in hand with balance, she adds. “One of the common injuries we see when runners lack stability is IT band syndrome,” which affects the iliotibial band along the outside of the leg and causes pain on the outside of the knee. It can also cause patellofemoral pain or “runner’s knee,” which causes pain in the front of the knee.
“Targeting your balance and stability can reduce your risk of injury as a runner and can increase your performance as your body gets more efficient and isn’t expending extra energy controlling excessive motion,” Shafiro says.
Addressing balance and stability with cross training is crucial in reducing your risk of injury, Shafiro says. There are a few easy ways to work on improving these skills; which one is best for you depends on your starting point. If you’re just beginning to incorporate balance and stability training, start with the first tip and progress from there.
“The important thing to focus on during any of these activities is that you maintain good alignment of your body,” Shafiro says. “That means not leaning your torso over to one side, keeping your hips level and not letting your knee collapse inward.”
For runners, the root of stability lies in having sufficient core and hip strength. According to Shafiro, incorporating the following exercises into your routine can help increase both of these.
“As you progress with your strengthening program, you can start to combine balance and strengthening exercises for a more efficient workout,” Shafiro says. “If you aren’t sure where to start or what level is appropriate for you, scheduling an assessment with an exercise physiologist is a good way to determine your baseline and develop a program that’s appropriate for you.”