Balance Training: The Overlooked Pathway To Injury Prevention For Runners

Leonardo da Vinci stated that movement begins with the destruction of balance. For movement to continue, balance is repetitively created and destroyed. Proper balance is critical because improperly developed, it can and does result in running injuries. Keep reading to learn how to improve balance and prevent running injuries.

Often at the end of a long training run or in the last few miles of a race, running form deteriorates, and injuries can soon follow. Practicing form drills helps in injury prevention by decreasing undue running impact and improving efficiency. However, these benefits decline as fatigue sets in.

For the beginning runner the story is all too familiar. After a few weeks of quick adaptation to running the dreaded shin splints appear. While shin splints result from many conditions, one of the main contributors is overuse of  improperly developed lower leg muscles. More often than not, shin splints and other injuries can be prevented.

Concentrating on improving balance will help prevent injuries in three ways:

  1. Improved lower leg strength
  2. Increased core strength
  3. Improved overall proprioception

BalanzPad-Inset1

While the first two results are fairly self explanatory, proprioception may not be as familiar. Proprioception is term that describes how different parts of the body provide feedback to the brain about how it is positioned in reference to the rest of the body. This is the mechanism that lets us move efficiently through space. Well developed proprioception is key to running injury free. As we fatigue, our proprioception decreases, which can lead to injury.

The first drill that will improve proprioception is the single leg reach drill. Beginners should do this drill in bare feet and on a flat surface. The drill can be scaled in many ways to make it harder, increase leg strength, and improve proprioception. Regardless of your skill level, having a firm core at all times is essential to maintaining stabilization. Video

single leg reachOne way to make the drill more challenging is to reach out further by lowering your body closer to the ground.

Another way to scale the drill is to use a wobble board or something that decreases your stability. This causes the muscles to continue to fire as you try and maintain balance.

The ultimate way to ramp up proprioception is by doing these movements with your eyes closed. By depriving the brain of the sensory input of sight, it must work even harder to develop your proprioception.

movnat-crawling

The second drill is one that I personally used in my preparation for the Flying Monkey Marathon last November. It is a movement drill I learned last summer while attending a MovNat camp in WV. It is the the Foot and Hand Crawl (Bear Crawl) on a raised beam. For a runner I thought I had pretty decent core strength – that was until I started doing these drills.

By crawling on a narrow beam or surface you are forcing yourself to balance in a straight line. Your core really has to start taking over the role of stabilization when your arms and legs no longer provide stabilization. Doing lunges in this manner will have a similar effect in activating your core while maintaining movement in single plane. As with other proprioception drills, practicing with your eyes closed will move you one step closer to being a Superhuman ninja!

Practice these drills in throughout your training, such as a warm up before a workout, on a recovery day, or after a hard interval workout. Including these drills into your normal workout will help develop lower leg strength and improve proprioception, which is essential for preventing injuries.

What has your experience been with doing balance drills?  Have you found other drills have kept the injury bug at bay? I would be interested in hearing of your experiences.