Dave: “Lyz I want to improve my running time. I’m stuck and can’t seem to get any faster no matter what I try.”
This is a question I’ve been asked before. Frustrated runners who want to improve their PBs (personal bests) but have plateaued.
The thing is, it’s not all about the running practice.
Now I’m not a running coach. I don’t run. I hate running. If you see me running, start running too because something terrible is chasing me.
What I am though is a huge believer in balance and stability training. Which is one way to improve running performance.
When Dave came to me, the first thing I tested was his single leg balance and how far he could hop.
Turns out Dave’s balance wasn’t all that. He couldn’t balance without wobbling for more than 20s on his right leg. Left leg not so bad. Try it for yourself.
I explained to Dave that running is a single leg/stance activity. As is walking.
So, if your ability to balance on one leg is not great, that translates into some lost potential in your running.
An unstable leg won’t produce as much power.
As an aside, in my experience, improving single side (unilateral) balance also improves the weight you can move in a two-legged (bilateral) stance. Think back squat.
Back to running. Whilst the instability could be due to any number of things including previous injuries that haven’t repaired properly, stiffness in joints and muscle imbalances. It can also just be down to lack of practice.
When you don’t use muscles, they get lazy.
So, by getting Dave to do predominantly single sided exercises – think split squats, single arm cable rows and lunges – we improved his coordination and stability.
Simply balancing on one leg. Repeatedly. That was his home-work.
The small stabilising muscles around his ankles, knees and hips got to work. They got stronger and his balance quickly improved.
That’s all well and good but Dave runs outside. Not on a flat, even surface. So, we had to up the ante a little…
Enter the Bosu. For those of you who’ve never seem a Bosu, it’s like a frisbee with half a football fixed to the underside. Highly unstable.
Once Dave got the hang of balancing on this – first two feet and then single leg – we started doing his exercises on it. We taught his brain how to stabilise his body, whilst moving, on an unstable surface. It became second nature to him.
And you know what, after a few months of this kind of training, his time improved.
He even bought his own Bosu and got his kids training with it.
You may not have a Bosu at home, but here are some ways to test and improve your own single leg balance:
Improving balance will have knock-on effects across your daily activities.
Less tripping/falling over is always good. Let me know how you get on!
P.S. If you (or someone you know) have long-term pain and are struggling to exercise, so piling on the pounds and generally feeling ‘bleurgh’ …I can help.
*I’ve changed my client’s name to protect their identity – the story is based on a real conversation.