Get into a Balancing Act
By: Val Zeps
How's your balance? Have you tested it? Try this, but do it for each leg.
How'd you do? Could you make your age range? Did you find yourself rolling your ankles constantly to stay on one foot? Did you flail your arms to stay upright? Was one leg significantly more stable than the other? Or if you found the simple balance test just too simple (unlike the author), here is a more dynamic balance routine.
How'd that one go? If you're like most of us, you could stand (pun intended) to improve your balance.
But wait, those tests are all just for standing right? What do they have to do with running? The answer is that running is really a series of jumps in which you alternately balance (albeit dynamically) on one foot and then the other. If you do not have good sense of balance, your start to teeter the moment you set your foot to the ground; the dynamics and short stance-time masks this, but it's there. This imbalance causes you to use excess energy to hold yourself vertical and on a straight-line path, rather than to allow you focus your energy on propelling yourself forward. It's subtle, but it's wasted motion and wasted energy.
Matt Fitzgerald, a noted endurance sports writer, coach, and nutritionist, puts it this way: "Only half of the energy your body uses during running actually goes toward forward propulsion. The other half goes toward preventing yourself from falling down" and "...most runners—or at least most Western runners—are underdeveloped in this skill, such that they actually waste energy on balancing themselves."
As runners, we seldom put much effort into finding our center of balance and we never learn to anticipate in a relaxed way when we are falling out of balance. As such, if we wish to become better runners, it helps to develop a well-controlled center of balance. The sites listed above have links to exercises that you can do, and here is an additional video that we thought was well done, although may we suggest considering doing these exercises barefoot.
If you have access to a stability ball, wobble platform, or other device designed to improve your proprioception, there are plenty of freely available videos that show exercises using more expensive equipment to improve your balance.
Bottom line: better balance, better running.