Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Importance of Balance in Running

The debate about the most efficient way to run has gone on for decades. Is it on bare feet? Is it in heavily padded shoes? We've heard opinions from different sides of the table. But before we get that far, let's talk about why shoes are important in the first place. 

Balance and core strength are two very important factors in running because you spend most of your running time on one foot or the other, but not both. It may seem intuitive, but they are probably also the most neglected factors with runners. And what happens when you neglect them? You hurt your ankles, your knees, or other muscles and joints in your lower body.

Ever watch professional races? Do you notice that people from certain countries (i.e. Kenya, Ethiopia, etc.) tend to dominate the sport? Ever wonder why? Well, I'll tell you! In America and other countries, when we train to run, we train on surfaces that have been built to be even, like the track or on asphalt. And then we run in shoes that cost more than we make each month, which are usually heavily padded to provide enough support so we aren't working as hard. The problem is that these things spoil our bodies so we aren't also training as hard.

In a country like Kenya, when they start to train from a young age, they do so on natural surfaces that don't have the evenness we have created on our surfaces, and they train mostly on bare feet or close to bare feet on an elevated plane. This forces their bodies to learn to balance naturally on different types of terrain in different levels of air pressure. This balance definitely gives them an edge.

Did you know that statistics show that most runners hurt their joints each year? I think this tells us that there is a problem. We are supposed to balance on the balls of our feet in the middle of our feet,  but a lot of us do not have strong enough legs and so end up landing on the outsides or insides of our feet, putting all the pressure in our knees and ankles, and hurting ourselves in the process. 

Stand on one foot. If you wobble at all, you may need to work on your balance. Get this: If your hips shake from right to left involuntarily as you walk, you may need to work on your balance. Yes, I hear women sigh everywhere.

Okay, we've established that most of us have balance issues. What can we do to fix it? Do exercises that work on your inner thighs, do exercises that require stability (like the one I do with the Bosu ball above), do exercises that build a strong core (not crunches; things that require holding your body up, like planks), run on uneven surfaces, and monitor your feet as you land. Improving your run could mean exerting less energy on balance and gaining more mileage.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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