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Runners benefit from many types of exercise. A complete running training program includes strength training, for instance. Building muscle in the upper and lower leg creates a more powerful stride while core strength supports proper running posture. Another type of training beneficial to a runner involves stability exercises.
Stability training refers to a routine that targets the muscles that support balance and stability. This includes the abdominal muscles, as well as the muscles in and around the hips and lower back. When running, muscles in the legs and glutes are also important to stability.
Standing stability exercise is sometimes performed on an unstable surface like a Bosu ball. Other times, it involves doing unilateral training movements such as a single leg squat. In both types of exercise, the muscle is forced to work harder to keep you from falling over. This results in greater strength gains. But what benefit does this training offer a runner?
One of the top reasons a runner should build their stability is because it can help improve their running performance. Greater performance means faster running times. It also means the ability to finish longer runs.
Studies have found that stability training helps increase muscular endurance. This enables the runner to engage in longer training sessions. It also helps prepare them for long-distance running events such as half and full marathons.
Admittedly, not every runner is interested in improving running times or covering more distance. Some run just for the joy of running. But if your client has running goals, stability training can help them meet them.
The ability to balance through repeated training also enables runners to keep proper posture. Good posture also supports running performance. Perhaps more importantly, it means a reduced injury risk. So, another benefit of doing stability exercises is injury prevention. Not only is a running injury painful, but it can keep the athlete from the sport they love.
Overuse injury is common in runners, especially after changing the intensity or duration of the training. One study notes that overuse injuries are more common in knee and foot joints, especially for trail runners. Engaging in stability training helps strengthen these areas. It also allows for more controlled movements when running.
A review of the literature adds that several studies have deemed stability training effective for reducing the risk of hamstring injury. What’s a common injury for runners? You guessed it—a hamstring injury. Research adds that this type of injury also has a high risk of recurrence. So, if you can prevent it in the first place, you can potentially save the runner from a lifetime of hamstring issues.
Most balance or stability exercises fall in the category of strength training. This is because strength is required for stability.
If you try to stand on just your right leg, for instance, but that leg isn’t strong enough to support your body weight, you’re going to fall. Conversely, if the leg is strong and has good muscle mass, you can balance for long periods of time. Put another way, you have good stability.
This underscores the importance of resistance training for building both stability and strength. Ideally, a runner should strength train two to three days per week. These days should be non-consecutive to give the muscle worked time to recover.
A runner with limited lower body strength may want to start with bodyweight stability exercises. Have them begin with a simple squat. This helps build leg strength to better support balance. Once the squat feels easy, transition them to a single-leg squat. Next, add weight so they continue to progress.
If the client has a higher fitness level, they can do this balance exercise on an unstable surface. A Bosu ball is perfect for this purpose. Because it is dome-shaped, the leg muscles must work harder to keep the body upright.
Another balance exercise that builds strength and stability is single-leg knee lifts. Have the client stand with their feet shoulder width apart. Their back is straight and their hands are on their hips. Have them lift their left knee to waist height, hold for five seconds, then return it to the floor. Repeat five to 10 times, then do the same move with the right knee.
To make the client’s routine more complex, you can add the squat and knee raise together. After lowering into a squat, have the client lift one knee as they rise back up. After the next squat, have them lift the other knee. Keep alternating for 10 to 15 reps.
Incorporate a variety of single-leg exercises into your running client’s routine. When doing these unilateral exercises, make sure the clients work both the right and left leg. This helps avoid the development of muscle imbalances.
The abdominal muscles are important for good stability. So too is muscle in the mid and lower back, glute muscles, and hip flexor muscles. Together, these make up the core.
Core exercise helps promote better stability in runners by making it easier to use good form. If the core is weak, the body may lean forward while running and the shoulders will slouch. This can lead to running pain. If it’s not corrected, it can also work its way into a full-blown injury.
Core work focused on stability might include exercises such as:
Holding a plank for 30 to 60 seconds
Doing side planks and bringing the top knee to the chest
Clamshells and reverse clamshells
Mountain climbers on a balance ball
In a survey of 241 athletes, coaches, and sports-based practitioners, a majority supported doing functional load exercises to build core stability. The farmer’s walk was considered one of the most effective for building core balance and stability. Barbell squats were another that was named for effectively targeting core muscles.
If your client enjoys yoga, there are quite a few poses that can really boost core strength. Among them are Child’s pose, Cow Face pose, Standing Pigeon, and Half Frog. Yoga provides even more benefits for runners. They include improved flexibility, stronger mind-body connection, and reduced stress. While some stress helps enhance performance, too much can hinder it instead. By reducing stress, yoga can help further boost sports performance.
Want to help clients improve their running performance? With ISSA’s Running Coach course, you can learn how to assess any client at any stage in their fitness journey and build custom training programs to help each runner get stronger without pain or injury. Whether your clients run for their cardio workout, for fun, or to compete in marathons, you’ll be the go-to expert for developing results-driven running programs.
Lose yourself on the track? Get the most out of your running ability with the NEW Running Coach Certification with ISSA and share your passion for running with others while training them to reach their personal goals.
San Emeterio, C., Cochrane, D., Guillén-Rogel, P., & Marín, P. J. (2022). Short-term effects of lumbopelvic complex stability training in elite female road cyclists. Journal of musculoskeletal & neuronal interactions, 22(1), 62–69.
Vincent, H. K., Brownstein, M., & Vincent, K. R. (2022). Injury Prevention, Safe Training Techniques, Rehabilitation, and Return to Sport in Trail Runners. Arthroscopy, sports medicine, and rehabilitation, 4(1), e151–e162. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asmr.2021.09.032
Raya-Gonzalez J, Castillo D, Clemente FM. Injury prevention of hamstring injuries through exercise interventions. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2021 Sep;61(9):1242-1251. DOI: 10.23736/s0022-4707.21.11670-6. PMID: 33480508.
Sugimoto, D., Kelly, B. D., Mandel, D. L., d'Hemecourt, D. A., Carpenito, S. C., d'Hemecourt, C. A., & d'Hemecourt, P. A. (2019). Running Propensities of Athletes with Hamstring Injuries. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 7(9), 210. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7090210
Clark, D.R., Lambert, M.I. & Hunter, A.M. Contemporary perspectives of core stability training for dynamic athletic performance: a survey of athletes, coaches, sports science and sports medicine practitioners. Sports Med - Open 4, 32 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-018-0150-3
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