Updated: Mar 23
Welcome to part two of our series on stability. If you have not already, be sure to read part 1
Be the Captain of Your Ship prior to reading this blog. In part one, we discussed the importance of being able to control rotary and frontal plane (side to side) forces in the lower extremity as it relates to injury prevention, pain, and running economy. When it comes to stability training for runners, it is critical to emphasize single leg exercises because at no point during running are both feet in contact with the ground at the same time. However, it is not as simple as just channeling our inner flamingo and simply balancing on one leg. When performing single leg drills, one must be mindful of weight distribution throughout the foot and lower extremity alignment. Below you will find insight on performing stability work optimally and effectively, as well as some of Precision Performance and Physical Therapy's favorite stability exercises for runners and endurance athletes.
Tips to perform stability and single leg training effectively:
Where is my weight distributed within my foot? AKA "Find Your Keel (aka Foot)"
It is not uncommon for athletes to disperse weight across their foot unevenly, and often we are completely unware of the discrepancy in weight distribtion. Commonly those or are injured or have (anywhere in the lower body) will shift weight back into their heels and onto the outside of their foot. Allocating weight through the entire foot, also known as "finding your foot," not only assists in more optimal force transfer up the chain, but also improves balance and proprioception.
If you are sitting down to read this riveting blog, stand up and just notice where you feel more pressure in your feet. Now, think of a "tripod" on the bottom of your foot, and try to equally put pressure into the ball of the foot, the pinky toe "knuckle" and the the heel of the foot. You should notice how this seemingly small difference, makes a big difference in terms of where you feel force and muscle activation up the leg. This "tripod" or equal distribution of weight through the foot is critical to establish first when performing single leg stability training.
Alignment "Where is your ship?"
Now that you have found your foot, it is time to check on alignment. Starting at the foot, you want to make sure that you are not collapsing inwards (prontation), or falling outwards (supination). If you have found your "tripod," this shouldn't be an issue. In regards to the knee, you want to make sure that it is not collapsing in (valgus), or twisting inwards (imagine your knee cap looking at the side of your other leg). An easy and general frame of reference is to keep your knee in line with the second toe. Working our way up to the hips, you want to ma sure your hip
bones remain even, and one hip doesn't drop lower than the other. You also want to be sure your trunk is vertical, and you aren't leaning one way or the other.
Admittedly, all this alignment talk seems quite fastidious, but getting the correct form from
the start ensures that our stabilizing muscles are activated. This in turn helps reinforce optimal movement patterns with the goal of these movement patterns translating into sport!
Muscles that "Steer the Ship"
When it comes to single leg stability, we want to make sure we are feeling the correct muscles activate (duh!). Below is a list of our top three muscles for lower extremity stabilization with links to in depth articles on each of these magic little muscles:
1) Transverse Abdominis (aka the deep core):
2) Gluteus Medius & Gluteus Minimus (those infamous outer hip muscles)
3) Tibialis Posterior (our dynamic arch support)
So now that we have the foundation (pun intended) for stability training, below are some of our clinic's favorite exercises for running stability. When performing these exercises, it can be helpful to stand in front of a mirror so you can keep an eye on your alignment, and use that visual feedback to perform these exercises more effectively and efficiently. As always, thank you for reading and enjoy incorporating stability work into your training!
Melissa Kolazyk, PT, DPT, CMTPT
*Disclaimer: Always consult with a licensed physical therapist or physician before beginning any exercise program. This is general information and is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your licensed healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.