-The Importance of Single-Leg Stability for Runners & Triathletes-
Runners and triathletes, what does single-leg stability mean to you?
Not sure? It should mean a lot!
You’re being a smart endurance athlete by doing that “boring” strength and mobility work in the gym that’s gonna give you an edge on the competition. Major kudos to you for that, but if your exercises are along the lines of leg extensions, leg curls, and leg press, you need to step up your game.
First off, ditch the damn machines. If you know anything about my training philosophy, that should be a given.
Secondly, emphasize single-leg training.
Running isn’t performed on two legs! It is a single-leg activity!
It makes sense to train the body in a manner that transfers over to running, right?
I highly recommend the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) for every person I train. In a nutshell, the FMS is simply a tool that allows me to gain insight into a person’s ability to move. It is comprised of seven screens that cover the basic human movement patterns: deep squat, hurdle step, shoulder mobility, in-line lunge, active straight leg raise, trunk stability push-up, and rotary stability. Each screen is scored from 0-3. A score of zero is the result of pain being present during the screen and/or an inability to perform the screen. If pain is present, the screen is cancelled and the person is referred out to a doctor. On the flip side, a score of three indicates that the screen was performed in a manner that met the necessary requirements. A score of two is considered acceptable. A total score of 14 on the FMS is said to reflect a decreased risk of injury during exercise.
I video my clients’ screens in addition to viewing them at the same time. After the initial screen has been performed, I sit down and review the footage. This allows me to make notes regarding discrepancies in each movement in addition to scoring the screens. A client’s FMS score isn’t a diagnosis of anything, nor does it allow me to say “your left Psoas is tight and your right glute max is weak.” I am not a doctor and I’m not a physical therapist. I am, however, an aficionado of exercise prescription!
If a client scores a one on their trunk stability push-up, a one on their left hurdle step and a two on their right hurdle step, and a one on their right shoulder mobility and a two on the left, I make a priority of improving their ability on these screens. A screen that scores the left and right sides and results in a discrepancy between the two must be addressed. If there is a lack of mobility in a desired pattern, we work to increase it, and the same can be said for stability. You cannot build strength on top of dysfunction! 80% of people who exercise are most likely doing just that!
Promoting balance is the goal.
The initial FMS day is always eye-opening for people. Most people seek my expertise because they want to lose weight or train for a race. Most people do not give much thought to their movement abilities, but they definitely do after going through the FMS for the first time! Furthermore, it is always interesting to screen endurance athletes because more often than not, it allows them to grasp the importance of this strength and mobility schtuff. Yes, the “boring” schtuff…I mean, if its not swim/bike/run, why do it? Lol
I didn’t mean to get into an explanation of the FMS, but in true Sarah fashion it just came out. So, now that you know a little about movement screening, let’s get back to the importance of single-leg stability and that wonderful thang we call running!
If you’re a geek like me, then you cannot help but analyze the gaits of runners as you’re knocking out the miles. Yes, it’s a bit distracting, but I cannot imagine not being so aware of it! More often than not, I am witness to a plethora of funky gaits. I find myself cringing when someone doing the “Vibram shuffle” approaches me. You know, feet turned out and barely leaving the ground. So epic! There’s always gotta be a few of those who assume that the minimalist approach will magically make them a better runner. Instead, I have the feeling that most end up in pain. PROPER GAIT MECHANICS ARE MUY IMPORTANTE, PEOPLE! Yes, that important!
Sorry, I got on a roll there…
Single-leg stability. You need it. If you don’t have it, you must acquire it, or your running career will suffer.
Sounds serious…it is!
When we run, one foot is in contact with the ground while the other is not. Duh, right?! 😉 The ability to keep the pelvis in a relatively-level position during each phase of gait is what we want. If the hip musculature lacks the ability to stabilize the pelvis, the unsupported-side hip will drop below the level of the stance-side hip. A side-to-side “swaying” may result, and all of this means a huge waste of energy because of inefficient running mechanics. In addition, a lack of hip stability is a red flag for injury. If you want to enjoy a successful, long relationship with running/triathlon, it is issues like these that you MUST address.
Here is a simple, yet highly-involved exercise which challenges single-leg stability. I am using a Cook Band, but any resistance band will work. If your single-leg balance leaves much to be desired, you’ll want to use a band that offers more resistance. As you become more proficient, lighten the load.
The goal is to activate the core musculature and then perform the single-leg stance. Starting out, your body may not be able to get things firing properly, so that’s where the core activation via the band comes into play. Gradually work your way to using a light band as your ability to engage the muscles of your core/glutes improves.
Stand facing the band, which is anchored at a high point. Your feet should be in a neutral position. Assume proper postural positioning, perform shoulder extension and exhale (pull the band down so that your arms are towards the floor), then raise one leg, aiming for 90 degrees at the hip, knee, and ankle. Hold for a count of two, locking in your glutes and staying as still as possible. Sloppy reps are a waste of time! lower your leg and then release the band. Each rep is essentially a re-set. We don’t want protracted shoulders! if the exercise is too hard, use a band that offers more resistance. If your exercise execution looks like mine in the video, them you’re doing it right. 😉
Try two sets of ten 2-sec-holds per leg.
How can you go about finding out if your single-leg stability can be improved? Simple. Call me and schedule an FMS appointment. Your hurdle step performance (in addition to your proficiency in the other screens) will reveal all.
Yours in Health,