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,
Quite a bit of video for you! Yesterday was my strength-training day. No running, no biking, no swimming. I put together an awesome little workout to address: mobility, flexibility, glute activation, single-leg training, and core stabilization.
My body feels great! I am being smart about my triathlon prep, and i’m having a blast with it! It feels so gosh darn good to have a GOAL! Eyes on the prize!
Here’s the workout:
- SMR with Tiger Tail & foam roller: key areas = calves, left vastus lateralis insertion left rectus femoris/psoas, left piriformis
- AIS Straight & Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch
- 90/90 Stretch using foam roller to stabilize hips
- 3D Dowel Hip Stretch (sagittal plane)
- Quadruped T-Spine Rotation
- Child’s Pose/Cat-Camel
- Side-Lying Bent-Knee Hip Abduction: Main thing to remember on these is to keep soles of shoes aligned with spine, so in essence, take a “bridge start” position and roll on your side. Keep hips stacked, glutes tight, and abs braced. Don’t compensate by rolling backwards, trying to get more ROM! This is counterproductive and you’re cheating!
- Marching Bridges: Idea is to keep hips level while performing the “march.” If hips rock or drop while you’re doing these, work on your basic bridges a little bit more!
- Turkish Get-Up: Key points – pinch scapulae prior to movement & “pack” shoulder; pull leg thru & emphasize ROM by opening-up the hip. Just used 8kilos because my goal was total-body integration & hip mobility, not trying to wear myself out!
- Side Plank DB Reach to Snatch: This is a great little exercise that’s tougher than it looks! Reach out as far as you can with the dumbbell, then “snatch” it up to a “T” position. I’m using 6 lbs.
- KB Snatch to Windmill: I’ve said it numerous times, but I love windmills! 🙂 Using 12 kilos.
- Push-Up with Knee to Elbow: This is a tasty little pushup variation. I chose it for the workout because of the cross-body pattern it incorporates. Running is a cross-body movement. Cross-body just makes sense. Plus, these are really fun to do!
- SL Squat Touchdown to Overhead Press: Just a little tidbit about single-leg training. Running is a single-leg activity. It makes sense to throw some single-leg training into the mix! Everyone should do exercises that emphasize this! Notice that I bring my “free” leg up with each rep, keeping ankle and knee flexed. Why do I do this, besides the fact that it looks good? lol I feel it keeps things more “solid” & promotes total-body integrity. In addition, the asymmetry created by having one hip in extension while the other is in flexion keeps the pelvis “happy,” as this position counteracts an anterior tilt! I’m using a 9 pound dumbbell. Sure, I could have gone heavier, but to be honest, I really don’t need to.
- Renegade Row: I prefer to keep my hips from rocking side-to-side while doing these, although I also do a few different variations that incorporate rotation. Kept it strict this time, though, which means not a ton of weight. You don’t do Renegade Rows to improve your pulling strength anyway, or at least I feel that way. You do them for total-body integrity and (pardon the term) core stabilization.
- SL Squat + Hip Abduction: I like using a dowel rod for these b/c it encourages good posture! Also, note the asymmetry created by hip flexion of the “free” leg. As I stated earlier, this creates a posterior pelvic tilt (not excessive, of course) and thus provides a “happy” environment for the hips and low back. Anterior pelvic tilts are very common, and it just makes sense to do whatever you can to fight ’em! Also note the fact that when i’m standing on one leg with the other flexed at the hip, this “opens up” the hip, thus stretching the hip flexors on the standing leg and encouraging the glute to fire. Good schtuff! The hip abduction movement at the top of each rep gets the glutes firing and also improves mobility.
- DB Extend & Crunch: I’ve featured this nifty little exercise in a previous post. I’m not a big fan of “crunch-type” movements, but this is a good one. Yet again, notice anything? You guessed it…asymmetrical leg position! Ya catching my drift? Really great on this exercise because the position keeps the low back happy, as the hips are kept from tilting forward (as they would more easily do if I was doing a reverse crunch, for example). Keep ankle flexed and “push” thru the heel as you extend the leg. This fires the glute and encourages the psoas to relax. See how I LOVE exercises that multi-task? This is how I can get a lot done in very little time!
I went through everything as shown in the videos. Yep, I did one set of everything. Why not two sets? Because I didn’t feel it was necessary. The entire workout took me 30 minutes and my body felt good. You see, i’m not one to adhere to a specific rep/set scheme with my workouts or those I design for my clients. I base things off how the workout “works.” I typically do 2 sets of exercises, and my clients do 2-3 sets depending on their level, goals, etc. My body likes 1-2 sets of things! I can’t tell you the last time I did 3 sets of an exercise. So, there ya have it. Yeah, there may be exercise scientists and know-it-alls out there who may turn their nose up at this, saying I don’t know what the hell i’m talkin’ about, but I DO! The proof is in the “product,” which is how one feels during and after a workout. It would be counterproductive for me to be super-sore and crippled day-in and day-out. Been there, done that, moved on. Thank you very much!
Also, soundtrack for workout provided by The Crystal Method! Album – Divided By Night! Downloaded it the other day, thanks to @Nickman611! I had forgotten about The Crystal Method, and was jazzed they have new stuff!
Here’s a special little video “nugget” of goodness! One of my amazingly awesome subscriber/readers, Sue, asked for more information on the Staggered Stance Anterior Reach, which is part of the MTM 1.0 Level I workout.
As i’ve mentioned before, I have almost an hour’s worth of video explanation/demonstration for ALL the exercises in MTM 1.0. I have decided that I want to bundle this with the book when I put it up for sale.
Here’s me, explaining how to do both the Staggered Stance and Single Leg Anterior Reaches!
The Staggered Stance Anterior Reach and it’s progression, the Single Leg Anterior Reach, are just one of the many exercises I utilize with my clients to focus on “locomotion,” which is one of my “Sarah’s Super Six” movement patterns!
Ask any Trainer – if a client can’t effectively “brace” their abs, it’s not a good thing. Most people catch on to this after a while, however, there may be a few clients here and there who have difficulty with this.
I just wanted to share a few exercise “tweaks” that have helped one of my clients gain consciousness of the “bracing” sensation, thus making every exercise safer and more productive. This particular client has had a harder-than-normal time with abdominal bracing. We are working around a few postural issues which exacerbate this problem, however, I am excited because I feel exercises such as the two below have helped!
The first exercise involves the use of a stability ball when performing dead bugs (supine shoulder flexion with opposite hip/knee extension). All you do is place the ball between the knees and palms in “starting” position (feet off floor, knees @ 90 degrees, arms pointed towards ceiling). Have client press knees and palms against ball. This facilitates a contraction that reflexively stabilizes/braces the torso, along with producing a posterior pelvic tilt! Ta-da!
The second basic exercise “tweak” is to use a resistance band with planks and side planks. Loop the band around your client’s waist, and have client assume a plank position. You’re to their side, providing constant tension, which challenges them to hold the plank position and not give in to the pulling force. Same thing goes for side planks, but you’ll be pulling them forward or backward. Creates positional awareness and client can begin to correlate this with the “bracing” sensation.
On an entirely different subject…we just hit 9,000 hits yesterday! 😀 Once again, a BIG thanks! I seem to be saying this more often lately…and I love it!
This is a killer plank variation!
You may have seen people do these with sloppy form…hips rocking side to side as they go through their reps.
My take on this? That’s NOT the way to do it!
Keep your body tight and stable, and keep the hip rocking to a minimum!
Makes it a lot more challenging, and you get more out of it!