Do I have your attention? Ha! Yes, flamingos are generally known for standing on one foot. They also happen to be one of the mascots of my running team, the Pink Nation, a sub team of the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. But why should humans, especially runners, work standing on one foot into their fitness regimen? I’m about to tell you.
If you’ve ever run on trails, you know how crucial strength and balance are for staying upright while navigating variations in the pitch and camber of the trail, not to mention slippery surfaces, roots, and rocks. Runners fall most frequently on trails from what I’ve experienced. Close second in dangerous terrains that trip us up are sidewalks in older neighborhoods like we see in Richmond; I’ve succumbed to many an uneven concrete slab. In fact, I almost ate it running in the Northside of Richmond yesterday! And falls are humbling. And they sometimes result in injury!
As a physical therapist, I incorporate some version of this activity with almost all of my ambulatory patients as a fall prevention measure. For my limited ambulators, they start holding onto a surface for support, whether that’s the back of a chair, the parallel bars, or the kitchen counter. As they improve their strength and balance, they can start decreasing their level of arm support. If they are unable to do this, they start with their feet in tandem or staggered, narrowing their base of support. Here are some basic instructions for performing this exercise.
Why do I make my geriatric patients do this? You get a lot of bang for your buck. Closed chain (meaning feet on the ground) activities typically engage more muscle groups than open chain activities. It’s not taxing on your cardiopulmonary system. And it feels safe due to the proximity of support. Plus, you are forcing your brain to work on your balance reactions, starting at your feet and ankles, because our first line of defense in preventing a fall is using our ankle strategy. I will spare you the complete lectures on fall prevention and neuroplasticity, but if you want to geek out about it, check out this article.
But why should runners do this? As a coaching group, my fellow Pink Nation coaches and I agreed that this is a terrific addition to any runner’s routine. This was a part of our “pro tips” for last training season. Think about how much time we technically spend supporting our body weight on one leg while running. Just try standing on one foot on solid ground. You should feel your ankle moving to keep your center of gravity over your base of support. The longer you sustain this, the more you will also feel your glutes engage to keep you hip from dropping and your core activate to take some stress off of your ankle. This article sums up the rationale quite nicely! If you can hold this position for at least 30 seconds, you can increase the difficulty of this task.
What does my version of this look like? I stand on a Bosu ball, dome up, with my foot in the middle of the ball. I try to hold this for at least 30 seconds. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Same exercise, just on a more compliant surface. A scale down from this would be to stand on a block of foam or a pillow. Do these near some type of support, like a wall, chair, or between the dip bars at the gym, so you can reach for it if needed.
Besides the simple activity of standing on one foot, there are several dynamic exercises that incorporate single limb stance and are excellent additions to your strength training. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Runner’s lunge series (my personal favorites; the PT in this video has a whole series of information on his Facebook page. He’s a genius!)
- Pistol Squat (can start squatting onto a box or weightlifting bench for a half pistol squat)
- Single leg deadlift
- Bulgarian split lunge
All of these exercises work on single leg strength and stability while running, increasing your efficiency and decreasing your risk for injury. Personally, if I only have a few minutes after cardio cross training to work on strengthening, I will choose one of these exercises. Try to work one or two of these activities into your next strength training day!
Do you incorporate single leg exercises into your strength training? I’d love to hear about it! I am providing this information as a courtesy and assume no responsibility for injury if you take my advice. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.