How to Transform Your Running Form with One Single Exercise

by Jenny on January 2nd, 2012

It’s easy to think that only complicated strength training exercise plans will improve performance and strength, however this little one-legged wonder (the Single Leg Stance) can make real change in a matter of days.

The single leg balance activates  and strengthens your stabilizing muscles from your feet and ankles all the way up to your hips and improves your balance too!  If you sit all day like most of us do, that deactivates your gluteal muscles which stabilize as you run stride for stride.  When these muscles atrophy (decrease strength and stability) they no longer engage and support your leg and hip as your foot lands on the ground.  It has a ripple effect in translating to wasted energy as your hips move side to side and increases the friction in your ITB (Iliotibial Band).

A simple exercise like this can be done anywhere, in any shoes (okay maybe not the pumps girls) and effectively strengthens those hip stabilizers so they engage and support your hip and translate to efficient forward (versus lateral) motion and no ITB friction!

While you’re at it, next time you’re out for a run scan runners to see if they’re hips are moving side to side or not at all.  Seeing the difference between stabilized and weak hips can help visualize what is going on in your own body.

Try it for yourself (now if you’d like):

  • Stand up with your feet hip width apart.
  • Keep your arms out to your sides for balance.
  •  Lift your left leg a few inches off the floor and hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • Engage your hip muscles to create a long, neutral line up your body. If this is confusing – try letting your hip relax out to the side and then tighten and contract it to align it under your shoulders – this is also another great exercise hip huggers.
  • Repeat 2-4 times on each side. You will feel all the muscles in your foot, ankle and hip fatiguing in seconds!
  • When this is easy progress to wearing no shoes.
  • When that gets easy stand barefoot on a towel, pillow or pad to further challenge the muscles and balance.  If you get to SuperStar status, close your eyes (very hard).

It’s simple. It’s effective.  And it’s kind of fun.

 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Aileen Cota

The bullet point about engaging the hips to create a long neutral line…i am having a hard time visualizing what move that is. Can you explain further? What are hip huggers.

And forgive me for not getting it, runners with hips moving side to side is bad?

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Beth

I second that Aileen. It sounds like the leg should be long and extended, but the picture makes it look bent.

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Nigha

How about reoagnil stereotyping here in the Philippines? I’ll be a hypocrite if I didn’t heard of any reoagnil stereotyping usually referring from one region or one ethno-linguistic group or a local from a certain place .

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jennyhadfield

Hi Aileen and Beth – Try this – stand on both feet with your hands to your sides. Lift your right knee up so the foot is about a foot off the ground. Keep the other leg inline with the body (neutral). You will begin to feel all the stabilizing muscles start to work as you balance (ankle, lower leg and hip). Now, relax the hip of the standing leg so it bows out (best example is if you are standing with your arms crossed with one hip pushed out to the side – or the angry stance:) After letting the hip relax, engage it and pull it back (engage) so it aligns with your body again. If you are looking in a mirror, you will see a straight line from head to toe, as you relax the hip you’ll lose that line, when you engage it again the straight line will form again.

As you’re running you want the hips (glute medius) to stabilize and keep your hips in alignment with your body. If the glutes are weak (can happen from sitting a lot) that allows the hips to sway side to side and creates friction in the ITB which can cause hip and knee pain on the outside of the leg. Weak hips and lateral hip motion creates more wear and tear on the body and wastes energy stride for stride. A simple exercise like this one can make a significant difference in your running form, economy, and reduce aches and pains. Make sense? CJ

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Beth

Thanks! Yes, that makes sense!

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Aileen

Okay, as I am relaxing the hip of the standing leg as it is bowing out, what is my right leg doing? is my right knee still off the ground? I really need this exercise as I sit all day in front of a computer. Thanks Jenny. Thanks Beth.

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Susannah

Hi Jenny. Thanks for the exercise idea. Your description fits my issue (okay, one of them) perfectly. I started doing the exercise while brushing my teeth. Works perfectly with the quad-timer on my electronic toothbrush.

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jennyhadfield

Great idea Susannah!

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Jeroen

Hi,
I have done quite some work on the stability as i moved to barefoot running. One of the things i encountered when doing single leg stance was indeed that it’s incredible hard to do it with eyes closed. I was kind of shocked actually when i found out. I can stand on a single leg for more then a minute without any problems, but as soon as i close my eyes, i’m off balance. Thanks for sharing this. Why is it so hard? Do we that much rely on our eyes?

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sherrillpiehvnuoi.unblog.fr

Hello friends, its fantastic piece of writing on the topic of teachingand entirely defined, keep it up
all the time.

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Rikki Prince

Why ever not wear pumps while doing this exercise?! Thinner, more flexible shoes makes balance exercises like this engage more of the stability muscles in your feet, ankles and lower legs. If you’re aiming for full leg stability, barefoot or minimalist shoes would be great in this exercise! :-)

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