The Balance Board

A balance board is a great strength training tool for runners as it promotes coordination, balance, and stability while strengthening the muscles of the feet, lower leg, and trunk. It can also help improve your posture and range of motion of critical joints such as your ankles, knees, and hips. These benefits can help runners improve their performance through increased push-off strength, while also reducing their chance of injury by strengthening ankles and other susceptible joints.

Bill Rodgers, 1976 Olympian and one of the U.S. greatest marathon runners of all-time, recently went through a rehabilitation of a broken leg and credited much of his recovery success to the use of a balance board.

So what is a Balance / Wobble Board?

A balance board is a simple device that is either circular or rectangular in shape, where the foot platform is considerably larger than the surface that touches the ground (see products pictured at the bottom of the page).

By standing on this type of a surface, the body is forced to continually correct and shift weight to stay balanced. This uses multiple muscle groups and trains our brains for how more efficiently perform the movements associated with walking and running, and can give us an advantage when running on uneven surfaces such as Cross Country trail races.

By the regular use of a balance / wobble board, you also gain an improved proprioceptive awareness. What in the world is that (you ask)?? Proprioceptive awareness is one of those physical therapy buzzwords that seems to have grown in popularity lately, and refers to the central nervous system’s automatic sensitivity mechanism. As you get more proficient with this device, the body learns from various stimuli on how to better react to certain situations and imbalances. Over time, these reactions will become quicker and more efficient. These efficiencies can help athletes of all sports, and can really add up over the course of a long distance race like a marathon.

So what kind of exercises can do with it? There are many ways and uses of a balance / wobble board. Here are just a few of its many uses…

  • The Timed Balance: When you first start out, put it on its lowest setting (if available), and try to keep the edges of the board from hitting the ground for a minute. Too easy? Try 2 minutes. Too hard? Try doing it along side a couch or chair initially to help you maintain balance. After a few days of that, try adding in some of the others below.
  • Rock the Boat: Gently rock forward and backward without losing your balance or making the board tip to the point where you have to hop off. This is also a good exercise for your calf muscles and you should feel it the same way you would if you were standing up on your toes.
  • Round Robin: Shift your weight so the board seems to rotate in a circle. My balance board has a ball maze in the middle, so I play around with the speed and direction of the ball in its outer loop. It’s a fun way to make the exercise a game, and vary the intensity.
  • Advanced - One Leg: After you have seemed to master the above exercises, try them again….but on one leg! This will give you added strength training and balance ability as your body now has to cope with all of your weight balanced on one leg….which is very similar to the challenge your body faces each time it has to push off in a running stride.

Types of balance boards

There are many types, brands, and variations of the balance and wobble boards. And before you over-analyze all of the products on the market, keep in mind the simplicity of this device: A small, off-balance piece of wood or plastic. I prefer the one-piece round shape balance boards for their size and easy storage. Some have smaller bases and allow for a greater range of motion (in degrees) which makes them harder and more challenging. If you are looking for a more advanced balance tool, look for a larger degree range. Some balance exercise products use a plank and cylinder in a see-saw arrangement, which are not as easy to store and don’t offer the same range of motion and versatility as the round boards in my opinion.

Below are some of the more reputable balance boards used by runners and other athletes, alike. If your running or fitness routine could use some added strength, range of motion, and efficiency, consider the addition of a balance board to your work-out closet. It’s an inexpensive and effective tool that may just make the difference in getting you to where you want to be. Good luck & Happy Running!!

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