Years ago my family was at a family reunion and my sister and I were talking to my cousin’s husband, who is a physical therapist. My sister had rolled her ankle playing tennis recently but she felt like it was getting stronger and she was ready to play. He decided to see just how strong it is and asked her to do some balance tests on both feet. To say the least, her non-injured side was much stronger than her injured! She pretty much fell over herself when trying to balance on her bad ankle.
Runners World recently came out with an article about making sure your body is balanced and equally strong. This prevents injury and improves performance.
Every physically active person has a dominant side. The key is to figure out which side it is. A simple balance test (below) will tell you if you have a weak side. What's the value of knowing which side is stronger? When you favor one side, the resulting weakness on the opposite side can leave you more vulnerable to injury.
Your body uses two strategies to balance on one foot. First, it tweaks ankle and foot muscles. The second is a "hip strategy"—you twist your torso to steady yourself. But when you run, you're not using the ankle strategy at all, putting the strain of compensating for your weaker side entirely in the hips. "Leg dominance won't cause injury," he says, "but strengthening the hip and working on balance will help you avoid it."
THE BALANCE TEST
Stand on one leg, eyes closed. Time how long you can hold without toppling or putting down your foot. Switch legs. If both sides are close (30 seconds on each side, or 30 on one and 25 on the other), you've got good equilibrium. But if the difference is wide—five or 10 seconds on one leg, up to 30 on the other—you're out of balance, and may have hip-muscle issues.
Here are a few exercises to do after workouts for 3 weeks. Then try the balance test again and see some improvement!
HOW: Loop an exercise band around the ankle on your strong leg. Keeping your outside knee straight, raise the outside leg to the side. Lift for two seconds, return for two seconds, controlling the movement. Do three sets of 10 reps.
WHY: By training only the weak side you build symmetry. There is twice as much muscle activity for the support leg, so your inside leg is the one reaping the balance-improvement benefits.
HOW: Stand with your weak leg on a pillow. Balance for 30 seconds (you can use a light touch on a wall). Repeat three times. Tip: When you can balance relatively easily for 30 seconds, increase the intensity by closing your eyes, which makes it harder to balance.
WHY: Supporting yourself on your weaker leg while standing on an unstable surface forces you to employ an ankle and a hip strategy to balance, and helps your weak leg catch up to your strong one.
Are you off balance?