When you run, you aren’t just using your legs. Your upper body plays a role too – mainly your core.
The core is responsible for your balance. A strong core will help you to do everyday things more easily, like bending over and pulling yourself back up again, leaning to the side, or even twisting.
It can also help you to improve your running form by improving your balance and posture. Having good posture helps you maintain good running form.
A simple way to enhance your balance and posture is by doing balance board exercises. The balance board is an underrated exercise tool that can be incorporated easily into any form of training, or even used on its own.
What is a Balance or Wobble Board?
A balance board—or wobble board—is a square, round or oval board that balances on a dome or cylinder. You use it by standing or leaning on it. Balance boards are unstable by design, so you need to create stability yourself by contracting your muscles.
It’s a simple exercise tool that can improve your core strength and in turn, improve your overall strength. This can help you keep your running form correct, as well as build muscle that will improve your balance and your skill in cross-training exercises.
What is Balance Training?
Balance training is an underrated form of training that improves your balance and posture. It is generally used as a way of increasing core strength or strengthening the ankles, which will help to prevent ankle strains or sprains.
Increasing your balance can help to improve your hand-eye coordination, as well as enhance proprioception – your awareness of where your limbs are.
Who Benefits from Balance Training?
Balance training can be beneficial for almost anyone. Improving core strength can help make everyday tasks like bending, leaning, and picking things up easier. It also requires very little equipment and time, so almost anybody can fit it into their daily schedule easily.
Trail runners and individuals with weak ankles may find more value in balance training, as they will gain ankle strength along with better balance and posture.
Who Should Not Do Balance Training?
Balance training can be helpful for almost everyone, but individuals with knee injuries should avoid doing balance training. Because of the instability of a balance board, if you have weak knees the unpredictable movement of the balance board could lead to injury.
What Position/Posture Should You Have Standing on a Balance Board?
Using a balance board will improve your posture, but you need to be positioned correctly when you use it.
When you are standing on the balance board, your spine should be as straight as possible. Face forwards without lifting or dropping your chin—your chin should stay parallel to the ground. Place your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly so they are positioned over your feet—not leaning inwards or outwards.
To keep your posture as stable as possible, relax your shoulders—so they are not hunched underneath your ears—and try to bring your shoulder blades together behind your back as if pinching a coin between your shoulder blades.
If you are leaning on the balance board with your hands or forearms, you want to keep your core engaged. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button towards your spine. And keep your shoulder blades back and together like when you are standing.
If you are not used to doing balance board exercises, focus on keeping your back as straight as possible. Your shoulders shouldn’t become rounded—or hunched over. This will also help to ensure that you don’t drop your hips or lift them too much. You want your body to be in as straight a line as possible, from shoulders to feet.
12 Balance Board Exercise Ideas For Runners
Not sure how to get started using a balance board? Here are 12 effective balance board exercises for runners that will build strength in your legs and core.
You should do between 8 and 20 reps of each exercise, depending on your ability level. If it’s a single-sided exercise, do this amount of reps for each side. Three to five sets is the optimal range.
1. Warm-Up Movements on Board
Don’t forget to warm up when using the balance board. Just like with any other exercise, it is a good idea to get the blood flowing to the muscles before attempting more strenuous exercises.
Position yourself correctly on the balance board. Tilt slowly backward and forwards and side to side. If your balance board only moves in one plane, then you will have to get off and reposition yourself in between. Twist to one side and then the other, making sure to maintain your posture.
Do these warm-up movements slowly and precisely and make sure you are positioned correctly.
2. Single Leg Balance (legs and core)
This is a static exercise that relies on your balance to work out the muscles. Stand with one foot placed on the center of the balance board. Keep yourself steady with your other foot, which should be placed on the ground behind the balance board.
Shift your weight onto the balance board, lifting the knee of the foot that’s on the ground up towards the torso. Make sure not to brace yourself by leaning your elevated leg against the balancing leg.
Balance for as long as you can, until you feel your form starting to give in. Then move to the other leg.
3. Scales (legs and core)
Stand on the balance board with your feet hip-width apart and your arms raised, so you are standing in a “T” position. Tighten your abdominal muscles to help keep your balance.
Shift your body weight onto your right leg. Then lift your leg up behind you—without bending it—while bending at the waist and lowering your chest forward. The goal is to have your leg and torso in a straight line, from ankle to shoulder—parallel to the ground.
Try to balance like this for 10 seconds and return slowly to the starting position. If your torso or limbs begin to twist or your balancing leg begins to wobble, return to your standing position.
If you can hold your balance in the bent position for more than 10 seconds, you can add in an extra movement to target your lats. Tighten your glutes and quads as well as your abs, to maintain balance. Move your arms towards your hips while pulling your shoulders back and downwards, away from your ears. Hold for as long as possible.
Switch legs and repeat the movement. Remember to take your time and feel the muscles tensing.
4. Catch the Ball (total body)
You will need an exercise partner to do this exercise until you are confident enough to do it by yourself. You will also need a basketball or a similar-sized ball.
Stand on your balance board in the correct position. Have your exercise partner stand about six feet in front of where you are. They throw the ball at you, about chest height, and you catch it and throw it back while maintaining your balance and posture.
You can do this as many times as you want to until you start to lose your balance due to muscle fatigue. For a more challenging variation, use a medicine ball instead of a basketball.
If you don’t have a partner, you can try tossing the ball against a wall in front of you and catching it on the rebound. However, we recommend only trying this when you are confident in your balancing skills.
5. Forward Lunges (legs and hips)
Start with one foot on the ground behind the balance board, about one large step away, and on your toes. Place your other foot centered on the board. Center your weight between your two feet, making sure to stay on your toes on your back foot.
Keeping your back straight and your head up—your chin parallel to the ground—lower your pelvis until your front leg forms a 90-degree angle and your back knee almost touches the ground. You may need to do a test lunge to find the best position for your back foot. When done correctly, there should be a straight line from the top of the head to the back knee.
Engage your glutes and abdominal muscles to push yourself back up to the starting position. There is no need to rush through each rep. Take it slowly so you can feel the muscles contracting.
For more advanced users, once you have the correct position of the back foot, stand with both feet on the ground behind the balance board. Step forward onto the balance board, going into a lunge as described above. When you come up, move back to the starting position and switch feet.
6. Squats (hips and legs)
Position yourself correctly on the balance board. You can hold your arms out the side for extra balance if you need to. Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, aiming to get your quads parallel to the floor.
Balance for a few seconds at the bottom of the squat before engaging the glutes, quads, and abs to bring yourself back up.
7. Glute Bridges (glutes)
Lie on the floor and place your feet on the balance board. Place your hands palm-down on the floor next to you to help stabilize.
Push your feet into the balance board and lift your hips into the air, keeping your shoulders firmly on the ground. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement before lowering back down. Complete as many reps as necessary.
8. Sit and Foot Raise (core)
Sit on the balance board with your feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Raise your arms to form a T-shape. Tighten your abs and raise one of your feet off the floor. Hold for a few seconds and lower it again, before doing the same with the other foot.
To make this exercise more challenging, lean back slightly while sitting on the balance board. If you do this, make sure to keep your back straight. Don’t fall into the trap of rolling the shoulders forward and rounding your back.
9. Plank (core)
Upgrade a conventional plank by leaning on the balance board. You can lean your forearms on the board, shoulder-width apart, or lean on your hands.
Whether you choose to lean on your hands or your forearms, make sure they are stacked underneath the shoulder joints and your body is in a tight, straight line from shoulder to feet. Don’t lift or drop the pelvis—engage the abdominal muscles to keep that straight line.
10. Mountain Climber (total body)
Start off by getting into a plank position, using your hands to balance yourself on the board. Bring one knee towards your chest. This is your starting position.
Alternate legs in a quick motion, bringing the opposite knee to the chest and the other leg down into a normal plank position. Speed is important here, but make sure you aren’t compromising your form by rounding your back or dropping your hips.
Get into a pushup position with your hands on the board. Slowly lower your chest to the board and push up again. Beginners may prefer to start off doing knee pushups. Remember to keep your body in a straight line, and don’t simply perform the pushup by lowering your pelvis.
12. Walk Outs (advanced – core and shoulders)
Begin by standing on the balance board with proper form. Bend at the waist and place your palms on the ground in front of the board.
Shift your weight onto your hands and walk forward on them. Try to walk until you are in a plank position. Then, walk your hands backward again until you are upright. Repeat as many times as necessary.