How Runners Can Unlock Stability to Prevent Injuries

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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When you think about how to improve your running, you probably focus on getting faster or stronger. If you’ve struggled with injuries, you’ve likely learned the value of strength and mobility work.

But the concept of stability is less familiar to most runners. While “stability” may sound like a worthwhile goal, what does it mean and what’s the best way to achieve it?

Stability has a variety of meanings, but one of the simplest is this: “The strength to stand or endure.” The USA Track & Field coaching curriculum defines stability in greater depth: “The stability of an object is its degree of resistance to toppling over.” The ability to endure in the face of fatigue and difficult terrain is something every runner should strive for.

DEFINING DIFFERENT TYPES OF “STABILITY”

When we talk about stability in terms of running, we’re really considering the combination of strength and coordination. Coordination helps you resist falling on any type of terrain, and strength allows you to maintain body alignment and balance through all parts of your running stride.

To fully understand stability, it helps to understand two specific components: postural stability and dynamic stability. Postural stability may sound like the ability to stand up straight — and you’re not too far off. In running and daily life, we want to achieve alignment with our head, core and pelvis. When any one of these is out of whack, you’re more susceptible to fatigue, pain and injury.

Dynamic stability takes postural stability a step further. As a runner, your movements are always dynamic, meaning they are characterized by constant change or progress. As you run, you are constantly transitioning from a single-leg stance to a “flight phase” with both feet briefly off the ground, and then back to a single-leg stance on the other leg.

Postural stability is often overlooked, but if you’re unable to maintain it at a standstill, it is impossible to perform while in motion. Because running requires such constant, repetitive motion, you can see how one small misalignment is compounded during a run of any length. The more uneven or unstable the surface you run on (Think: trails and technical terrain), the more stability is required.

BENEFITS OF STABILITY

Stability benefits your running in multiple ways. Most importantly, it reduces your risk of injury. Postural and dynamic stability make your form more efficient and easier to maintain as you start to fatigue. Excessive instability increases injury risk and results in a deterioration of form and performance.

“Efficiency” may sound like a vague goal to apply to your running, but consider this analogy: Think of incandescent light bulbs, which always feel hot to the touch. Why? Because more than 90% of the energy they produce is given off as heat, with less than 10% actually creating usable light.

If your running is equally inefficient, your energy is being wasted with each stride you take. Your energy should be going toward moving you forward with each stride, not toward correcting imbalances and inefficient movements. Don’t be the incandescent light bulb and waste your energy reserves. Improving your dynamic stability helps you return more energy with each stride.

WAYS TO IMPROVE STABILITY

Even if you haven’t struggled with injuries recently, you can benefit from improving your stability. Before you work on dynamic stability, however, you first want to make sure your alignment is correct. If you’re not aligned properly, you run the risk of ingraining inefficient movements.

Alignment of the head, core and pelvis is essential to running efficiency. In the upper body, poor alignment can affect shoulder swing, make you run tense and lose balance more easily, and fatigue more quickly. Poor alignment of the pelvis can lead to pain and injuries in your hips and iliotibial band (ITB).

The best way to correct any postural deficiency is through a combination of mobility training, form cues and strength work. Dynamic mobility routines help you actively improve your range of motion, rather than just passively stretching. Form cues can be as simple as “run tall,” or “let your foot land underneath you” to help maintain alignment and prevent overstriding.

Ideally, every runner should sandwich their runs between a dynamic warmup and strength/core routine post-run. While access to a gym can be helpful, a lot of beneficial work can be done with simple bodyweight exercises. Runner specific core routines should target your entire core — not just your abs. Circuit workouts combine running and strength training, which is ideal because you must focus on maintaining stability while already fatigued. This can be challenging, but beneficial.

On the surface, postural and dynamic stability may sound like complex concepts, but once you dig a little deeper, you find they are simple and fundamental to your running success. Alignment and stability affect every aspect of your running, and addressing them as part of your routine helps you become more efficient, stronger and injury-free.

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it. 

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.

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