The best strength and balance exercises for running is just one simple thing: Running barefoot. Barefoot running restores foot/leg strength and balance by improving toe plantar flexing.
Strength and Balance Exercises for Running
How does the plantar flexors become weak and cause balance impairments? The root of the condition stems from cushioned running shoes. In fact there’s a name for it: footwear-induced instability.
Weak feet are a pathological signature of poor balance control in running. Long-term use of cushioned running shoes deteriorates the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the plantar flexors. As a result, the toes become rigid from disuse and the foot becomes molded with the shape of the running shoe (i.e. narrow shoes equals narrow feet).
Interestingly, past studies have found that instability induced by the most destabilizing shoe, which was found to be excessively cushioned shoes, was not detectable by the subjects. This means that the subjects were unknowingly unstable when they wore soft, cushioned shoes. This may explain why many shod joggers believe they have great balance, but continue to injure.
Running barefoot increases exposure to stimuli on the proprioceptors thereby improving proprioceptive integrity and function. The heightened sensory input triggers reinnervation in certain muscle fibers in the plantar flexors resulting in better muscle function and better balance. It’s really as simple as that.
If you prefer not to run barefoot, foot strength and thus balance can be improved in pure minimalist running shoes with hard, not soft midsoles.
The secret is to avoid wearing shoes that feel overly-comfy and soft as this makes a runner more unlikely to control balance. Here are some examples of running shoes that feel barefoot where you can more fully improve your balance.
More From Run Forefoot:
What is proprioception and how it saves your biomechanics.
Preventing trouble when running by landing on your forefoot.
Defending against running injury by wearing zero drop minimalist shoes without cushioning.
What is the perfect minimalist shoe for forefoot running?
Why your running shoes need to be completely flat.
One of the most thinnest barefoot shoes for forefoot running.
Robbins SE., Goud GJ and McClaren, J. Shoe sole thickness and hardness influence balance in older men. JAGS, 1992; 40:1089-1094.
Saunders et al. Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners. Sports Med,2004;34(7):465-485.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.