Cheap and Easy: Balance Board for Running Recovery and Improvement
You’d be hard pressed to find a successful runner–especially a trail runner–who doesn’t have good balance. Good balance helps us run faster, stay upright longer, and the workouts we do to improve balance helps us stave off injuries. I’m no coach, but as far as I know, you can’t overdo balance. Add to the equation my hesitance at buying expensive gear, and you understand the reason I built my own balance board.
My calf injuries are well-documented (torn Plantaris tendon), and I’ve been on the trail to recovery for two years. For the past six months, I’ve been using a balance board fairly regularly, and I’m convinced that the movement and strengthening of my lower legs has contributed to my recovery.
In that time I’ve consulted and spoke with quite a few coaches and doctors, every single one of which agrees that using a balance board has contributed to my healing and will help with long-term running success.
How I use mine:
I keep it in the front yard on our driveway, so whenever my kids are outside playing (a lot), I try to be on the balance board. (It helps that I’m a bit of a busy body and don’t “sit still” well.)
The type of board I made is only good for side to side, and I’m very slowly working up to using it with one foot. Fifteen minutes on the board each day gives me a great workout and leaves me with very sore calves and ankles, which I’ve got to be believe is a good thing.
Why it works:
Here’s a great article from Matt Fitzgerald about the benefits of using a balance board. It makes sense that strengthening all the little muscles and connective tissues surrounding your lower leg will help prevent injuries in the future. Additionally as trail and mountain runners, we use those complementary muscles a lot more than our roadie brethren.
Do it Yourself:
I was lucky enough to pilfer everything I need from our construction site. Check for scrap wood at Home Depot or ask a contractor friend for part of a header or beam—you don’t need much.
I cut the wood down to 29 inches (random cut), then angled the sides to give more movement. Having it thick is nice–it makes it sturdy–but I suppose a strong 2×6 would work as well.
The pipe is a 2.25′ metal tube that my electrician used for something. I sawed it down to 30″ inches or so. Again, totally random cut, but it works great because my driveway is on a slight incline and it allows me some play as the board works its way down the pipe.
Then I dug up some grip tape I’d used for a skateboard, stuck a few pieces on there, and voila! the first edition of the URP Balance Board was created.
I’ve left it out in the rain, freezing cold, and in the sprinklers, and it’s still solid. No warping, no rot, no funkiness.
Pro Tips for the Balance Board:
When you’re learning, don’t look down! I find it far easier to get balance when I’m focusing on something thirty feet away.
Barefoot is easier too. Allows each toe to be used independently and that makes it a more beneficial workout.
I can regularly balance for about 30 seconds and am now using the board with arms straight up, legs bent with core engaged, or throwing a basketball up and down.