Okay lets pick up right where we left off! Part 1 covered important mobility and stability concepts for pain-free running, part 2 will dive deep into footwear and running technique!
Let’s start off with footwear. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to shoes. So when trying to figure out how much support your shoes should have, without getting too in depth, you need to determine what kind of arch you have. A simple way to find out is to just look at your feet. If that’s not clear, then you can do the “wet feet” test by stepping in some water and observing your foot print.
If you have a high arch, your foot is often more stable and you’ll need less structural support. This also means that your feet may have a hard time absorbing impact and may need extra cushioning. But if you have high arches and wear shoes that also have a high arch, you’re more likely to develop weakness and poor arch strength because your arch muscles aren’t being used.
If you have a low arch or flat feet, you’ll likely need more support because you have an unstable foot/arch that likes to collapse or fall inward when you run making you more likely to experience plantar fasciitis and ankle sprains. So you’ll want some type of shoe that helps prevent “overpronation,” and offers structural support for your arch. But if you continue to use your shoe as a crutch or quick fix for your lack of arch, you’ll cause the muscles to weaken even further over time, because they simply have to work less.
If you lie somewhere in between, then lucky you! You have a normal foot that is properly aligned with the appropriate amount of pronation and the weight and shock of every step you take is distributed evenly, making it less likely that you’ll experience injuries. So as a general guideline, if you have normal or high arches, you likely need more flexible, minimalist shoes. However if you have flat feet, you likely could benefit from more supportive shoes to help relieve some pain while you get them stronger. However, in either circumstance you need solid arch strength. This can be done by performing these exercises below:
1. Toe yoga: 3 minutes (video 1)
2. Arch Lifts: 3 minutes, hold 5 sec (video 1)
3. Floor sweeps: 3 sets of 15-20 reps (video 2)
Lastly, let’s address running technique. How to be the most efficient because let’s face it, we don’t want to waste any energy if we don’t have to. More efficiency means you’ll get less tired, be able to run further, and have a decreased injury risk. The recommendations below are for your average novice runner, not the more seasoned vet as advanced techniques are often involved more.
Is the correct part of your foot contacting the ground?
In general you should focus on striking the ground with your midfoot. This will make your strides shorter and you’ll land closer to under your center of gravity making your technique more efficient.
Is your arm swing effective?
While looking forward, your hands should disappear below and behind your peripheral vision on each of your backswings. If your arm swing is poor, then it won’t cue a backward-driving leg action (hip extension) or your arms will tend to swing left and right, rotating the torso to maintain balance and diverting energy sideways that could be propelling you forward.
Are you a “bobber”?
You should also aim to propel yourself as horizontally as possible, don’t bob up and down. What do I mean? Well a common method runners use to develop propulsion is the upward thrust. As they toe off, the knee is straightened forcefully, thrusting the body up and forward which wastes a tremendous amount of energy. This up and down method of running, employed to some degree by most runners, is extremely inefficient. Learning to use the glutes to extend the hips and create horizontal propulsion with minimal vertical oscillation will help you run farther and faster.
Are you leaning forward?
Leaning forward while you run can help you become more efficient by creating forward momentum. If you’re leaning too little, you’ll find it’s hard to move your body forward as you fatigue, your legs will have to work harder to push you forward. If, on the other hand, you’re leaning too much, you’ll find it’s difficult to bring your legs forward as you fatigue, they’ll feel like they drag behind you and your hip flexors will have to work harder to pick your feet up.
Running is a great workout, especially while we’re all stuck at home. But it shouldn’t be your only source of exercise. Just like with everything else in this world, it’s all about balance. Make sure you’re doing enough supplemental and accessory work to fill in the gaps running has. If running is your passion, accessory work is KEY. Let’s make sure we’re still healthy and pain free when we’re allowed to get back to our regular choice of exercise. Do this by working on your mobility and strength, choosing the right footwear, and being aware of your technique. Everyone’s needs, choice of footwear, and form will look different, but choose the one that feels best for you and gives you the best results. Happy Running!
Whether you’re a typical globo gym-goer, a CrossFitter, a yogi, hiker, or anything else, we all have one thing in common right now...all of our gyms and parks are closed! Our usual preference for exercise is now altered and we’re being forced to be creative. So if you’re like me, you’re trying to turn your home into the best gym you can so you don’t lose all of your progress you’ve been making in the gym. Being cooped up inside our homes can make us go a little stir crazy and there’s only so many body weight exercises we can do! The solution we’ve resorted to? Running. I’ve seen a lot more athletes take up running to try to keep up with their cardio, endurance, and fitness. So with this new increase in mileage and frequency of running, whether you’re a novice or an elite runner, comes new aches, pains, and injuries. This post will address some of the most common things new runners should be aware of to improve performance and steer clear of injury, such as important mobility and stability drills, appropriate footwear, and proper technique - help keep ya'll running for days! (and maybe even beyond quarantine).
Let’s start with the hips; from a mobility perspective. Hip flexor tightness is one of the most common things we see. Your hip flexor (iliopsoas) does exactly what it sounds like it does - it flexes your hip, aka brings your thigh toward your stomach. Cnsider this, if you were to run an 8 minute mile, you’re taking an average of 1,500 steps! That’s a lot of times that you’re asking your hip flexor to work, especially when you multiply that 1 mile by 2..3..even 4 miles or more. When hip flexors are worked to that degree, they become tense and often tight, causing your pelvis to rotate anteriorly (forward) which then negitvely affects the muscles on the opposite side, your glutes. And when muscles are lengthened, they’re typically weak.
This brings me to stability. Let me first say that running is technically a one-legged sport (both feet are never on the ground at the same time). One leg has to support the entire load of your body and much of that single leg stability comes from your glutes - gluteus medius in particular. Similarly, because running is a uniplanar motion (meaning you commonly go in one direction... forward), you’re rarely training your glutes the way they need to be trained. Your glutes wrap around to the sides of your hips, so they need lateral movement to strengthen them.
How does this affect your foot and ankle? Glad you asked. Your glutes control the amount of rotation of your thigh, which then (since everything in the body is connected) contributes to the amount of inward collapse happening, not only at your knee, but also in the arch of your foot (a movement known as pronation), which is what common culprit to pain and injury. So if you’re not doing supplemental lateral movements and glute strengthening, then you won’t be able to control your arch, counteract the pull of your hip flexors, or actively support your body the way you need to while running.
Here's what we recommend:
1. Start with this KB psoas release for 2 minutes per side:
2. Then follow it up with:
a. Banded side step/squat combo. Shoot for 3 sets of at least 20ft of side stepping followed by at least 10 squats
b. Kettlebell Deadlift. Make it hard, make it heavy. Atleast 3 sets.
3. Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift. Also make it hard, make it heavy. Atleast 3 sets.
Now let’s talk about the ankle and big toe. Hypomobility or joint stiffness can commonly develop in athletes. Because of the repetitive propulsion that is required from your feet and ankles, your calves and achilles tendons are likely to become tight. Over time, this tightness will affect the mobility of your ankle joint and limit your ability to bring your ankle in the opposite direction, the “toes to nose” direction known as dorsiflexion. With insufficient ankle mobility, the muscles surrounding your joint become overworked and can lead to overuse or “tendonitis” type injuries because they’re trying to move a joint that’s unable to be moved. Additionally, with months of running without supplemental mobility work, activities that require this “toes to nose” motion (which can also be thought of as decreasing the angle between your shin and foot), such as any kind of squatting or even going up and down stairs may be more difficult.
Similarly, the big toe (aka your body’s kickstand!!) is also an important part of that propulsion. It acts by what’s known as the “windlass mechanism”. As you propel yourself forward, your big toe is supposed to be able to extend. This winds up the plantar fascia underneath your foot in order to create a more rigid foot capable of maintaining your arch, withstanding your body weight, and allowing for a strong push off as you run.
With a stiff big toe, your plantar fascia can’t support your foot as it needs and your foot is more likely to overpronate or collapse inward. This excessive mobility in the midfoot alters the mechanics of your ankle-foot complex and is what commonly leads to injuries
What to do about your mobility:
1. Ankle dorsiflexion self mobilizations: perform 20 reps each side
2. Great toe extension self mobilizations: perform 20 reps each side
While mobility and strength are important elements you need to consider, there are other components that have just as big of an impact on your ability to stay pain free. Two of the biggest are choice of footwear (arch dependent) and your running technique. Check out part 2 of this series where we dive deep in each!
This is where we share our expert opinion on hot topics in physical therapy, injury prevention, sports performance, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and sometimes other random thoughts. Enjoy.