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Running Strong

Why do we run? I love to run, especially when my body feels good. But it is a known fact that running beats us up. According to Yale Medicine, running has an annual injury rate of 50% of all participants. 

Why do so many runners get injured? And what are the common injuries most runners see?

The most common injuries are:

  1. IT Band Friction Syndrome
  2. Stress Fracture
  3. Runner’s Knee

Causes of Running injuries

  1. Poor posture
  2. Wrong Shoes
  3. Too much volume
  4. Too much intensity
  5. Weak connective tissue and muscles

Running is a Heavy Load

Our bodies are amazing and can adapt to the stress we impose on them. But we must be strong before we try to run. Research shows that we are landing with 1.5x-3x our body weight each step. We usually take between 160-180 steps per minute. For me, that would mean I’m hitting the ground with ~600 lbs of force each step. Since I average about 170 steps per minute, 85 each leg, that means I impact the ground with 51,000 lbs of force each minute. 

We must train our bodies to handle this type of stress. I have helped many runners in the past get strong and we usually work on some fundamental movement patterns that ultimately help the athlete run faster and further with minimal injuries. 

Strength Starts at your Foot

Our feet connect us to the ground. And, just like any well-built structure, they are the foundation of our bodies. The foot is very complex but yet functional, it is designed to bear the load and propel us. Our feet have 26 bones, nearly a quarter of the bones in the human body. They also have 30 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

When I train my clients and work on myself, I prioritize foot strength. If I trained specific body parts, “foot day” would take priority over “chest day!” But since I train the whole body as a system of movement, every day is “foot day!”

How to Train the Foot

I find the most basic way to train your foot is to kick off your shoes. At the Performance Ranch, we encourage our clients to do their warm-up barefoot.

Once you get your shoes off, you will probably notice a few things. You will notice how narrow your foot is. Especially if you have been in shoes most of your life. You may also notice your arch collapsing, and if that is the case look up at your knees, more than likely they are kissing each other. This valgus position over time can lead to severe knee pain and possible knee injuries. 

If you notice these issues with your feet, you have to be very cautious about how you proceed forward. You have to remember, your foot has had some type of support for a very long time. More than likely your foot is very weak and you could possibly injure yourself if the volume ramps up too fast. 

We need to bring awareness to your feet with a simple exercise called “Foot Rooting.” First, we will stand up tall by extending the top of your head to the sky. As you do this, tuck your pelvis under you so that your belt line is parallel to the ground. Second, bend your knees slightly and drive your knees away from each other by screwing your feet into the ground in opposite directions. Next, you should notice an arch start to form under your feet and the outside of your hips should feel some sensation. 

Repeat the Foot Rooting exercise several times per day. I also recommend short time intervals with your shoes off, 20-30 minutes several times per day for the first few weeks. This will allow you to ramp up slowly.

With this simple exercise, you will start to engage with the ground. After a few days of awareness building, now it’s time to start strengthening your feet. We do this with some foot strengthening exercises called “Short Foot.” This is a series of different exercises that allow you to progress on your schedule. 

Short Foot

The first exercise is All Toes Up and Spread, this helps you hold the arch and move the toes independently. The next exercise is Small Toes Down, Big Toe Raise, this will focus on the big toe and its independence from the rest of the foot. The big toe is what helps propel us vertically and horizontally. Finally, we do Big Toe Down, Small Toes Raise to challenge your foot intrinsic musculature. 

Each exercise will present itself with its own unique challenge. You may also catch yourself spreading your fingers as you attempt to move your toes. Don’t worry, it happens! The same nerve pathway that moves your feet also help assist your hands. This is how important the feet are. You may also feel your feet cramp, this is usually due to the new stimulus. With consistency, this will disappear as your feet become stronger.

Integrate it Into Your Life

The icing on the cake is the develop foot strength in dynamic patterns such as walking, jumping, balancing, running, etc. But you can’t go from 0-100 and expect to not get injured. Developing foot strength adequate for these activities may take years. I jumped on the barefoot running craze 10 years ago. And quickly I was injured. I knew better to start running the same volume, but I just starting doing everything barefoot. I developed calve strains and when I would run with shoes, my calves would quickly cramp. 

Fast forward 10 years and I can say now I have the appropriate foot strength to do the activities mentioned above. My motivation in writing this article was to inform you that foot strength is achievable, you just need time and patience to develop it.

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