Last fall I started a blog series on “Are you Ready to Run” based on the fact that many people start running without doing the mobility and strength work before hand to ensure their body works well and will prevent injury.
I see compensations, postural issues, injuries, and aches and pains daily that come from poor positioning and movement coming from the foot and lower leg.
In the past few months I’ve been training for some running races and through my experience have realized that there were a few things I had been neglecting in my own prehab exercises that were now affecting my running ability! (It also reminded me I needed to finish this blog!).
First- I would recommend reading Part 1 to my blog here: https://unleashyouroptimalhealth.wordpress.com/tag/ywca-health-and-fitness/
In this second part I plan on deciphering 12 conditions that are listed in Kelly Starrett’s book “Ready to Run”. Kelly is a top notch phsyio in the States that also works with CrossFit athletes and has a really great way of getting the body moving for all types of activity, including running! Today I will get through the 1st of his 12 components of running well- Neutral Feet.
So here they are:
Are you Ready to Run- Part 2
In Part 1 of this blog series I explained why looking at your functionality, mobility, and strength as well as a few other lifestyle factors before you start running is important. In this blog I want to expand on this idea a bit more, with direct criteria and concepts I found in Kelly Starrett’s book “Ready to Run”. I highly suggest you buy his book if you are contemplating start to run, looking to run better, or looking to run without injury.
Today let’s look at the first of 12 ‘tests’ Kelly recommends performing on yourself before you start running.
- The first test or standard Kelly recommends is
Neutral feet, meaning you walk with your toes straight ahead, has become a fascinating concept for me lately. I didn’t realize how the large majority of the population not only walks with their toes out to the side, but drastically out the side. The position of the toes and feet determines how we use the musculature all the way up our entire body! A faulty, or turned out foot position is going to change how you use your calf muscle, knee joint, quad and hamstring muscles, and hip joint! For example, if your toes were constantly pointing out to the side you could imagine how the musculature in the lower leg would develop stronger on the lateral side, the outer quads and certain aspects of the glutes (butt) would also develop more strength than the inner quads (this is a generalization, you may develop other compensations). The longer we go with faulty foot positions, the more compensations we end up with in the body!
“There are not enough practitioners correcting the issue of foot position. We use our feet all day every day to get around. If we lack mobility or strength through the ankle joint, this is bound to show up elsewhere in the body”.
When our feet point straight ahead then each time our foot contacts the ground and we push off the muscles of the lower body work as they should. Running is bascically a series of thousands and thousands of jumps from one foot to the next, so you can imagine how even the slightest toe turn out could be aggravating. When the toes point straight ahead and you are running with good posture and good torso strength (abs and glutes) then each time the foot hits the ground your ‘jump’ is a coordinated, stable, strong movement, instead of a fall/rebound off the incorrectly placed joint structures which happens when we run out of alignment.
Running was my predominant source of exercise from 17-24. At the time I was completely unaware of mobility, proper running form, or proper running shoes. I did what the shoe store told me to and bought the $200 controlled motion shoes with orthotics inserted, and went on with my injuries and pain. Now I realize that over so many years of running my body had adapted to compensate for these biomechanical issues I had (detailed in post 1). Now that I can analyze my body I see that my toes are so turned out the big toe actually curves on both sides, I have extremely tight hamstrings, and the side structures of my lower body and are much tighter and stronger than my inner thighs. As I work to correct these issues so that I can walk, run, and move with my toes and feet in a neutral position, I look forward to being able to run in good positioning again.
Now that I have started running more often again it has become evident that I have SUPER WEAK FEET and ANKLES (as do most people). I notice this because my right foot tends to ‘slap’ the ground rather than run efficiently like my left. I have also started to get pain on the top of my right foot, and blisters on the back. My ride side hip flexors and inner thighs also end up seizing if I run too far because they are doing a ton of compensation work for my crappy foot position and strength. I am currently running in a zero drop wide toe box shoe. Basically what this means is it’s like I am running in bare feet. What this requires is that my ankles, feet, knees, hips, and lower body musculature works perfectly so that I can run well and prevent injury. As a result of running more often in these shoes it has become VERY evident that my right foot is weak, lazy, and doesn’t work properly. I’ve known this for a long time, but running has really highlighted this issue and caused me to look for solutions for the weakness in my feet. Alternatively someone might recommend an orthotic for the right foot. I see an orthotic as a cheat and not a solution to the problem. Shouldn’t I try to strengthen and retrain my foot to do what it is supposed to do so that I can run in any footwear I want (not just those with orthotics). Shouldn’t I try to solve the problem rather than mask the solution? I think so! This is the topic for a whole other exciting upcoming blog!
So why didn’t my crazy expensive running shoes work for me? In Kelly’s book he states that the $3 billion dollar running shoe industry is not backed by science. This shocks me! How on Earth were we sold this for many years? In Blog #3 of this series I will tackle what I have come to learn about running shoes and the differences between barefoot running, thick running shoe running, and minimalist shoe running.
What Can you Do To Correct Foot Position?
In the meantime, take a look at your foot stance. Do you stand, walk, and run with your ankles below your hip bones, or are your feet always too close together or too wide (wider than your hips?). When you stand naturally does your big toe point straight ahead or to the side? Do you have bunions? Do you have strong core muscles and know how to hold a strong upper body posture (similar to the Core Cylinder blog I posted recently Read the Blog HERE). If one of these things are ‘off’ it’s good to get started on a proper stretching, strengthening, and mobilizing routine for those body parts.
YOU DON’T WANT TO START RUNNING AND WALKING MORE REGULARLY WITH WEAK FEET AND POOR FOOT POSITIONS- THIS IS GOING TO END UP AS AN INJURY DOWN THE ROAD!
You can also start to thinking about practicing your posture all day. In my description of posture I talk about foot placement. By practicing your overall posture you will also correct your foot placements. I have referenced my four points of posture blog before, as well as my finding proper posture blog. The more you start to practice and build endurance in this position all day the more you will be able to maintain this position with walking and running.
What Else Could You Start Doing?
You might it very challenging and uncomfortable to get your foot in the right position and not end up compensating or injuring another area. It is important to mobilize and stretch the muscles that are holding your foot into their wrong position. It is best to mobilize and stretch the calves, quads, hip flexors, inner thighs, and hamstrings. It also best to start to open up the overall mobility of the hips. The best way to start doing these things is to check out my warm up/foam roll/ and cool down guide. Do all of the exercises I have listed as stretches and foam rolling for the lower body. Also start doing the bootstrappers and hip flexor/hamstring stretches daily, and to warm up for activity.
Here is the link with details on these stretches: https://unleashyouroptimalhealth.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/updated-version-dynamic-warm-up-foam-rolling-and-cool-down/
- Remmeber, each individual body has compensated in different ways over time, and it would be of value to you to learn how your body has compensated, and why you no longer walk with your feet straight ahead.
Kelly also suggests a series of mobility exercises that will get you started on mobilization. You can find details about them by reading his booking, or signing up for his site mobilitywod.com, where you get access to all his mobility examples. The fundamentals of what you should mobilize are:
- Stretching and rolling the hip flexors
- Stretching and rolling the inner thighs.
- Mobilizing the hamstrings, he calls It hamstring flossing. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weXE10IztZU)
- Stretching and rolling the core and glutes
- Improving full range of motion of the hips
What is the next step in optimizing foot position?
In the next few blogs I plan on using some very valuable information found in Katy Bowman’s books about foot position, foot pain, and minimalist shoes to share with you further exercises and stretches you can do directly to your feet to optimize foot position and placement to prevent running injuries, aches, and pains!
I hope this helps you on your quest to less running injuries, and optimizing the way your lower leg works!