SU­PER­CHARGE YOUR STRIDE

Tips to care for your feet so you can go longer and stronger when you run.

Shape (Singapore) - - Contents -

You prob­a­bly don’t re­alise it as you’re run­ning, but your feet are pound­ing the pave­ment some 600 times per kilo­me­tre, and en­dur­ing a force of two to four times your body weight with each foot strike. No won­der up to 79 per cent of run­ners ex­pe­ri­ence some kind of foot in­jury each year, ac­cord­ing to re­search in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine.

“There are many sen­sory nerve fi­bres in your feet,” ex­plains Luke Bon­giorno, the man­ag­ing clin­i­cal di­rec­tor at Orthol­ogy, a phys­i­cal ther­apy and sports medicine clinic in New York City. “If you don’t take care of your feet, you won’t prop­erly stim­u­late those nerves, which can throw off your pro­pri­o­cep­tion [the body’s abil­ity to know where it is in space] and thus cause the wrong mus­cles to fire.”

Dur­ing a run, when you push off your big toe, its nerves sig­nal your body to ac­ti­vate your glutes. But if you are not able to get those feel­ings through your toe, the glutes won’t mo­bilise, and other, less pow­er­ful mus­cles will com­pen­sate.

Keep­ing your feet in top run­ning or­der takes some ded­i­ca­tion, but the pay-off is worth it. Whether you hit the tread­mill, track, trail, or street, follow our ex­pert ad­vice.

STRENGTH-TRAIN YOUR SOLES

“When your feet are stronger, you’ll have bet­ter propul­sion, which can help you run faster and more ef­fi­ciently,” Luke says. He rec­om­mends big-toe raises as you sit or stand to help strengthen the small, deep mus­cles of the foot that help con­trol its run­ning mo­tion: With your feet placed firmly on the ground, try to lift just the big toes; do three sets of 10 on each foot, al­ter­nat­ing sides. Then, be­fore you go to bed, in­crease your arch strength by stand­ing with your bare feet on the ground and push­ing down through your heels and toes, pulling them closer to­gether so that you’re lift­ing through the arches.

Both of these drills are es­pe­cially key for those who wear high heels reg­u­larly, says Jackie Sutera, a New York City po­di­a­trist and Vionic Shoes In­no­va­tion Lab Mem­ber. “Heels can cause painful in­flam­ma­tion in the arch, which can eas­ily turn into plan­tar fasci­itis,” she says. “They also shift all your weight to the ball of your foot and toes, which can pinch nerves there.”

RE­THINK YOUR SNEAKER TYPE

The the­ory used to be that run­ners with flat feet au­to­mat­i­cally looked for sneak­ers with ex­tra arch sup­port, that those with high arches sought out more cush­ion­ing, and that the rest would go for more pared-down sneaks. Then came a wave of re­search sug­gest­ing that all of us should take off the train­ing wheels and try min­i­mal­ist sneak­ers. “This older way of think­ing just looked at peo­ple’s feet while they were stand­ing,” says Ge­of­frey Gray, the founder of and head of re­search for Heeluxe, a Cal­i­for­ni­abased com­pany that spe­cialises in sci­en­tific test­ing of footwear. “Now we look at peo­ple in mo­tion to see how their feet in­ter­act with shoes.” (See be­low for the new rules on how to choose.)

It boils down to this: Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­search, the best pre­dic­tor for a good run­ning shoe is the com­fort you ex­pe­ri­ence when wear­ing it. A re­view in the Bri­tish Jour­nal

of Sports Medicine con­cluded that sim­ply choos­ing run­ning shoes that were the most com­fort­able re­sulted in fewer in­juries. “You should feel sup­ported through the in­step, or the top part of the arch, and feel as if the shoe dis­ap­pears from the ball of the foot to the toes,” Ge­of­frey says. You also want a snug fit at the nav­ic­u­lar, a boat-shaped bone in the top in­ner side of the foot that con­nects the an­kle to the cu­nei­form bones of the foot. Lace your sneak­ers up through the very top eye­lets, he sug­gests.

BE IN THE STRIKE ZONE

Where your foot hits the ground as you run can make all the dif­fer­ence in how your feet – and joints – feel

post-work­out. Heel strik­ers tend to have a higher risk of in­jury (for ex­am­ple, stress frac­tures and plan­tar fasci­itis) as com­pared with fore­foot strik­ers, a Har­vard Uni­ver­sity study showed. Like­wise, switch­ing to a fore­foot strike could re­duce the stress on your knee, ac­cord­ing to a study in Medicine & Sci­ence in Sports & Ex­er­cise.

“Land­ing on your fore­foot is nat­u­rally softer, be­cause your calf helps to cush­ion the land­ing,” ex­plains Irene Davis, the di­rec­tor of the Spauld­ing Na­tional Run­ning Cen­ter at Har­vard Med­i­cal School. But even if you can’t re­train your­self to land dif­fer­ently, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to in­jury.

When Har­vard re­searchers stud­ied a group of heel-strik­ing recre­ational fe­male run­ners, they dis­cov­ered that those who had never been in­jured had one thing in com­mon: They landed more softly than run­ners who had ex­pe­ri­enced in­jury. If you can ac­tu­ally hear your foot strike the ground when you run, you’re prob­a­bly land­ing too hard, Irene says. Next time you run, ad­just your form to see if you can make your strikes softer sound­ing, she ad­vises.

PAM­PER YOUR SOLES

Be­fore your run, a dy­namic warm-up (high knees, walk­ing lunges, butt kicks) will bring blood flow to your mus­cles, in­clud­ing the small ones in your feet, prep­ping your whole body to move more ef­fi­ciently. Af­ter your run, gen­tly mas­sag­ing your feet for at least 10 min­utes can pre­vent and al­le­vi­ate foot pain and in­jury. It also stim­u­lates the nerves of your feet, in­creas­ing your aware­ness of how your foot hits the ground, Luke says.

If you don’t have a ded­i­cated foot­mas­sage tool (see op­po­site), a lacrosse ball will do the trick. While stand­ing (or seated for less pres­sure), roll the ball slowly along the arch and through the toes, stop­ping when you find a point of ten­sion and rest­ing on that spot as you take five slow, deep breaths. An­other op­tion? Freeze a wa­ter bot­tle, then use it to roll out your feet for five min­utes post-run.

TAKE A REST DAY

Just like the mus­cles and bones in your limbs, those in your feet need time to re­coup, says Den­nis Car­done, the chief of pri­mary care sports medicine for NYU Lan­gone Med­i­cal Cen­ter. Avoid­ing two or more suc­ces­sive days of run­ning is the best way to pre­vent overuse in­juries, but if you’re train­ing for a race, make sure to work in at least one re­cov­ery day and cross-train on al­ter­nate days: Bike, swim, lift weights, do yoga – any­thing with­out

jumps and jolts. And if you’re try­ing to up your mileage, do it grad­u­ally, in­creas­ing by 10 to 20 per cent each week, Den­nis notes.

Also, give your go-to sneaks a timeout. “The foam in your shoes be­comes com­pacted as you run, then it slowly re­bounds to its nor­mal height af­ter your work­out,” Ge­of­frey ex­plains. “The re­cov­ery pe­riod varies for each shoe and de­pends on how much you weigh and how fast you run, but the more time be­tween your runs, the more the foam re­bounds.” If you do run on back-to-back days, keep two pairs of the same-style sneak­ers so you can swop them out.

RE­TREAD EVERY 684KM

Your rate of im­pact be­gins to in­crease dra­mat­i­cally when a run­ning shoe reaches the 684km mark, re­gard­less of the brand, ac­cord­ing to data from Mile­stone Sports, a sports tech­nol­ogy com­pany in Mary­land. “The goal is to re­place your shoes be­fore you start feel­ing aches,” says Ben­nett Grimes, a prod­uct line man­ager of footwear at Brooks Run­ning in Seat­tle.

The cush­ion­ing is usu­ally the first thing to break down, be­cause mid­soles are de­signed to ab­sorb shock and pro­tect the body, he says. If you have an older pair of run­ning shoes that you haven’t tracked mileage on, you can also look at the tread. “If there is any wear and tear on the tread, it’s time to re­place them,” Ben­nett ad­vises.

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