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