Bottoms Up: Strengthen Your Feet to Run Faster & Stronger

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by VALERIE HUNT

Bottoms Up: Strengthen Your Feet to Run Faster & Stronger

People want to believe that there is a magic shoe….Just taking off your shoes is not the answer — you must also strengthen the foot and then learn proper movement patterns.
When I started teaching Pose running technique over a decade ago, I switched over to minimalist shoes. All of a sudden, I was able to “feel” my run and especially my form errors such as heel striking and hitting the ground too hard. As my runners transitioned to this new running form and gave up extra cushion in their shoes, we had to add foot strength exercises to our training, as most of us were experiencing discomfort initially. Barefoot training, running on grass, and running on sand — as well as specific foot strength exercises — have been part of my training and coaching ever since. It’s the best way to transition to minimalist shoes and really be able to run “as nature intended,” using your shoes simply for protecting your feet from the elements.

The reality is that the running shoe industry has been adding so much extra cushion that we have an epidemic of people with “pudding feet” — a technical term my physical therapist used when she was teaching me how to strengthen the foot. The lack of strength in the foot leads to errors in movement because the runner cannot feel what is happening, so s/he continues to make mistakes such as hitting the ground too hard or heel striking. In recent studies conducted on the impact forces of heel striking, Dr. Lieberman of Harvard University found that heel striking is similar to hitting your heel with a hammer using three times your bodyweight. Running and landing on the forefoot, with the foot closer to the body, was found to only have an impact of 1.7% of total body mass vs 6.8% with a heel strike. Here is a link to the full article: http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/4BiomechanicsofFootStrike.html

Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes was thought to be the answer to this problem; however, unless you are using correct movement and have a strong foundation, this will only create more pain/injuries. In fact, the number of runners injured by trying to run “naturally” ended up winning a lawsuit against a shoe company. People want to believe that there is a magic shoe, but the only magic is in the work you the athlete are willing to do. Just taking off your shoes is not the answer — you must also strengthen the foot and then learn proper movement patterns.

The good news is that strength training your feet is simple, and you will feel the benefits quickly. There are many exercises to choose from, but below are three exercises that are easy to add into your routine. Once you incorporate these three simple tips, you will be running, lifting and moving stronger overall while preventing injuries.

These are basic strength exercises, so please make sure to add in mobility as well. Rolling the bottom of the foot with a yogatuneup® ball is a great way to warm up for your strength exercises.

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