Your foot and leg muscles are just as important to your running form as your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, but they often get overlooked in strength training routines.
If you’re going to ramp up training, you can’t afford to ignore your foundation. Your lower extremity muscles need to be strong, resilient and working in a coordinated way to efficiently store energy with each stride and provide solid balance to keep you going for the miles. Neglecting foot exercises that work these important running muscles can leave you prone to injury and lower your running economy.
The muscles of the lower limb and the foot are divided into two categories according to their function. THE local the muscles are the intrinsic muscles of the foot, often referred to as the “heart of the foot”. They are responsible for maintaining the shape of your arch and absorbing shock. Their cross-section is smaller than that of global lower limb muscles. The gross muscles are larger and are responsible for moving your ankle and flexing and extending your toes.
Weak local muscles can lead to an unstable arch that does not absorb shock very well and leads to faulty biomechanics. When local muscles fail to quickly stabilize the foot, global muscles must do so at a disadvantage, both because this is not their primary function and because they have a longer reaction time, aggravating instability. This can lead to overall muscle overuse injuries, plantar fasciitis, and even stress fractures later in your running season.
Traditional foot strengthening exercises typically involve curling the toes to pull a towel towards you or pick up marbles with your toes. These types of exercises will target the local muscles of the foot but also involve the global muscles. Ideally, “core of the foot” training should target only the local stabilizing muscles of the foot.
Your lower extremity strengthening routine
Although your mileage and running intensity will be low in the offseason, you will have time to devote to building stronger muscles and hopefully reducing your risk of injury. This routine consists of three exercises you can do daily (short foot, toe spread, and big toe press) and two exercises you can do two to three times a week (leg swings and calf raise to big toe press). toe).
1) Exercise for short feet
The purpose of the short foot exercise is to “shorten” the foot by contracting the intrinsic muscles to elevate the arch of the foot, or in scientific terms, by pulling the first metatarsophalangeal joint towards the calcaneus (heel bone).
– Sit barefoot on a chair. Form a 90 degree angle at your knees and ankles. Without crushing your toes, try to shorten your foot by bringing the sole of your foot towards your heel, arching the arches of your feet. You can focus on one foot at a time or do both at once.
– Try not to curl or extend your toes and make sure to keep your foot neutral, not tipping in or out – it’s harder than you think. Note that being completely barefoot will improve your ability to sense sensory input from the bottom surface of the foot and help you develop the sense of creating shortfoot posture.
– Hold for eight seconds and relax. Repeat 5-15 times.
– Practice this throughout the day. You can even train sitting at your desk.
– Once you have become proficient in sitting on short feet, try the exercise standing on two legs, then on one leg. Eventually, you can activate your arch this way when performing functional activities such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, jumps, even while running.
2) Press the big toe
– Press your big toe into the ground while lifting your other four toes.
– Hold each press for eight seconds and do 12 to 15 reps per foot.
– Train throughout the day.
3) Toe spread
– Try to spread your toes as wide as possible while staying flat on the floor – be careful not to bend or extend them. Focus especially on moving your big toe away from your other toes. You will feel your arch muscle contract—a study found it to be one of the most effective ways to activate your arch, if the position of your toes is not compromised by a bunion.
– Hold for eight seconds and relax. Start with five repetitions and increase to 25 to 30.
– Train throughout the day.
4) Leg swings
Unlike dynamic leg swings which use a large amplitude – swinging to the end of your range of motion – do these leg swings with a small amplitude to challenge your balance and hip and ankle stability.
– Stand on one leg in bare feet and create Short Foot Pose.
– Swing the unsupported leg forward and backward 15 times.
– Without rest, swing the same leg left and right in front of your supporting leg, also 15 times.
– Repeat this sequence without resting, then repeat on your opposite leg.
5) Big Toe Press Calf Raise
– Stand barefoot on the edge of a staircase.
– Let your heels drop below the level of the stairs.
– Do a traditional calf raise, then finish by pressing down on your big toe. This part is difficult for most.
– Feel free to hold on to something for balance. Do 12 to 15 reps.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, CEP is a strength and conditioning specialist and co-owner of a personal training gym, JKPackagingin St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.