Impact Forces: Simple Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet, Part 3
The first part of this series focused on strengthening your feet with simple exercises. You have been able to strengthen your ankles and knees and now it’s time to focus on your feet. If you are not yet familiar with these exercises, then I suggest that you read them before continuing.
If you want to get better at walking, running or jumping, then you need to train your feet. When I was training my own children, I always told them that they needed to work hard on their feet every day. They understood what I meant and were very motivated when it came time for me to teach them the same thing. So, if you are going to spend any amount of time outside, make sure that you keep your feet strong.
Here is a list of some of the most common problems that many runners experience:
Poor gait – A runner’s stride length is shorter than his or her height. Because of this, the weight transfers from one leg to another much faster than it would on a normal person. This causes the feet to slap against the ground with each step and it also causes the legs to hit the ground harder. To help with this, you can try to soften each step by imagining that you are running on sand at the beach.
Overpronation – Overpronators have low arches in their feet and their ankles roll inward when they run or walk. Overpronation causes a lot of stress on the knee, as the foot’s natural rolling motion bends the knee in an unnatural direction. This unnatural motion can also cause the foot to twist and push unnaturally on other parts of the leg. Overpronation is easily fixed by wearing or purchasing proper footwear with an insert that prevents the foot from overpronating.
Tight Calves – The calf muscles are constantly working to keep your feet from hitting the ground too hard. Because of this, the calf muscles (also called the gastrocnemius and soleus) can become short and tight. Stretching these muscles out after a run can help prevent cramping.
Shinsplints – Sharp pains along the front part of your legs are usually a sign of developing shinsplints. This pain is caused by excessive force being placed on the connective tissues in the front part of the leg. Running on hills and uneven ground can also cause shinsplints. To prevent this condition, you can make sure to stretch the calves after a run and also do some strength training for the lower leg.
Plantar Fasciitis – Sharp pains in the bottom of your feet are probably plantar fasciitis. Many runners develop this condition if they do not strengthen their feet and Achilles tendons. Repeated stress causes fibers in the foot to become inflamed. This can be treated by stretching the calf muscles and doing exercises to strengthen the feet and lower legs.
Corns and Calluses – Many people develop hardened skin in the same spot of the bottom of their feet. This is often a result of the foot rubbing up against an ill-fitting shoe or an improperly positioned bones in the foot. Corns are caused by hardened skin forming underneath the foot. This skin protects a callus, which is softer skin, from being irritated. Tearing the top layer of skin off a corn or callus can be very painful and should be avoided.
Applying special creams and pumicing the area can help soften the hardened skin.
5. What is the most common reason runners get injured?
The number one cause of injuries in runners is overuse. This occurs when a person puts more stress on their body than it can handle. It is very important to increase the intensity and duration of your training slowly to avoid injuries.
You should also be aware that running on hard, uneven, or rocky surfaces can lead to increased stress on your muscles and joints. Soft surfaces such as dirt trails or crushed gravel are much kinder to the body, so try to run on these types of surfaces whenever possible.
6. I just started running and every time I run my foot hits the ground with a thud.
Why is this happening and what can I do to correct it?
The most common cause of a foot hitting the ground with a thud is the heel striking the ground. This is when your heel hits the ground first, rather than your foot rolling towards the toes as it should.
There are a few reasons you might be heel striking. One common reason is the length of your legs compared to the length of your torso. This causes your leg to naturally kick up at a perpendicular angle when your foot hits the ground. To avoid this, you should try to increase your stride by lifting your knees higher with each step.
Another common reason for heel striking is weak leg muscles. This causes a runner to shorten their stride in an effort to avoid pain in the muscles. To avoid this, you should try to slowly increase the distance of your stride.
One final reason for hitting the ground with a thud is if the runner is overweight. The extra weight causes the runner to hit the ground harder. To lessen the force of each step, a runner should lose weight when starting to run.
7. I have been running for a few months now and I get pain on the inside of my shins.
I’ve started to stretch more and roll my ankles in circles before running, but the pain persists.
What else can I do?
Pain on the inside of the shins is usually caused by shin splints. This is when tiny muscles under the larger muscles of the legs become inflamed due to stress or overuse. There are a few things that you can do to treat this.
Stretching should always be performed before and after exercise. This will help relax the muscles and prevent them from tightening up. Ice can also be applied directly to the painful area for 10 minutes at a time to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Stretching should also be performed after exercise. This will help the muscles relax and recover from a workout. Always remember to stretch lightly and not to the point of pain–a slight burn should never be felt.
8. The soles of my feet burn and sting every time I run.
What can be done to prevent this?
The soles of your feet burning and stinging is usually caused by ill-fitting shoes. This is very common in new runners who often experience pain after running a short distance due to their body not being used to the activity. It is also very common in runners who typically wear shoes with stiff soles.
If you experience this problem, try going for a short run (no longer than 1 mile) with an old pair of shoes that have very soft soles. If the burning sensation does not occur, your current pair of shoes may be too stiff for your feet. You should try to find a new pair of running shoes with softer soles.
9. I’ve been running for a few months now and my legs occasionally twitch during a race.
Is this normal?
Most twitching is not caused by anything serious. It can commonly be triggered by a new running shoes or running on a hot day. The twitching itself is not harmful and should disappear within a few days.
If the twitching becomes excessive, you should consider adjusting your running form or temporarily reducing the distance of your runs. Twitching is caused by minor nerve damage and can be a sign of overtraining if significant twitching occurs during training. If you feel pain in your legs during a run, you should stop running immediately. Pain is an indication that you are doing damage to your muscles.
10. I have sharp pains in my shins when I run downhill.
How can I avoid this?
Shin splints occur when tiny muscles under the larger muscles of the legs become inflamed due to stress or overuse. There are several things that you can do to treat this.
First, you should try to change your running form. If you overpronate (foot rolls in when you land), make an effort to supinate (foot rolls out when you land). Overpronation can cause your legs to twist slightly, which may cause pain.
Shifting your weight from one foot to the other can also cause pain. When running downhill, try to put more of your weight on the uphill foot.
These solutions will not work for all people. Additionally, there may be an underlying cause for the shin splints, such as a fall or other trauma. If shin splints occur without any obvious cause, a trip to a doctor for an X-ray is in order.
11. My knees hurt every time I run. I’ve been told I have weak leg muscles, but I don’t want to spend the time to exercise them.
Is there anything I can do?
Yes. Some doctors recommend taking 1000 mg of Glucosamine three times a day to strengthen joints and reduce pain due to arthritis, while others claim it is ineffective. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to take the risk of trying it out.
If you don’t want to take Glucosamine, there are other ways that work as well. Strengthening your leg muscles will give your knees more support so they don’t hurt as much. To do this, use a wall to brace yourself as you do leg lifts. Start with one leg and lift it about two or three inches off the ground, then lower it, and repeat this twenty times. Then do the same with your other leg.
Build up to 100 reps of each.
Another good exercise is to lie on your back and raise your legs straight up in the air. Keep them as straight as possible and then lower them back to the floor. If you want, you can put your hands behind your head as support and to take some of the weight off of your knees.
If these exercises seem easy to you, you can make them harder by holding small weights in your hands. You should start to feel your leg muscles aching the next day after doing these exercises. This means that they are working!
12. I am always getting cold when I run.
What can I do?
It is important to dress warmly when you run in cold weather. If you feel as though you get cold very easily, you might even want to try running in the morning or evening, since the temperature is considerably higher during those times.
Wear layers of clothing. This will help to trap your body heat and keep you warm. If you wear too many layers of clothing, you won’t be able to move as quickly, but you will be warmer.
Mittens are better than gloves. Your fingers lose most of their heat through your fingers, so if you only have thin gloves, your hands will get colder faster. Hand and toe warmers can provide an extra boost of warmth for those particularly cold days.
Running with a partner will help to keep you warm. You will also be able to provide extra clothing if it is needed.
A thin plastic water bottle can be useful for running in cold weather. Fill it with hot water and rubberband the cap on so the water doesn’t leak out. When you are ready to run, you can hug the bottle against your body to transfer the heat to you. This water bottle can also be used to wet clothing in an emergency to help you stay warm.
A high visibility jacket is good for staying warm since people will be able to see you from farther away, which means they are less likely to hit you with their car.
Wear a hat or hood to keep your head warm. Be creative if necessary!
If your breath fogs up a lot when you run, it’s a good indication that you’re running at the right temperature.
If you need to run at a different time of day because of school or work, try to run when it’s the coldest.
A couple of hours before sunset is always a good time to run. The temperature will be perfect and the sun will have long since disappeared behind the horizon. The only drawback is that it will still be fairly bright. This makes drivers less likely to see you, so you will have to stay alert.
You can also run at night. This is a good time to run if you’re trying to hide the fact that you run from something. You will still have to be careful though. Carry a flashlight and make sure you are very visible by wearing bright clothing. You can also try running on a path that is adjacent to a road since drivers can see you better than if you were all alone in the woods.
Make sure you have the safety features ( Reflective gear, headlamp, etc. )
If you run with a dog, be extra cautious since he/she will attract attention.
Wear layers of clothing to create more bulk so it’s harder for a predator to grab you.
An old sweat shirt makes a good belt to hold your pants up. You can also roll the sleeves up over your wrists for added warmth.
Put your running shoes in the freezer before you go to bed to help keep them cool when you run.
Wrap your feet. You can make a simple foot “wrap” from an old cotton t-shirt. Cut the shirt into strips about 2 inches wide. Roll the strips tightly, then knot them to keep their shape. Place one strip between each of your toes, and two more under the metatarsal joints on top of your feet.
This will help keep you from getting blisters when you run in new shoes or on hot days.
Wear a watch with an alarm that’s loud enough to hear over road noise, and set it to go off at the time you need to turn around and head back.
Buy or make shoes that offer more support than your regular training shoes do.
Splurge on the best sunglasses you can afford. The wrap-around kind will keep sun from getting in around the sides, and will make it easier for cars to see your eyes.
High-intensity Reflective Tape is a good idea for your shoes, ankles, and arms (so cars can see you at night).
Wear brightly colored running clothes. You might even try to find some with reflectives on them.
Use a dollar store poncho or trash bags to keep dry during rainy days.
Run with a friend. It’s safer, and more fun anyway!
Use a small flashlight at night. It will make you more visible to cars, and help you see potential hazards on the road.
If it’s too hot, too cold, or just plain too nasty outside, run somewhere that has climate control and lots of room. Many community centers offer access to gyms or sports facilities for a small fee (usually between $5-$15/month). Some will even let you just come in and run on their treadmills for free, as long as you don’t mind signing in with the front desk and being clocked on the in-house surveillance cams.
With a membership to any of these places, you can also swim, bike, rollerblade, play basketball or anything else you like.
Set your watch to beep at you at 1-mile intervals. You can also use a timer or alarm clock if you don’t have a watch that can do it.
Keep a log of your run, including what you wore, the temperature, how you felt before and during the run, what time you started and finished, etc.
Sources & references used in this article:
Balance improvements in older women: effects of exercise training by JO Judge, C Lindsey, M Underwood… – Physical …, 1993 – academic.oup.com
Biomechanics and muscle coordination of human walking: part II: lessons from dynamical simulations and clinical implications by FE Zajac, RR Neptune, SA Kautz – Gait & posture, 2003 – Elsevier
The millennial consumer in the texts of our times: Experience and entertainment by MB Holbrook – Journal of Macromarketing, 2000 – journals.sagepub.com
Fix your feet by J Hewett – 2009 – top-form-fitness.com
The Routledge introduction to theatre and performance studies by E Fischer-Lichte – 2014 – books.google.com