The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) estimates that by the age of 50, most Americans have logged 75,000 miles on their feet. If you’re a runner, you’ll probably log even more than that. With that much time spent on your feet, taking care of them is critical to a runner’s overall health. If you aren’t already doing foot drills to strengthen your feet and stabilize your ankles, here’s why and how you should start:
WHY FOOT STRENGTH IS CRITICAL
As a runner you probably know you need strong feet, but what you might not realize is exactly why. Of course your feet are what makes contact with the ground to propel you forward, but they also do a lot more for your legs than you may usually think about. If your feet aren’t strong enough, you actually risk injury in other places.
“Foot muscles are very important ankle stabilizers,” shares podiatrist Dr. Jackie Sutera, a Vionic Innovation Lab expert and APMA spokesperson. “If they are weak, it is very common to sprain your ankle, lose your balance or even favor/compensate, which can all lead to injury.”
A big influencer on foot strength is our shoes — both those worn when running and when not — and one study found the longitudinal arch can suffer from reduced stiffness and impair our gait. The culprit? Conventional shoes. Dr. Sutera notes the importance of wearing your running shoes only when you are running and having other shoes for everyday wear. However, just as you would get fit for and choose your running shoes wisely, you should put care into what you wear when you aren’t out for a run. It will have an impact on your feet out on the roads, trails or track.
“When not running, you should think of this time and treat yourself as being in ‘active recovery,’” adds Dr. Sutera. “Going from high heels at the office to running at the gym and then barefoot at night is not a good idea, especially when training. Be kind to your feet: think commuter shoes, sensible shoes during the day and supportive slippers at home.”
6 FOOT DRILLS TO TRY
In addition to choosing the right footwear throughout your entire day, there are a series of exercises you can do to strengthen different parts of your feet. These foot drills are a weekly staple at Rogue Running, a running community with training groups and specialty running shop based in Austin, Texas.
“We recommend doing these after two or three runs every week,” says Chris McClung, coach and co-owner of Rogue Running. “You should do each barefoot and on a soft surface walking over 30–35 yards. Some people might find that number six is painful barefoot and should do that one in shoes.”
- Outside of the Foot: Walk with feet facing forward with weight balancing on the outside of each foot.
- Inside of the Foot: Walk with feet facing forward with weight balancing on the inside of each foot.
- Toes In (Pigeon Toe): With feet flat on the ground, turn your toes inward with feet at an angle and walk forward.
- Toes Out (Charlie Chaplin): With feet flat on the ground, turn your toes outward with feet at an angle and walk forward.
- Backwards on Tiptoes: Turn around and get up on your tiptoes, walking backward over the course of the 30–35 yards.
- Forward on Heels: Face forward and get up on your heels, walking forward over the course of 30–35 yards (if you feel any pain, wear shoes).
IMPROVEMENTS TO EXPECT
The good news is any runner — from beginner to pro — can add these foot drills into their post-run routine. By adding these short exercises into your training, McClung says you can expect a big return on your investment in terms of staying healthy.
“The primary purpose of these foot drills is to strengthen, stretch and mobilize the muscles in the lower legs,” he notes. “They are designed to help reduce the likelihood of plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and other foot and ankle injuries. Essentially, you should see fewer of these types of issues and injuries if you do them regularly, because you are improving the strength and mobility of the ankles and feet.”
In addition to adding these six moves into your routine, there are a few other things you can do regularly to help keep your feet and legs healthy. Dr. Sutera suggests massage, calf stretches, IT band stretches and foam rolling, focusing special attention on the legs and back.
“Also, strengthen feet by picking up objects with your toes, use resistance bands to flex your ankles and perform ankle rotations, calf raises and balance exercises,” she adds. “You shouldn’t wait until you have a problem to start caring about foot health! All of the bad habits eventually catch up; think moderation and variants.”