Strengthening feet and calves October 28 2015, 0 Comments
We have said a few times now that starting barefoot-style running should be taken slowly to allow the muscles in the feet and calves to build up. Your feet, ankles and calves will not only because you need them to run, but also because without a layer of padding on your sole to spread the impact, you will need to correct continuously for small variations in the way that your feet land on different surfaces. After a while, your feet and calves will look (and be) tougher. Running does this, but some additional exercises can help to accelerate development and the transition to enjoyment. These should normally be done on rest days between runs.
Building strength as a general rule requires higher loads on the muscles and a smaller number of S-L-O-W repeats. If any of these exercises feel like too much, start with a smaller number of repeats and build up gradually, say by one repeat a week. Always exercise both feet equally.
Stop bending down to pick things up - use your feet to get them off the floor. Towels and clothing can be picked up by flexing the toes downwards to hold a fold of the material between the toes and the ball of the foot. Use both feet alternately, and if you don't pick up that many things during the day, exercise by picking up a towel ten times with each foot. Shoes can be picked up by grasping them between the big and second toes. For exercise, this can be done with progressively bigger items such as marbles or golf balls - if you are able to pick up tennis balls, you have reached champion status.
Toe spread and press can be done by putting some corks between your toes - the happy part of this is that you will need to drink eight bottles of wine... Alternate firstly squeezing the corks between the toes, and secondly trying to spread the toes wide enough apart to release them - ten seconds for the squeeze, two second break, and then ten seconds for the stretch. Repeat five times with each foot.
Feet and calves
Stand in front of a table or other such surface so that you can rest your hands lightly on it for balance. Stand on one foot (I tuck the other behind the calf of standing leg). Raise yourself to the maximum height to a slow count of ten, hold for two seconds, and then lower slowly to another count of ten. Repeat five times and then do the other foot. If you want to get additional benefit from this, do it with the ball of your foot on a stair so that the heel can travel downwards from the horizontal as well as up, which will help to develop the muscle through its full range of movement.
Sit and point your leg straight out horizontally with your foot pointing as a continuation of the leg, toes pointed. Lift your toes up to a ten-count until they form a right-angle to the foot, hold for two and then straighten out to a ten-count. Repeat five times with each foot. Martial arts folks achieve a good right-angle doing this so that when they kick somebody they hit them with the ball of the foot and don't hurt their toes.
Sit with your leg pointed out in front of you, foot relaxed. Flex the big toe upwards and the others downwards and then twist the foot inwards as far as it will go. Reverse the direction of the toes (big - down, others - up) and twist the foot in the other direction as far as it will go. Again, do this to a 10-2-10 count.
Sit with your leg pointed out in front of you. Flex the foot upwards as far as you can, and then rotate it slowly, still as far as you can, to the outside, down, inwards and then back to the start. Hold for two seconds and reverse direction, with each direction taking ten seconds to complete. Repeat five times with each foot.
If you are anywhere near a sandy area, try running on that, either barefoot, or with ZEM shoes as they are excellent at protecting the soles and still keeping the sand out. Your feet and calves work harder on a giving surface.
After a strength-building session, take some time to stretch the muscles out again. You will normally notice within a couple of weeks that running becomes easier.
Barefoot or cushioning? February 24 2015, 0 Comments
Last week, a friend sent me an article from the International New York Times describing the arrival of maximalist, highly cushioned shoes. You might be surprised that such a topic would appear on this website, as we are at the other end of the running philosophy spectrum. I was initially a little reluctant to read it because I was sure that I wouldn't like what I saw. In psychology, this is known as 'confirmational bias' - an acceptance of anything that confirms one's existing beliefs, and rejection of anything which contradicts them. However, I did read it, and in the interests of open-mindedness (the opposite of confirmational bias...), here is what I found and think.
On the basis of the story of a prominent long-distance runner whose plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the feet, was resolved by using maximalist shoes, they seem to work. Plantar fasciitis was exactly the issue that plagued Christopher McDougal, author of the best-selling Born to Run, and his cure was to change to barefoot running, so it seems that different approaches can come to the same resolution. The article emphasised that, even with the cushioning, correct running style on the forefoot is important. This uses foot pronation and the gradual lowering of the heel to absorb impact, wonderfully demonstrated by professor Daniel Lieberman at Harvard.
I guess that each individual has to find his or her solution to their running needs, and this can be different for different people. For my part, switching to barefoot running (with barefoot shoes) has been life-changing, and I shall stick with it. And, even in this article, I found a salve for my confirmational bias - the long-distance runner who uses the maximalist shoes still runs shorter distances barefoot to keep his feet strong. He drily concludes that people who spend more time improving their bodies as opposed to shopping for shoes are the ones who are going to run better.