Linking current research to running
By Nikki Reiter
Being injured sucks. I recently hit a setback to my post-maternity training due to some ‘stop-me-dead-in-my-tracks’ arch pain. From this stems a reminder for ‘prehab, prehab, prehab!’ This personal incident comes along with an aptly timed publication about a new paradigm concerning foot health – the ‘foot core system.’
While we traditionally associate our ‘core’ with our pelvic region (and all the muscles that insert into it), this new publication highlights that the foot also has its own core, comprising of ‘intrinsic muscles’ (meaning the muscles fully contained within the foot) that are largely ignored when it comes to the typical muscles we associate with running.
The intrinsic muscles share a relationship with the extrinsic muscles. In order for the ‘big-action’ lower leg muscles to work properly, they need sensory information from the tiny little muscles within the foot that detect motion. These intrinsic muscles also provide the stability our arches need to support our standing, walking and running and allow for proper healthy movement patterns.
So, make sure you’re not ignoring your feet! Whether you’re currently injured or not, there appears to be great value in having strong, healthy feet. Some foot exercises to try for strengthening feet:
Short foot (foot doming) – This exercise isolates the plantar intrinsic muscles, crucial to the ‘foot core system.’ As per the instructions in the video, progress this exercise from sitting, to standing, to one-legged standing…then squatting and hopping for more advanced exercises.
Towel curls – Although this exercise doesn’t focus on the plantar instrinsic muscles, they activate other flexors (flexor halluces longus and flexor digitorum longus) important for healthy feet.
Toe yoga – Another set of recruitment, endurance and flexibility exercises for feet.
Note: These exercises may not be for everyone. If you have an existing injury, consult with your physiotherapist before starting them.
As for the concept of training or walking barefoot (not even in socks) to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot, research has supported cross-sectional gains in the foot core muscles with barefoot training. Whether these increases are related to a reduction in running-related injuries has yet to be determined at this time.
Nikki Reiter is a Biomechanist and certified NCCP Performance Coach in Endurance Running. She offers online gait analysis through Run Right Gait Analysis. Visit her website www.run-right.ca for more information.