Reset Your Running Foundation This Winter
When runners have suffered a string of injuries and find running as they used to becoming impossible, it may be time to do “ctrl-alt-del”-reboot and reset running from the ground up.
My advice stems from personal experience, from helping runners at Two Rivers Treads, and with runners in the US Air Force and around the country at clinics we host. After multiple injuries, foot surgery, and being told not to run, I started over in 2000 and have not suffered an injury since. My reset focused on strengthening the feet and landing softer. I went into racing flats at first for my daily training.
Six years ago I began cutting shoes down to a level platform. Even most racing shoes at the time, although flexible and light, still elevated the heel significantly. As my understanding of foot mechanics and kinetic chain evolved I gradually started dabbling in barefoot running. I now mix shoes and barefoot and because of this have reset my foundation in strength, proprioception, balance and movement.
To successfully reboot, you must be willing to back down in intensity and distance while your structure strengthens in places that may have been neglected. Cut your mileage by 50 percent and lower the intensity. Use some of the time you would be running to do the exercises described below, trusting that the end result will be a stronger form, less injury down-time and PR performances.
Here are three resets to work on this year if you’re ready to reboot your form:
Take your shoes off
Why: You land softer barefoot, especially on hard roads. You fix form flaws. Barefoot running forces you to get the foot down to the ground properly and engage the glutes as you stride. Barefoot running cues the foot control, stability, form and recoil that can be used better when the shoe is back on. When you want to race, you can go faster and more recklessly in shoes.
How: Do what you did as a child. Go barefoot whenever you’re inside. Walk and run around the yard barefoot. Sprint a little and jump a little at first. Go down the driveway and back, then slowly add distance. Listen to your feet, they will tell you how fast to progress. You will experience discomfort and fatigue in the feet well before tissue breakdown. Your feet will become stronger, thicker, and more pliable. There is no rigid structure to this. Just play and enjoy the sensations of the ground, mixing in barefoot as you are able. It’s fun.
Wake up the springs
Why: Running is mostly elastic, and the more we brace the foot the smaller the springs become. We have small springs and large springs. The small springs send important messages to the larger ones. If over-supported they lose ability to efficiently store and release energy. You lose that “pop” off the ground we observe in quicker runners and children.
The small but essential springs are the intrinsic foot muscles, as well as muscles originating in the lower leg, which cross the ankle and sling the foot (specifically the peroneus longus/brevis, and posterior tibialis). The coordination of these muscles is essential for strength in toe off, balance, proprioception, and ankle stability. The larger springs are the gastroc/soleus in the calf, Achilles, plantar fascia, and the long flexors of toes which also stabilize the foot and recoil us off the ground.
How: Start with jump rope and stair jumps, some with both feet landing quietly, some with alternating feet. As you get springier, add burpees and mountain climbers. Focus on good form, stable core, soft and quiet landings. Do only a few at first as you master the skills.
Reset range of motion
Why: We need a specific range of motion to run efficiently. A shortened range forces us to create movement patterns which compensate and may place unnatural stresses on tissue. Sitting too much sets up poor mobility. Many runners are too tight in the hip flexors as well as the calf area. After you have reset these areas you can apply power and spring more efficiently.
How: Trent Nessler, a physical therapist who works with several Division I colleges and professional athletes, recommends two dynamic exercises daily for all runners. Start with correct form and progress as you are able. Move through the exercises slowly and smoothly. It may take weeks to months to be able to do these exercises optimally. When you can do them well, do not stop.
Sumo dynamic (series of 8-10)
-Grab toes and pull toes up
-Squat back and down as far as you can go (Asian squat)
-Return to original position by extending the knees, still holding toes
-Walk out on hands to plank position (pre-push up stance)
-Raise left foot and do a push up
-Raise right foot and do a push up
-Walk back to start position bent at wasit, grabbing toes
World’s Greatest Stretch (series of 8-10)
-Right foot forward lungeknee tracking straight over second toe not to extend past foot
-Sink down and place left hand down
-Bring right elbow over knee and lower to touch right arch
-Bring right hand back over knee and place both hands on ground in track start position
-Rock weight to back leg, getting heel back toward ground
-Step forward with left leg into lunge with left foot forward
-Repeat the sequence
To watch how to do these exercises join me, my kids Leo and Lily, and my fellow movement teacher and Two Rivers Treads Education lead Paul Koczera as we lead you through a few exercise snacks.
Do these simple dynamic movements and drills whenever and wherever you can.
Find the 3 fun instructional videos on our site’s Lets do Lunge Series . Enjoy!