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Q & A and Pilates Exercise Tips: Foot Fitness for Runners

Posted Jun 08 2011 10:29am

I’m in a Running Group on LinkedIn, and recently received this great question about foot fitness, running, and orthotics.

“Aliesa, your posts are very informative and caught my interest! I saw an article recently about not using orthotics long term for running. I pronate and my arches are falling.  Do you have recommendations for stretching or strengthening the feet so I don’t need to rely on orthotics while running?   Thanks!”

Thanks for your compliment, and questions!  Whether you’re running with orthotics or without – ideally your foot and leg alignment should be correct for proper muscle use. As a Pilates Teacher and functional movement specialist – I am a fan of using the Pilates Method to help correct muscle use, posture, and body alignment. The exercises on the Reformer, Cadillac, and Chairs can really help strengthen your feet, legs, and whole-body!

Some of the problem for Pronation and flat arches can come from muscle weakness/imbalance in the feet, and the other 1/2 of the equation is the strength & mechanics at your hips (inner/outer thighs, Glutes, Hamstrings) and into your pelvic floor and core.

Pelvic floor strength, & core, helps to lift your pelvis off your legs for a freer stride. And proper breathing habits helps to lift your ribs & torso away from your pelvis.  This keeps you from having all your upper body weight jammed down on your legs.

A part of maintaining a “lifted arch” is the work done at the Glutes & upper thigh.  Typically if you supinate your inner thighs are not working enough, and if you pronate, your outer thighs aren’t supporting enough.  There’s a balance here to help lift your leg bones up off your ankles!

I see a lot of clients with stuck ankles, and poor foot mechanics.  If your body weight has been jammed down on those poor little 52 bones of your feet, your stride is has probably been shortened, and your toe and foot muscles aren’t working efficiently to roll through the foot and push off the toes.  So the arches aren’t functioning as the efficient lever to propel us forward that they were designed to be.

Everyone has different things to recommend and things to do that can work to help with these issues. I use Pilates for tackling the breathing, posture awareness, and strength/flexibility needed for better core support and hip/leg mechanics.  Working against the springs on the Pilates equipment is so helpful for getting better balance with the leg strengthening that needs to change.

I recommend the exercises in my book “Fantastic Feet! Exercises to Strengthen the Ankles, Arches, and Toes” In particular, I would start with the Terrific Toe Series as the lateral toe strengthening exercises will begin to strengthen & lift the arches. Lots of choices for easy at-home foot fitness exercises in this book.  I encourage folks to start with the non-weight bearing ones so you can change your habits and improve alignment first – then transfer that back to standing, walking, and running.

1.  The Centerworks® Super-Ankles Foot Fitness Board. There are lots of exercises you can do on this, but the primary one is for medial/lateral ankle movement.  When we run, the ankle mainly moves forward and back (point & flex)  the side to side motion is minimal (unless you’re on uneven terrain, or fall off a curb!)  Keeping your body lifted, knee and thigh held straight ahead, and using this Ankle Board to move your foot side to side will help you find better balance for proper ankle alignment & less Supination/Pronation.  This Ankle Board is different than the other “wobble boards” on the market – as the height is designed for you to actually MOVE your ankle in a good range of motion to strengthen medial/lateral support. Generally on a wobble-board, you are standing and working on balance, so the foot & ankle grip the board and range of motion at the ankle is minimal (it’s not appropriate –or safe, to actually move your ankle much on a traditional wobble-board.) On the Centerworks® Super-Ankles Foot Fitness Board , the goal is not to improve balance, but to increase side-to-side ankle strength & mobility, so that you can learn where proper alignment is for a  “centered” ankle – which decreases Supination/Pronation issues, and IF you step sideways off a curb, or start to twist your ankle running on uneven ground – the medial/lateral ankle strength you have from using your Ankle Board will help you pull yourself back to center and avoid a potential injury.

2.  Everyone, but especially if you run, should be using a pair of Yamuna Foot Savers . They’re kind of like that miserable IT band stretch with a foam roller, but for your feet!  If they hurt, you need them – as using Foot Savers shouldn’t hurt at all!  These can help release some of the tight muscles & fascia under the arches, and passively help improve joint space through the foot.  Fantastic Feet exercises will be active strength & flexibility work.  Foot Savers will be more passive.  So it’s a nice combination.

I’ve posted quite a few foot fitness exercise videos on my blog & YouTube channel.  These, along with the book can help give you extra tips for doing the exercises correctly for maximum benefit.

The are all available on my website, along with a few other foot-fitness products.

Check it out at:

You may still choose to wear your orthotics.  I see orthotics as an outside support to lift the arch, but we should have muscles working in our body that help to support us. If we’re using our feet correctly and supporting whole-body posture as our muscles were designed, an orthotic is unnecessary. Also, our feet change – so if you’re wearing orthotics, they should be able to be adjusted , otherwise you’ve created a really expensive crutch – and will need to get new ones as your body changes, or you may be wearing them and discover that your orthotics are actually throwing your body out of balance!

When I was in high school & college I had completely flat feet (and pretty bad ankle problems along with a very unstable lower back!) I now have a real foot-print which shows me that my arches are lifted, I’m using my muscles more correctly, and am better supporting my body posture.  I’m a firm believer that if we’re still breathing, it’s not too late to  change and improve things for better whole-body health! P.S.  I have worn orthotics for more than 20 years, and still do have them in my shoes when I run… but I do lots of other barefoot foot exercises to stretch & strengthen my feet. Taking care of your whole-body will help with injury prevention so you can run to your heart’s content!  It’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to your feet! Improve your strength, flexibility, and body alignment, consult with your health care provider or podiatrist that prescribed your shoe inserts, then you can decide if running with or without orthotics is best for you!

Hope this gets you headed in a good direction for tweaking your technique and establishing a foot fitness exercise program for better alignment to support your running.  Regardless of whether you run with or without orthotics, taking   a quick 10-15 minutes 2-3 days a week to do some specific foot care exercises should  help you run farther, faster, and with less risk of injury!

Any other questions, let me know!  Happy Running!

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