Foot drills for runners (and beyond!)

Running injuries are very common, and if you’ve done any type of sustained running for fitness, you probably already know this. The chance of injury during sport for runners is as high as 75%, which is likely due to the repetitiveness of the sport and the high amounts of load experienced by the body. The average runner takes about 5,000 steps on a 30 min run, and every impact with the ground is purposed to create up to 2.5xbody weight. So… we are talking a lot of load.

Medial Longitudinal Arch

Quick anatomy

You have 4 layers of 11 muscles in just your foot called your intrinsic foot muscles. Their primary function is to help maintain the medial longitudinal arch of your foot, AKA the arch on the inside of your foot. This arch assists with shock absorption upon initial contact and with springiness upon toe off. These muscles are especially challenged with running because of the increased load through your leg with each impact.

Weakness/instability → OVERpronation→ Less shock absorption→ Predisposition for overuse injury

Here me out, our feet are supposed to pronate, and pronation is not “bad.” It is part of a natural and normal gait cycle. However, if the pronation is uncontrolled or excessive, we lose the ability to absorb shock effectively and to push off due to lack of stability in the foot. This is something that I screen athletes for during gait analysis to see if it is part of the equation (why they are seeing me).

Here on some drills to get you started with some “foot core” training. They best isolate your arch and intrinsic muscles, except for the heel raise because you are using toe muscles that travel up the calf. However, I will almost always have someone try these IN ADDITION to resistance training up the chain (ankle, knee, hip, trunk).

Foot Drills

Toe Yoga

Works on neuromuscular control, which is necessary to establish before strengthening these muscles. You may be surprised at how difficult it is to control the little muscles that pull your big toe upward and press your big toe down into the floor. Practive engaging these muscles without rolling inward/outward. You should see your arch prominently while performing!

Toe Splay

This one is pretty similar to the above exercises with less isolation. Try to focus on bringing your big toe away from your other toes especially, as the muscle that performs this motion plays a key part in arch stability. Initially, I would recommend trying the toe yoga and toe splaying in seated at first, and then progress to standing as able.

Toe elevated heel raise

As mentioned above, this exercise engages muscles in your calf as well, particularly those that flex your toes. Most of the time, this provides a nice stretch at the bottom of the heel raise. We’ve configured this exercises by placing a PVC pipe under a yoga mat secured by a couple of weights. You can also use a broom/mop handle- be creative!.

Forward Lean

This is good practice for actually running, as this more forward position is normal in running gait. You might find that your arch immediately engages when you start to lean forward. As for the leaning drills, start standing on both legs, and then progress to SL as able. You can use your hands at a wall for support initially.

Give these a try and let us know what you think. It’s a great place to start! As always, if you are dealing with a current injury, it is best to see a physical therapist to be evaluated and given a personalized treatment plan.

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