Pronation, high arches, shin splints, Runner’s Knee… there are very few runners who never get an injury, and some believe that running shoes actually add to injury. By not working the muscles in our feet, they tend to weaken, and then we “need” supportive shoes to compensate for weak muscles and lack of support for our joints.
Think of it this way – the running shoe is simply a crutch, it doesn’t fix the actual problem.
When shod runners switch to barefoot running and start where their mileage left off, they run themselves right into injuries. In many cases, this is because their feet, calves, and Achilles aren’t used to being worked so much, they’re used to the running shoe crutch. The following exercises are part of those highlighted in the running barefoot book and can be implemented to help build up those muscles and allow you to (finally!) run injury-free!
Grab a towel
Lay a towel on the floor and practice grabbing it with your toes. This will strengthen your toe muscles.
Roll a golf ball
This exercise is a great one to do while you’re watching TV. While sitting down, roll a golf ball around with the bottom of your foot. Just like a massage, it will increase blood flow to the area and stimulate circulation.
Fan your toes
This one can be done with or without a band. With a band, wrap around your toes and try to stretch and fan them out against the resistance. If you are just starting, try just fanning your toes out, hold for a few seconds, and release.
Ideally, you will be able to do these on a step or bench so that you can go up and down. Stand on the edge of the step or bench with just your toes/ball of your foot on. Go up on your tippy toes and down as far as you can, or until your heel almost touches the step below. You will strengthen and stretch your calves and Achilles, but also strengthen your toe muscles.
The best way to strengthen your feet…
… is by walking around barefoot! At home, at work, at the park, walking your dog – anytime it’s possible to be barefoot, do it! This will naturally strengthen your toes and feet.
These are a few basic exercises that could greatly accelerate the amount of running you are able to (safely) complete barefoot, but you should of course talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
If you are looking for more resources on exercises and the biomechanics of running barefoot, check out Dr. Michael Nirenberg, a.k.a. America’s Podiatrist. His barefoot-friendly website is very informative, and was the source of some of the information found in this article.
Photo Credit: SashaW on Flickr