Americans are particularly susceptible to a weak foot. The two main culprits are
shoes and surfaces. The technological innovations shoes have made in the last
two decades are fantastic. In the 70's choice was limited to size. Now you can
get shoes that are molded, gelled, aired, pumped and glow in the dark. Makes you
wonder how Roger Bannister ever did it.
But while the advances in today's shoes offer greater protection there is a negative side effect. Scott Christensen briefly touched on this in his article in Track Coach #152. Today's well-constructed shoes essentially represent a soft cast for the foot and lead to atrophy of the small intrinsic muscles of the foot. Weak intrinsics mean an unstable base and a "wobble" at the moment of power generation. It is the wobble, on a cellular level, that initiates the tearing of the musculo-tendinous junctions that through overuse becomes an injury.
Overuse injuries develop from decreased proprioception from a weak foot. Balance sense and proprioception come about because of sensory receptors in the muscles, tendons and ligaments in and around the joint capsules. With a poorly developed muscular system one's nerve pathways are "less clear." Less clear translates into slower transmission times from the brain to the foot, the longest pathway in the body. Power = force x time.
How does this relate to anything? To a greater or lesser degree all events
require one to stand on one leg, single support, for a portion of time. However
brief this single-support ground contact may be, the "quiver" (lateral movement
at the subtalar joint or an attempt by the body to find itself in space through
proprioceptive input) represents lost time.
So what, you say. It is not a long time. You are right, but if the "quiver" only lasts 1/100th of a second (it takes 14/100ths to blink your eyes) and you run the 100m in 50 steps, that insignificant "quiver" has cost you 50/100ths or-a half second. The time significance becomes even greater in the distances.
The solution to the problem is simple. The foot can be significantly strengthened (thus increasing the balance sense) by doing six foot exercises and spending as little as 30 seconds a day on a balance or wobble board.
The six drills are done barefooted or in stocking feet. Walk 25 meters on the outside and inside of the feet, 25m toeing in and out, 25m backward on the toes and with the shoes back on walk 25m on the heels. These exercises will strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot in addition to challenging and clarifying the major nerve pathways to the foot.
Your athletes should note positive results in about three weeks. Changes will be subtle. They may feel they can "corner" better on their distance runs, run stronger turns or have more bounce in their approach.
A secondary benefit is that consistent use of these drills will all but
eliminate shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis and knee
problems. I've lost count of the number of coaches who've seen me demo the
drills at a clinic, used the drills and had great results. We are talking about
three minutes of practice time per day.
Success starts with simple things.
FROM: TRACK COACH 153