Updated: Apr 21, 2022
If you don't do "this", you are "2.42 times more likely to experience a running related injuring..."
If you're already thinking about strength training, you'd be on the right track.
But do you know what kind of strength training?
*immediate reaction: panic!*
Nope, don't panic; deep breaths!
But it can get overwhelming, can't it? Trying to figure out exactly what kind of strength training is the "right kind" for runners, especially when there's so many different programs out there.
Hokey pokey leg… (ok maybe not that one..)
But let's make it easy; sound good to you?
This whole strength training for runners thing doesn't have to be hard, or complicated. (If you want my favorite full body strength training exercises click HERE!)
If we look at recent scientific studies, it's actually pretty simple.
Recent studies boils it down to this:
"A gradual increase in load tolerance through repeated training with properly dosed gain in running experience has been shown to reduce running related injuries risk."
All this means is, by lifting heavier and heavier stuff, you make your body stronger. And when you're stronger, you can run more and do harder things.
(Isn't easy nice?)
But what's the catch here for runners?
That's where this week's study comes in.
This study discovered just how important it is for us runners to strength train our FEET.
Think about it,…
Running ALWAYS takes place on our FEET. But how often do we spend time ONLY working on our feet, to make them stronger, long-run-endurance-ready? Some of the most common running injuries are foot and ankle injuries!
Well, no duh.
Weak feet get injured.
Sounds pretty simple now, doesn't it?
That's why this study's emphasis on the foot core was so interesting. They defined the foot core as
"a musculoskeletal subsystem that manages input and stability to accommodate demands during static and dynamic activities."
All those muscles in your foot and ankle are a mini-unit, a system all by themselves that have to be strong to not only last through out the day without getting tired, but also have to work even harder to keep you balanced! Think about walking up and down stairs, almost tripping on the dog or cat, or doing the one foot shuffle to keep from stepping on a kid that suddenly appeared.
Those feet of yours do hard work.
But diving into this study is worth your time because this study "demonstrated benefits for body function and balance when the foot core is strengthened…" (aka running).
"Because foot muscles play intrinsic roles in dampening impact and propelling the body forward during running, it is reasonable that training could improve these functions and that this could prevent running related injuries."
Yup, you read that correctly.
By strengthening your feet, you improve your running performance AND reduce your risk of injury. You can't say no to that!
So here are the (brief) details:
In the study, the control group runners were given a placebo stretching protocol to follow 3x a week for 1 year while the other running group (the foot exercise intervention group) was given a series of foot exercises to also do 3x a week for a 1 year. Throughout that year, runners were strongly encouraged to report any running related injuries that met the following definition:
'any musculoskeletal pain or injury caused by running practice that induces changes in the form, duration, intensity, or frequency of training for at least 1 week with an intention-to-treat plan of analysis.'
Pretty clear, right? I like how it's also broad enough to take into account a lot of different injuries, and within a pretty reasonable time frame.
At the end of all the different statistical analysis (and WOW there were a LOT)…they found that the control group runners "were 2.42 times more likely to experience a running related injuring than were intervention group participants after 1 year."
Ok, lets break this down a little.
118 runners total.
61 runners stretching only.
57 runners doing foot strengthening exercises only.
Out of the 61 stretching runners, 20 runners reported an injury over 1 year. That’s 33%!
While out of the 57 foot strengthening runners, only 8 reported an injury. Only 14%.
They also found through more statistical wizardry, that the runners NOT performing foot strengthening exercises, were much more likely to sustain an injury SOONER compared to the foot-exercise group.
"As for the quartile-estimation calculation of time-to-injury survival time, because the total RRI percentage in the follow-up was 23.5%, the most appropriate quartile estimate would be 25%. The mean time to injury in 25% of the population was 7.63 plus/minus 2.60 months for the control group and 10.15 plus/minus 2.69 months for the intervention group."
Now they admit, this reduction in injury doesn't occur overnight.
"The protection against cumulative RRI risk conferred by foot exercises in our study is not expected to appear immediately, because the increased load tolerance in the IG runners stemmed from muscle gain obtained through months of foot exercise. By the fourth month of follow-up, differences in cumulative RRI risk were evident between the CG and IG…"
And this tracks.
You lift once; you don't automatically look like a body builder. But you lift over time, and you start to see new muscle and definition.
Howeevveerr…..I have personal twist on this, being a physical therapist.
Here's my take.
Yes, NEW gains in strength will take months to build. But what about tapping into the strength that you've already built. Because, as a runner, your feet are strong, maybe not as strong as they need to be, but they're certainly not just pancakes. Runners that are beyond the brand-new-baby-runner stage "have common tissue adaptations to running that may already be present among experienced distance runners."
So take advantage of this and capitalize on strength that you already have.
You just need to tap into it and activate it.
I promise, I'm not talking "woo woo" or voo doo or anything wild.
I'm still talking science and medicine.
It's called neuromotor or neuromuscular control: your body and brain's innate ability to control your muscles.
Another way to think about it: neuromotor control is open communication between all the muscles and nerves in your feet; everyone is working together on a team project and pulling their weight.
Makes for easier work, right?
So how do you tap into that motor control?
With the right exercises.
And that's the beauty of physical therapy. We take scientific papers like this, apply it to our practice, and find the exact exercises that work for runners like you.
And it's pretty freaking cool! Especially when it's backed by research like this:
"A key correlation was seen between time-to-injury and foot strength gain: The stronger the foot, the longer it took the runner to develop an RRI."
"a stronger foot structure and medial longitudinal arch should better dissipate excessive and cumulative loads through actively supporting a change in the function of the foot from a dampener in the early stance to a spring in the late stance."
And this guy...
"Thus, by reducing shock, reducing cumulative load, and better controlling foot-ankle motion and alignment, strengthening the foot muscles prevented running related injuries in the intervention group."
And if you're wondering if strengthening your foot can also help prevent dreaded stress fractures, take a look at this quote:
"The most serious running related injuries s—stress fractures—occurred in runners from the control group; none
of the intervention group participants experienced stress fractures. This could be related to the difference in the effect of dampening mechanisms performed by the musculoskeletal system, more specifically the foot core, which was strengthened in the intervention group but not the control group."
So far, stronger feet means reduced risk of running injuries, increased running performance, and may even stave off stress fractures.
Let that sink in for a minute.
If by now you're looking for a way to strengthen train your feet by tapping into that neuromotor control and even up for seeing instant results (I'm not joking, I do this in the clinic all.the.time), I STRONGLY suggest checking out my Blueprint for Runners to Stronger Feet Workshop.
I've taken the best of this article and created foot strengthening exercises designed specifically for runners and put them all in one place for you. I've used these countless times in the clinic with huge success for runners recovering from Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures who have big goals like running Boston for their 5th time, getting back to Ultras, or PR'ing in their upcoming cross country races.
I want to see you succeed as a runner, empowered with the most up to date evidence-based exercises to keep you strong and on the road.
So what do you say? I know you already strength train and take care of the rest of your body, so isn't it time you started taking care of your feet too?
Let's do this together and Dare to Train Differently,
Dr. Marie Whitt //@dr.whitt.fit
P.S. Ready to make your feet long-distance ready? Click HERE to get started!
P.P.S Or maybe you're looking for a some reliable strength training exercises that do wonders for runners? Check out my FREE resource HERE!
Taddei, U., Matias, A., Duarte, M., & Sacco, I. (2020). Foot Core Training to Prevent Running-Related Injuries: A Survival Analysis of a Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal Of Sports Medicine, 48(14), 3610-3619. doi: 10.1177/0363546520969205