Can a Stronger “Foot Core” Prevent Running Injuries?

If you were a baseball pitcher, would you prevent shoulder injuries by pitching with your arm in a cast?

barefoot running

I hope you answered, “No, Jason. That sounds ridiculous.”

Because it IS ridiculous! To be a good pitcher, you need strength, efficiency, some talent, and great form (not to mention a lot of practice).

Putting your arm in a cast, sling, or other restrictive device would alter how you throw, preventing valuable proprioceptive feedback and hampering your performance.

So why in the world do we cram our feet into restrictive shoes that change our foot strike, alter our gait, and reduce our awareness of how our feet are hitting the ground?

The truth is that we do this all the time without thinking twice. And it often results in chronic problems with running injuries.

An interesting study discussed in Tread Lightly (fantastic book about footwear and injuries) found that motion control shoes do not control motion and actually cause injuries!

That’s because the more structured a shoe is, the more it inhibits normal movement and promotes inefficient, poor running form:

  • A high heel-toe drop makes it easier to aggressively heel strike and over-stride
  • High-density foam on the insole (a “roll bar” or the medial post of shoe) doesn’t prevent over-pronation
  • Aggressive arch support further weakens the foot muscles

These problems are made even worse by wearing high heels, restrictive dress shoes, and rarely walking or exercising barefoot.

The result? Weak feet and higher cases of shin splints, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy, and other injuries not just limited to the lower legs.

And while I’m not suggesting you start running barefoot or in zero-drop shoes all the time, there’s a valuable middle ground.

Rather than dogmatically believing this is an “either/or” choice, we can instead be more strategic with our shoe choices.

How to Build Your Foot Core

Current research has indicated that strengthening the small stabilizing muscles around the arch and plantar fascia can improve ankle stability and balance – but it’s often neglected.

So I invited Matt Ferguson, the founder of AFX, on the Strength Running podcast to discuss several topics around foot strength:

  • How to build strength in these oft-neglected muscles
  • Mistakes to avoid and myths that can derail your progress
  • The value of being a “cautious minimalist”
  • How to choose shoes that are right for you personally

You can listen on iTunes or, if you have an Android device, on Stitcher.

Links and Resources:

If you struggle with ongoing plantar fasciitis, weak or unstable ankles, and chronic foot pain then working on your foot core is one path to relief.

You may also find it helpful to structure your running to prioritize health and getting stronger further up the kinetic chain (start with these strength exercises).

I hope you enjoyed our latest episode of the SR podcast. A review on iTunes would be just incredible!

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Comments

  1. I loved this episode. I just bought the AFX! At 52 years old I am a new runner interested in barefoot/minimal shoe running. Currently I run in traditional full support shoes. Calves have always been a weak spot for me (dealing with a minor lower calf strain right now) whether playing ultimate or long bike rides. I’m hopeful an AFX exercise regime will change my calves and feet from a weak link into a strong link!

    I’m leery of ever running on hard pavement in a minimal shoe but I walk in vibrams and hope to do trail running in them some day. (lots of good trails walking distance from home)

    • Hi Jonathan – I’m Matt, one of the inventors of AFX. Thank you for buying an AFX! If you have any questions regarding how to use it, please feel free to contact me. We can chat via email or do a one-on-one free video training session via Skype. I might also have a few special tips for calf injuries because I am currently recovering from a torn calf muscle. :-/
      All the best,
      Matt

  2. Matt & Jason, great episode! I’m an overpronator that has been running for years on Stability and Motion Control shoes. My only complaint while on these kind of shoe, is a dull arch pain on long runs. Can’t tell if it’s due to feet weakness or the shoe. I have tried less supportive shoes but experience arch pain after some 4-5 miles (guess the transition takes time and patience). I typically run 25-35 mile/week. Definitely strengthening my feet is on the right direction and will work on it.
    Jason, I think it would be beneficial for the discussion to hear the opinion of a running shoe manufacturer and how they support the benefits of the motion control shoes vs. the minimalist trend. Future Podcast?

    • Great idea Hernan, I’ll see what I can do!

    • Hello Hernan – it’s Matt from AFX. Thank you for the feedback, I’m glad that you enjoyed the podcast. When it comes to what shoe is best for you, I think that Jason offers great advice: change-up your shoes (not just running shoes, btw, but work/casual shoes as well) often to give your feet different work-outs, and when moving towards a more minimal shoe, transition very slowly. Simple exercises such as the ones we discussed throughout the day will help too.
      All the best,
      Matt

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