As athletes, we spend a lot of time training all major parts of the body that are specific to our sport — triathlon. However, the all important foot seems to be an afterthought, if thought of at all, getting little to no special training. This, I argue is a mistake that will likely lead to aches, pains, and injury if not addressed. The problem is most of these aches, pains, and injuries happen elsewhere in the body and therefore not thought of as a foot related or induced injury.
Think about the foot this way; as your home derives its strength and sturdiness from its foundation, so does your body structure derive its strength and sturdiness from your feet. This is where the comparison ends — a homes foundation is made of concrete and steel, the foot is much more complex; obviously.
The foot is the perfect union of form and function containing 26 bones, 2 sesamoid bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments. The foot is capable of handling hundreds of tons of force placed on it daily, weekly, monthly, and so on; especially as you run or apply force while on the bike. Because of this the foot is more likely to sustain an injury than perhaps any other part of the body. Whether you have had a foot injury or not, the likelihood is high unless you begin taking care of your feet.
So, what can be done to not only protect your feet, but strengthen them as well. Perhaps you have never really given this much thought having been so busy taking care of and strengthening everything else. I recommend you buy your running and cycling shoes from a run, bike and/ or a triathlon specific shop; an educated professional will analysis your running gait and other factors to ensure you select from the products best for your needs. Once you have the right kicks on your feet, hire a certified run or triathlon coach to look at your run technique and offer his observation and recommendations. There is a right and wrong way to run, and cycle for that matter; learning the right way and carrying that into your training will return dividends to you in spades throughout your triathlon or running career.
Here are a few exercises you can do to strengthen your feet:
Stand on a step with your toes on the edge and your heels hanging off. Push up with both feet into a calf raise. Lift one leg off the step, and lower your other leg so that your heel drops below the step. Take at least 10 seconds to lower it all the way down–that’s the eccentric part of the move and has been shown to help prevent Achilles Tendon issues.
Static Single Leg Stand
Stand on one leg while lifting the other up towards your pelvis by bending the knee. Ensure that the foot you are balancing on is directly under your hip. You may place your hands on your hips, or have your arms down by your side, whichever is more comfortable. To help you balance, keep your eyes forward, your head in a neutral position and focus as your the muscles in your foot fight to keep you stabilized. Hold this position for up to 30-seconds before switching to the other foot and repeating, completing one repetition. Perform 3 to 5 repetitions.
One of the greatest threats to healthy feet are shoes. This includes slippers and the flip-flop family of footwear. Whenever possible, especially when at home, walk barefoot. This will allow your feet to function as they were designed, to go through their full range of motion and develop strength and flexibility. Flip-flops and slippers bad for your feet for a number of reasons, perhaps the worst is the stress on your toes which have to tighten and lift upward in an attempt to keep you feet in place.
Gregg Seltzer is a triathlon and run coach at Triability Coaching in Southern California. He advocates foot care through strengthening exercises, proper footwear, routine maintenance, and proper running form. He may be reached at www.triabilitycoaching.com or 800.884.2194 for triathlon, run, or swim coaching and training. Coach Gregg’s Email address is email@example.com.