We were very privileged to have been able to host Tim Bransdon from The Running Lab, in conjunction with Southern Peak Crossfit, to conduct his running course here in Dunedin. Tim is a podiatrist based out of Wollongong and runs Wollongong Podiatry. Among other athletes, Tim is also the running coach of Tia-Clair Toomey, who is a 2 times Crossfit Games Champion. Here is a brief outline of the take home messages that we got out of the weekend.
Our Feet and The Environment We Put Them In
To Start Off – A Few Ideas and Questions to Think About
• Why do we put our feet into narrow and pointy toed shoes and then go for a run if we don’t strap our fingers together into points for press ups and hand stand push ups?
• How many hours of the week do you spend outside of the gym vs inside the gym? Wearing shoes that are too narrow, heavy, pointy toed, rigid, and heeled for a 50hr work week and then asking your feet to work well during a 1hr workout is a hard ask. After keeping our feet restricted, we’ve got to earn the right and put in the work to undo all those hours in order to reuse our feet again and all the foot’s brilliant 33 joints.
• That being said, you don’t get strong feet during your running or lifting workout, but during the larger majority of the day when you’re living your life.
• Running drills are very important. You don’t tend to correct technique or get better at something under max load at max repetitions, rather, you learn, correct, and build by progressing basic drills well. K.I.S.S.
• What is your foot position when you stand and walk? You run how you walk how you stand.
• Would it be more comfortably to run with springs for feet or bricks for feet? Springs are much better than bricks. We need the foot, achilles, and lower leg to be a spring, not a brick.
Walking heavily jars joints, walking quietly and smoothly uses muscles. Be quiet and smooth.
• If you take 4 wheel drive and suspension out of a car it’s going to be a bumpy ride and things will break. If we limit the 33 joints of our feet with clunky footwear, we are limiting our innate ability to smooth our ride. Why then is the typical hiking boot even heavier and stiffer when the terrain would suggest better suspension and adaptability? If this is the perfect opportunity for us to utilize a healthy foot and it’s ability to react to the changeable ground below and our bodies above, why do we block the joints that allow us to do so with a massive inflexible sole?
• Nobody thinks gloves on hands is weird but remember the reaction to shoes with toes when they came out?
Development of The Foot
Skyscraper Concept -
The skyscraper’s base of support is very large and projects up into the building. Feet are much smaller, considering the body they’re supporting, so they have a pretty unique design considering their function.
They are required to adapt to what’s below (the ground) and above them (the body)
They’ve got 33 joints to allow them to do so. If you block movement at the foot, movements comes up the knee, and the knee can’t compensate for 33 joints.
The best ‘arch support’ is already in our foot- the first ray. The 1st MTPJ is the boss of the foot. If you don’t use your 33 joints, you’ll lose their healthy function.
Not too many children have feet problems straight off the bat. They develop over time. So what do we do to ourselves that creates so many foot problems over time?
Footwear and Orthotics
How many children are born with problems with their feet? If we have healthy feet, why do we wear shoes? Besides protection from environmental conditions and disease, what else do we need from shoes? Shoes and orthotics are the bits of artificial influence that we wear for longest amount of time, influencing every step. If you go to physio and end up getting a knee or elbow or ankle brace, do you wear it indefinitely? Or is there are plan to get stronger and come out of it eventually? Why would we restrict a healthy foot indefinitely? Pathologies aside, ideally you’d want to do the least amount artificially for a human as possible because otherwise your organic structure gets weaker.
Why Do We Really Need Footwear
The essential reasons are protection from elements, heat, and cold, and a hygienic barrier.
Things to be Mindful Of……
Extended sharp edges along the sole of the shoes and heel- Sharp heels with squared edges only go two ways and go quickly- you tip off the edge one direction or the other. Quick pronation speed is what’s injurious, whips knee into valgus and hip into internal rotation and which might cause a person to be told they have weak glutes. Alternatively, have a look for shoes with no extended edges or heels and rounded borders. Round things roll and avoid that quick tipping off the edge problem.
The reason behind the construction of your shoe- who was it designed for, what did they use the shoes for, are you the same as them, are you doing the same activity as they do it?
Heel lift for elite sprinters but everyone wears them for everything. The heel lift commonly seen in shoes originated from studies looking at the forward lean of elite sprinters. Nowadays every type of person can be seen using running shoes for ever type of activity.
Heel rockers – Some shoes designs create a rocker designed to roll from your heel strike through to your toe off, however, healthy feet are capable of controlled loading and there isn’t a need for a heel rock to do the work your foot is otherwise capable of.
Beware making choices for short term benefits over long term benefits – the main goals of buying footwear are to protect your feet from harsh elements and provide an extra barrier between your skin and the ground. And your goal should be to put strong feet in shoes, rather than relying on shoes to compensate for undertrained feet. A heel drop may allow your posterior lower leg tissues to rest in a relatively shortened position, which could decrease pain in the short term, but tissues adapt over time, and constantly deloading them does not facilitate increasing strength, range, and control.
Things to Look For
Consider how many steps you are taking during the day and how much additional load you are adding if your shoes are heavy. We’d like shoes to be on the relatively lighter side.
A minimal heel drop is preferred so that we allow the foot, ankle, and lower leg to express full range of movement instead of supporting a consistently shortened position.
You may have noticed this fact being repeated several times, but the foot has 33 joints and we are trying to allow them to work. A flexible shoe lets us utilize available range and gain control and function.
A shoe should mirror the shape of the foot rather than the other way around. If your middle toe isn’t the longest and biggest, we suggest steering away from the pointed toe and more towards a rounded, wide toe box that allows your feet to maintain their natural shape.
Take this one with a grain of salt. A huge heel lift and maximum squishy cushioning might initially feel quite comfortable walking for a metre or so in a straight line in the store. However, they won’t assist the goal of creating strong feet in the long run. (Additionally in regards to cushioning, is it easier to run on hard packed or soft packed sand?) Look for shoes that meet the other requirements and give them a test in the store that involves some twisting and turning rather than just moving in a straight line and look for something that doesn’t have discomfort, pinching points, or tightness.
Putting it into action:
Wondering where to start looking for shoes that fit the checklist? Several brands (such as skora, vivo shoes, lems, missuno, brooks pure, minimuS new balance) offer a range of models , but stock and design is constantly changing, so by no means is the list exhaustive or restrictive. Have a look at any shoes and just check- is it light? Is is flat? Can you bend it? Does the shape look a foot? Is it comfortable? Another suggestion was to look at racing flat model, which tend to trend towards light and flat.
Creating a Change
Instead of using shoes to compensate for weak feet, we should build strong feet. And if we can change the conditions our feet are in for the majority of the day rather than just the hours we exercise, we’re well on our way for good feet for living. Knowing what to is one part of the puzzle, but turning thoughts and ideas into action is the second. Rather than trying to make extreme changes all at once, earn the right to use your feet by making small changes daily that add up. Not only will you create better feet habits, but you’ll help progressively load your feet rather than making rapid changes that might be too much too fast.
Using and Coaching Our Feet: Standing, Walking, Running
Once you’ve created changes around the home and office and the environment you have your feet in for the majority of the day, we can start looking at how to use strong feet. Again- you run how you walk how you stand. If you spend the majority of your standing time with a large turn out, it is unlikely that you’ll be running with your feet pointing straight ahead. Here are some drills we went over, starting with standing and progressing to running.
For all drills keep these cues in mind: 1) keep your head on your shoulders and 2) stay smooth and quiet.
Standing – you run how you stand and how you walk
- Stand. How does it feel standing straight vs toes turned out? With feet turned out, do you start to feel yourself sag forward through hips? This is not a good posture for running.
- Stand on one foot
- Stand on one foot and switch dumbbell from hand to hand
- Do a heel raise taking 5 seconds to the top, hold for 5 seconds, and lower for 5 seconds, without letting the ankles flare out or in or letting the big toe come off the ground. Go as smooth and slow as possible 5 good ones
- Step onto a squishy surface- your foot and ankle are allowed to move (use those 33 joints!) but try to keep your hip and knee still (change it up by stepping forwards and sideways)
- Swap from standing on your toes from one foot to the other, keeping the big toe on the ground and keeping ankles from flaring. Holding on to something to take out the balance challenge and focus on control. Start with 30sec and build to 1 minute.
- Position hopping. See how it feels hopping on both feet on your heels vs as high as possible on your toes vs with heels lightly contacting or “kissing” the ground. The first two are pretty uncomfortable and quick to fatigue and demonstrates where it’s best to contact the ground on your foot.
- Cadence hopping. Set a metronome and try hopping at 60bpm. Change it to 80 and continue hopping. When the cadence is too slow, it is more work, as you lose your elastic recoil.
- Double to single leg hops. Switch from double leg hops to single leg hops on either side. You want to feel a similar amount of recoil and control in the single leg as you do with the double leg.
- Side to side hops. Single foot bunny hop side to side across line. Life isn’t all straight lines and the lower leg and foot need to be able to handle changes in direction.
- Pro tip: Progress all your hopping exercises by doing them with a skipping rope- this adds a coordination challenge. Keep your heels lightly kissing the ground each repetition.
As you do, but think of trying to walk smoother and quieter. Pay attention to how loud your feet are when the contact the ground. Trying this on a hard floor in barefoot feet is a helpful place to start.
- Forwards and backwards
Relatively straight back arms, stand behind someone and tap their elbows, elbow someone on the dance floor
Arms should match legs in power
Below 165 cadence tend to have problem, upper limit just depends
Around 170 is when we get good elastic recoil, as opposed to too slow when it become work
Cadence is not speed
Focus on slow speed high cadence
Cadence but diff speeds 160-190
Lean forward from ankle trust fall
On spot leaning forward body position drill
Speed aka heel pull height
High knee butt kick
Points of Interest Considering Coaching
Small improvements repeated per step is a huge change.
Can’t correct on the fly- can’t correct something if you haven’t prepped it, same cure as in warm ups
People want to run at fast speed and then are shit slower, builds good slower speed
How many cues for runs vs lifting
Squatting partial bw vs reps of steps multi times body weight
Elite runner hip drive vs normal- stop saying stide out
Get coaching as kids but not adults
10-30% less effort per step by decrease bw impact
People like a challenge jot chores
Get this exercise so we can move on to this exercise
Don’t come back worse- they need to know what effects them and give them ownership of it
Plodding is shitty heavy and forward
People train at comp speed and if they go slower everything goes shitty, so need to have good form at all speeds
Coach’s eye hudl app
Need to be able to feel changes not just rely on seeing them
Max of 4 cues- everyone gets head and quiet so only get two more
Running isn’t simple it is a snatch, complex
People will over cue- if you tell where to hit they focusing on hitting it and go heavy- go where quiet
Want single word cue with maximal effect, whatever the athlete feels the change the most
Where you create change is drills
Strong and programmed feet+ cues for it to happen
Problems with overreaching / “long stride”
Long stride, run out of hip range so heel swivels in because getting twisting at hips instead of hip ext or flex
Take large step try to move forward using only front foot- have to lean forward heaps- foot in front of you can’t help you go forwards
Over striding is the devil
Foot is already coming backwards at point of contact
For hip drives most people aren’t fast enough to get the foot back under their feet
- Keep your head on your shoulders - don’t look at ground. The head is heavy and the body follows where the head goes.
- Smooth and quiet- loud and clunky means increased ground reaction forces.
- Relax your shoulders – tight traps challenge breathing and you want good oxygen intake as you run. The alternative? Tight traps, poor breathing mechanics, less oxygen.
- Good words to keep in mind? Tall and strong, light and relaxed – everything you associate with those words.
Your feet are not wrong, they’re just not right or strong enough yet. They probably started out in your childhood in pretty good shape, and have since adapted to what we’ve done with them since up into adulthood. Considering they’re how we interact with the ground beneath our bodies and carry the rest of us, it’s worth it to change daily habits that helps get them strong again.
Inflammation good healing blood flow heat
Swelling bad- waste pile cleared with lymphatics
Look at where pressure and thick skin is- ball of foot or first mtpj
Running with feet pointing out- our bigger muscles and prime movers are made to operate in the sagittal plane. If we turn feet out, then smaller muscles better at supportive roles have to become prime movers.
Heat vs Cold
Ice- it’s systemic about what happens after, nothing happens during
If you jump in to cold stuff too soon you stop anabolic benefit from training, so timing is important
Get heat shock and cold shock proteins
Lateral foot to medial with ball
Of brain control big toe and 1st mtpj aren’t working first we have no business moving to something more complicated
You can never have too much control
Never want a shaky rep
Active arch hold reversion with active 1st mtpj on ground and collapse (will feel knee collapse)
Breaking 2 on NatGeo Youtube
The foot in relation to lifting:
In deadlift and squat position, feel wiggly foot and stiff foot, abduction big toe pull away from big toe with rest of foot- do barefoot, then in sock, then in shoe
Don’t want tight feet when turning
Less injury in futsol shoes than netball, more flexibility
The foot in relation to cycling
Want rigid feet when straight line, to be a lever no impact
We would highly recommend a Strongfeet or a Running course conducted by Tim. It was a great learning experience and all who attended got a lot out of it. We are looking to get him over again, so watch this space!!!