Every runner suffers from frustrating minor injuries. You may think these are only due to running, but in many cases it is not really running that breaks your body down (unless your technique is poor and/or you over-train), but other less active parts of your life that you spend far more time doing, and running a lot just finds the weak spots that they have caused. These affect all runners but even more so as you get older and the cumulative effect increases.

Firstly, sitting for long periods over many years permanently over-stretches some muscles and shortens others, which in turn has an adverse impact on tendon strength, joint position and overall posture. Because of the amount of time that most people sit, this has more impact on running style than almost anything else and also sets you up for all kinds of running injuries as your body fights to overcome these discrepancies. Depending on your work and travel arrangements, sitting less may not be an option so it is important to do something every day to offset this.

the amount of time that most people sit… has more impact on running style than almost anything else and also sets you up for all kinds of running injuries

Secondly wearing shoes all day every day (not just for running), even with low heels, gradually shortens your achilles and other tendons, the calf muscles they are attached to, and overstretches the tendons and muscles on the front of the lower leg, changing and weakening the structure of the foot and whole lower leg. 

Perhaps not sitting as much and walking around in bare feet would help, but in the real world these can be impractical. And changing to barefoot or minimalist running footwear is a step too far for most.

The following simple exercises are designed to offset the negative impact of sitting and wearing shoes and should be done every day. Start with a very small amount and build up but never more than a few minutes of each. Although these seem like low level exercises they will still hurt you if you do too much too soon. And once you are doing them most days you don’t need a lot. (You are not trying to become a world champion toe curler or half squatter!).

These are mainly preventative and maintenance exercises. They won’t fix major problems which you should go and see a professional physiotherapist like Brian Cole and/or a clinical biomechanics expert such as Clifton Bradeley to get an opinion and treatment on if required. However you should notice small changes which are hopefully improvements in your running form, and the way your feet and lower legs feel when running within a few days of starting, and hopefully this will reduce the incidence of injuries and maybe even give you a little more spring in your step.

1. Half squat from a seated position:

Sitting on a chair of a height so that your knees are bent about 90 degrees, with feet flat on the floor about 6 inches (15cm) apart, stand up smoothly focusing on good posture and straightening your back to full height. Immediately sit down slowly and soon as your bottom touches the chair repeat the exercise. This exercise activates both the quads and glutes through a range of motion. Extra weight is not required. Repeat 10x to begin with and build up over time but don’t do more than 50. Watch out for knee pain and reduce the quantity if necessary. If you normally wear orthotics or very supportive shoes you may need to wear these for this exercise. If you are at work in an open plan office it might look a bit silly, but just try to do a few every hour or so through the day. You realise how much difference it might make by the amount of clunks and clicks you get from your pelvic region and hips when you first stand up when sitting down for a while.

2. High knee marching on the spot:

Standing, alternately lift knees to the horizontal position whilst keeping your pelvis steady and upper body free from excess movement. Try for a smooth steady rhythm not a violent movement. Synchronise your arms if required. A minute is enough. This activates the hip extenders but also dynamically stretches them on the leg that stays on the ground. Your hip stabilisers, glutes, ankles and feet on the standing leg also have to do a lot of work which will help your proprioception and balance too.

 

3. Bare foot toe curls:

Curl all your toes up under your foot for about 5 seconds and repeat 3 or 4 times a few times a day. This increases the strength of the tendons in your foot and the muscles in your calf, and really helps to offset some of the weakness in your foot from wearing overly supportive footwear. Start gently and gradually use more power as they get stronger. Don’t over-do this exercise at first or you will quickly get pain in the tendons under the foot showing exactly how weak they have got.

4. Barefoot indoor jogging:

Jog slowly around the lounge in your bare feet or socks for a couple of minutes. In addition to being a great all-round strengthening exercise for the feet and calf muscles, this is always a measure for me of whether any injury is too bad to run on. Start with a minute and don’t go above 5 minutes. When you first do this, your feet, ankles and calf muscles are likely to feel very weak, but they will soon get stronger with a bit of practice every day.

All exercises should only be undertaken at the readers own risk. If you have any doubts don’t do it.

All content in this article copyright of High Performance Runner 2019