For years we’ve been hearing about the importance of foot strength and the effects of “over built” shoes. The idea is fairly simple and practical, actually. If you place your foot in a rock solid shoe that controls for motion, motion that is controlled from the foot, weakness, atrophy, and balance deficiencies accrue over time. Think of it this way. If I have a machine that raises my arm for me, eventually the muscles that were once responsible pack their hypothetically bags and disappear.
Enter the minimalist revolution. Motion Control and Stability Shoes are the anti-Christ running enthusiasts shout. “All runners need to adopt the minimalist concept”, they cry, “Our foot is designed to run without support”. Now the focus of this article isn’t meant to address if low profiles shoes are for you, but rather the effects of taking your coddled, weak, imbalanced foot from zero to hero. Most of us are weak in the feet, and I’m not talking propulsive “cannonball” calf muscles. I’m talking extrinsic and intrinsic stabilizers. The muscles in charge of stability and balance in your gait. These “less-sexy” muscles stabilize the lower leg and foot, control pronation, and disperse forces. These are the true foot and ankle muscles.
Big, clunky, “cement block”, shoes don’t help your calf, they help these little guys (by help I mean hinder). The stiffness and rigidity of a shoe helps control for motion, lightening the load for your stabilizing muscles and weakening them over time. Now some of you made the jump to lesser stability, some of you didn’t, and some of you are still considering it. What I can tell you is this. Not everyone is made to run with minimal support or protection. After all, we’re not all traversing dirt paths on our daily runs, but rather exploring the far less forgiving concrete jungle. We’re not all casts from a perfect mold of bony structure, motion, and strength either (don’t blame me… talk to your parents). While some us can run in a lightweight, minimalist, shoe, some cannot. Luckily, most of us fall in a grey area and can teach ourselves to run with less support. **keyword-teach**
We’re not all casts from a perfect mold of bony structure, motion, and strength
Your foot interacts with the ground first, springing into action the instant you touch down. The 27 bones and 20 muscles that mold your foot transfer forces to the knee, hip, and low back. When weak, the muscles allow your foot to drag through excessive range while placing devastating forces through the ankle, reverberating said forces through your knee and hip. Weak feet are a host to multiple injuries, whether it be bone or soft tissue (ligaments, muscles, tendons, etc). So think about it. If you’ve been logging miles with stability or motion control chances are your foot strength and balance is lacking. Changing to a lightweight shoe can place you on the fast track to injury as you take your once coddled foot into an unfamiliar environment, asking it perform work it hasn’t done in week, months, years, or decades.
Regardless of what you don, a heavy block or light weight racer, there’s a need for you to work on balance and foot strength. The importance is amplified when looking to transition to a lightweight shoe. I’m not talking about these articles that have you statically holding single leg balance or performing “toe curls” with a towel, I’m talking about functional strengthening that has your foot planted while you drive yourself off balance from above.
You need dynamic strength that mimics running-*cough* function *cough, cough*.
Here’s a quick video explaining a simple exercise to improve foot strength.