Last Friday I found myself sitting in the Women’s department of a certain locally-famous ” red barn of shoes”, eavesdropping on other customers. I was there trying on running shoes just to “see how they feel” (honestly I didn’t buy any!). The conversations these other women were having with the sales associates (most of them looked like they were in high school…this is either accurate or I am getting old) went something like this: “What type of shoe is best for someone with back pain?” And, “I have plantar fasciitis, what kind of shoes should I wear?” or “I have heel pain. What shoe is best for that?”
I couldn’t help but think that they were looking for answers in the wrong place. A shoe can’t solve those problems, at best it can keep them from becoming worse, if not exacerbate the problem. I’m not a physical therapist or doctor and my understanding of human anatomy and physiology is limited to one college course, what I read in popular media and my own personal experience. I am, by no means, an expert. Yet based on recent experience with physical therapy I’ve come to learn that most of my own running injuries have resulted from weakness and imbalance in other areas.
Two weeks ago I attended the USA Track and Field Level 1 Coaching certification class. I had the chance to hear Russ Ebbets, DC speak about biomechanics of running and the importance of foot drills in strengthening a runners form from the foot up. Ebbets is USATF lead instructor, editor of Track Coach magazine and is a professor or chiropractic medicine at the University of Bridgeport in CT. In his lecture Ebbets shared six foot drills which he attributes to “eliminating” overuse injuries like Achilles’ tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and shin splints. I’m not sure if these foot drills will necessarily eliminate such injuries as I think that (based on personal experience) they aren’t just a problem of the foot and are resultant from weakness and compensation for imbalance “up the line.” But, I do agree with him that foot drills can decrease the instance of injury by helping to improve balance and proprioception. They also utilize the neuromuscular pathway from the brain to the foot as Ebbets puts it in his article The Foot Drills, “by challenging the foot with various gaits one develops a clearer pathway from the foot to the brain. Clearer pathways are faster and more responsive…[making] each foot strike more ‘sure’.”
I’ve done drills before as part of my running club’s track workout, but have never made them a consistent part of my training plans. I have no grand ideas that doing these drills will suddenly make me a faster runner. That would be like shopping a shoe store thinking I’ll find relief for back pain. But I do think that from the core down I could use quite a bit of strengthening, so I have started to incorporate the six foot drills into my cross training days (I’ve been doing laps around my living room while my kids nap). The stronger I become, the harder I can train, and the harder I train the faster I will become.
Do you do any kind of foot or leg drills? Have you found that strength/stability correlates with your speed?